In our final blog post, Liying Cheng, professor and Director of the Assessment and Evaluation Group (AEG) at the Faculty of Education, talks about how we can re-shape higher education systems in Canada with a more equitable approach
At Queen’s University, we are proud to state that “We are people who want to learn, discover, think, and do. We push the limits of what can be achieved and develop ideas that can make a difference in the world”. In order to achieve this goal, we need to challenge our thinking, learn something new (Learning), relearn what we have acquired (Re-learning), and have the capacity to challenge what we learned previously (Un-learning), which is this year’s theme for Together We Are! Most importantly, this learning, re-learning and un-learning within a higher education setting need to be conducted in a Safe Space where compassion, acquisition, respect, and evaluation (CARE) are key to academic acculturation.
As Queen’s University professor, John Berry, put it, acculturation is “a process of cultural and psychological change that results from the continuing contact between people of different cultural backgrounds” (Berry, 2006, p. 27). In a study of second language students in Canadian universities, we defined academic acculturation as “the dynamic adaptation processes of linguistically and culturally diverse students engaging with the academic study cultures of Canadian English-medium universities.” (Cheng & Fox, 2008, p. 309). Within these two definitions, I’d like to frame acculturation as the process where learning, re-learning, and un-learning take place. And this process involves the continuing contact and dynamic interaction with different languages, cultures, and, in the higher education setting, different teaching and learning. I created an acronym CARE to illustrate the process below.
Compassion, Acquisition, Respect, and Evaluation (CARE)
Compassion is the ability to put ourselves in others’ shoes, i.e., to have the capacity to feel what others feel. This is crucial when it comes to the differences of teaching and learning in a diverse higher education setting. I have adopted the term acquisition here to refer to both natural and unconscious learning, and intentional learning as both types of learning have to happen for academic success. Respect is about how we deal with differences and others who “learn, discover, think, and do” differently than us. Evaluation involves making a judgement, which in turn must entail critical thinking. In CARE, acquisition and evaluation are about the process of “learn, discover, think, and do”, whereas compassion and respect are about the ways in which we “learn, discover, think, and do”.
In the fall of 2019 during one of my graduate classes, we used an Indigenous talking circle pedagogy to express gratitude in our lives and our academic studies around the time of Canadian Thanksgiving. As the talking stick, borrowed from the Aboriginal Teacher Education Program at the Faculty of Education, (see the image of the talking stick) was being passed around, the learning, re-learning, and un-learning occurred in a compassionate and respectful manner in which all students – be they domestic, international, masters, doctoral, or exchange students – expressed their gratitude from a multidimensional, multilingual, and multicultural perspective, inevitably from many different perspectives. Many of them learned something new, re-learned something that had acquired long ago, and un-learned something which might be stereotypical and/or misinformed. Some of the graduate course participants were moved to tears, thinking about their family and their loved ones whom they left at home/in school in order to come to the class. And many of them gave heartfelt thanks to their family and their loved ones, who are so far away, in some cases halfway around the world, far beyond regular or frequent physical contact. It was in that time and space (a Safe Space) when we opened our hearts and minds to embrace this diverse learning environment. It was also in this time and space where compassion and respect for others and the differences that others bring to the learning environment must have been present for such a powerful and positive learning to take place. Without compassion and respect, we cannot have a safe space where we can challenge ourselves and each other to “push the limits of what can be achieved and develop ideas that can make a difference in the world”.
We live in an ever-changing, increasingly diverse society. Higher education systems in Canada are under constantly growing pressures to meet the needs of an ever-more diverse population, not only of students but also of teaching, research, and administrative staff. As our complex classroom communities become increasingly heterogeneous, the traditional dichotomous perspective of seeing the world in terms of discrete entities, such as domestic/international, black/white, male/female, cannot continue. Therefore, we need to move away from thinking of dichotomies to working with continua. Within this larger and complex learning environment, we cannot afford not to care (CARE). We CARE so we can truly achieve the goal of pushing “the limits of what can be achieved and develop ideas that can make a difference in the world” – a foundation of who we are at Queen’s University.
 First Nations Pedagogy Online refers this pedagogy as “Talking Circles or Circle Talks”. “When everyone has their turn to speak, when all voices are heard in a respectful and attentive way, the learning atmosphere becomes a rich source of information, identity, and interaction”. https://firstnationspedagogy.ca/circletalks.html
 “The Aboriginal Teacher Education Program Office provides administrative, academic and cultural support for our ATEP campus and community-based teacher candidates, Faculty of Education students, faculty and staff, and the greater Queen’s and Kingston community”. https://educ.queensu.ca/atep-office
Berry, J. W. (2006). Contexts of acculturation. In D. L. Sam & J. W. Berry (Eds.), The Cambridge handbook of acculturation psychology (p. 27–42). Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511489891.006
Cheng, L., & Fox, J. (2008). Towards a better understanding of academic acculturation: Second language students in Canadian universities. Canadian Modern Language Review, 65, 307-333. https://doi.org/10.3138/cmlr.65.2.307