Category Archives: Reflection

Rumpelstiltskin: Spinning Gold from Pandemic Straw

Golden glitter spilling from a small jar. Pink background. 
Photo by <a href="">Sharon McCutcheon</a> on <a href="">Unsplash</a>

In this blog piece, Dr. Klodiana Kolomitro, Associate Vice-Principal (Teaching and Learning), reflects on the necessary shifts to improve the higher education landscape in the post-pandemic reality

Can you feel it, too? It’s the residue of one of the largest disruptions to education combined with a call to action in the higher education landscape. How do we move from hopelessness, despair, and fatigue to hope, joy, and flourishment? How can we heal as a community? I see the following necessary shifts in teaching and learning to help us get there.

1.Maslow before Bloom

The physical isolation of the pandemic accentuated the need to create a space and place for students as whole human beings at a time when academics and personal life were constantly colliding. A post-pandemic landscape needs to welcome and encourage the whole student through physiological, safety, love, esteem, and self-actualization needs, as articulated by Abraham Maslow. When students are provided with the necessary safety nets then learning can begin. In post-secondary institutions, we have been focusing on the work of psychologist Benjamin Bloom and his taxonomy of educational objectives and expectations for higher-order learning. Putting Maslow before Bloom encourages a pedagogy of care as we pay attention to the basic human needs that need to be met for students to be able to turn their attention to learning.

2. Multi-access to learning

We have learned many lessons from student engagement and accessibility that open a new paradigm for the design of learning environments. We have witnessed that a purposeful blend of physical and virtual learning experiences can promote a more socially just and equitable education system that supports individual life circumstances. Flexible learning designs when pursued in an intentional manner acknowledge individual differences and needs and extend from course design, delivery and assessment through to our ways of being with our learners.

3. Relationality as the driving purpose of education

Relationality, which is fundamental to Indigenous worldviews, can help guide our work in a post-pandemic world. Relationality embraces deep connections to the land, and to the other; it harnesses the power of the greater good, our responsibility to serve society at large, and the obligation to be held accountable to “all of our relations”. Can we shift our thinking towards learning in community where we embrace all voices to benefit from reciprocity and mutuality? Living through the pandemic has strangely connected us, in our shared isolation.

Spinning gold from the pandemic straw requires us to uncover the humanity in all of us and embrace deep and meaningful connections with ourselves, our learners, our colleagues, and our communities.

“There’s a crack, a crack in everything – it’s how the light gets in”

*(Lyric from Leonard Cohen “Anthem”, The Future, Columbia, 1992.) 

Or why I’m still hopeful despite the trucker convoy.

Image of a lake with different colour boats. Photo by David Bartus from Pexels

In this blog piece, Susan Belyea, Ban Righ Director, reflects on the ideas and changes needed to build a more inclusive and equitable society

In March 2020 the World Health Organization declared Covid 19 a global pandemic.  Here we are in 2022, having weathered two full years of uncertainty, anxiety, and loss.

Early in the pandemic some said, “We’re all in the same boat”. It quickly became apparent that while we may all be weathering the same storm, we are by no means in the same boat. Globally Covid 19 has had wildly different impacts, and global vaccine equity continues to be grossly unresolved. 

In Canada the pandemic hit some harder than others too.  To extend the “same storm; different boat” metaphor, some people – mostly white, mostly rich – experience Covid from a fully equipped yacht – working from home, having everything delivered, with a new pandemic pet at their side. While others  -, mostly BIPOC, precariously or un-employed – continue to be battered about in a leaky dingy, unable to avoid exposure to the virus at work, on public transit, or at home, and at the same time, bearing more of the burden of caregiving to the very young, the very old, and the very sick. 

None of this is news or particularly surprising. But let’s return to some of the conversations that were happening earlier in the pandemic. Amid all the reporting about the virus, some hopeful threads emerged.

Here are just a few of the many things that gave me a reason to be optimistic back in the spring and summer of 2020:

  • As people experienced job loss and turned to government assistance through CERB, conversations about a guaranteed basic income were reinvigorated.
  • As we relied on public health units to guide our everyday actions we recognized the role of the state in our lives, questioning the logic of leaving everything to the private sector.
  • As concerts were cancelled and theatres went dark, we realized that the arts are, in fact, essential, as was so eloquently depicted in the TV adaptation of the post-apocalyptic novel Station Eleven.
  • We asked, “what do we want our communities to look like when this is over” and those of us who could, spent our money in local bookstores, grocers, farmers markets and bakers. 
  • Rapidly growing and visible homelessness gave rise to new and expanded networks of solidarity and on-the-ground mutual aid.

It seems that we need a good shaking up – cracks in the every-day “normal” – to see what needs changing and how we might do it.  A trope in post-apocalyptic fiction (which I happen to love) is that after disaster wipes out most of humanity, society devolves into tribalism and violence. At the same time, though, a small group of people seize the moment to build towards a more just, inclusive, equitable society.

So, I guess that’s where we are now. Now as we are racing back to “normal”, I truly hope that at least some of these ideas are sticky enough for us to take them up and move forward.

There’s no end of work to be done; it’s time to roll up our sleeves and get to work building a better normal. 

Belonging, Responsibility, Collaboration and Radical Imaginaries

In this blog post, Yasmine Djerbal, educational developer at the Centre for Teaching and Learning, narrates her experience working with Roots&Wings youth and shares her perspective on how community organization can offer a fresh vision of a different type of future

The pandemic has been challenging for everyone, and we know that children have been affected in unique ways. It might take us years to truly unravel and understand the impact isolation and online learning has had on their development, socialization, and more. In my work with Roots & Wings—a community organization that offers space for girls, trans, Two-Spirit, and gender non-conforming youth of colour between the ages of 8 and 14 to learn about social justice—we have seen in small and big ways how strong and tenacious the youth have been in the face of frequent changes, loss of time with friends and family, loss of relationships, and community.

Through a collaborative project with the City of Kingston entitled “Arts all around”, Roots & Wings organized a series of workshops that attempted to unpack the question “where do we go from here?”, and the ways we can imagine a different type of future together; not one that goes back to the way things were in the past, but different. This project has been particularly interesting for us to think about ways the youth have been dealing with their own experiences of the pandemic, and how they themselves envision how we best move through the next few months and years.

With the help of curriculum developers such as Clarissa de Leon (EDUC), Sreya Roy (GNDS), Aishah Cadre (MPA), Essi Amegbeto (DEVS), and Sanaz Biglou (BIO) and other current Queen’s students and alumni, we talked about three main concepts: belonging, responsibility, and collaboration. Starting with our first workshop, we asked the youth where they felt like they belonged, and how we could create more inclusive spaces in which everyone could feel like they belong. Our second workshop centered the Haudenosaunee Seventh Generation Principle, which taught us that the decisions we make today should result in a sustainable world seven generations into the future. This workshop worked to consider individual and collective responsibilities to our present and future relations, to the land, the waters, human and non-human relationships, and the kind of world we want to leave behind. And finally, in our third workshop, we talked about collaboration, and what steps we can take collectively to create those better futures, as we all have a role to play and a responsibility to do better. Our conversations culminated in a collective art-piece (see below), assembled by local artist Kayla MacLean, with drawings the youth created thinking about the future they want to live in.

Bus stop with art work in display

The conversations and reflections that stemmed from our workshops have been incredibly enriching and inspiring. As a collective, myself and other Roots & Wings members often pause in wonder of our youth, their astute observations, pointed critiques, and beautiful radical imaginaries. As I reflect on the question posed here, “how do I envision the future”, I think about the youth we come in conversation with, and the worlds they have imagined for themselves. I believe that no matter what, we are in good hands!  I envision a world in which our youth, at Roots & Wings and beyond, continue to dream liberatory futures, in which we can live responsively and collaboratively with each other, and feel like we all belong to a world without borders, without walls, and in kinship and relationship with each other.

Roots&Wings art work

Yasmine Djerbal is an Educational Developer in anti-racism and inclusion at the Centre for Teaching & Learning at Queen’s. She holds an MA in Gender Studies and a PhD in Cultural Studies from Queen’s and remains involved in research and teaching, where her interests lie in Islamophobia studies, critical race studies, immigration, citizenship law, and gender studies. Her work with Roots & Wings wouldn’t have been possible without the support of many people and groups across the community, but in particular, the Jean Royce Fellowship, award made annually to women graduates of Queen’s University for a year of study and research or to pursue an endeavour that contributes to the advancement of knowledge, contributes to society or allows creative expression.

Hold your head up…

Dandelion photo

In this piece, Jenna Kring, Four Directions Indigenous Student Centre’s Indigenous Programs and Events Associate, shares some inspiring words about being a safe space for others

Hold your head up

Lift the top of your mind

Put your eyes on the Earth

Lift your heart to your own home planet

What do you see?

Carry it on: Buffy Sainte Marie 

Shé:kon sewakwé:kon, Jenna Kring iónkia’ts. Kanien’kéha:ka niwakonhontisó:ten. I find myself getting lost in thinking of what the future will bring, even though the future is out of my control. Taking a moment to breathe and seeing ways I can improve on the now can help influence the future. I must start somewhere, how about today, with myself. As a Two-Spirit person, I strive to cultivate being a safe space for others. By using self-reflection to monitor my actions and continuing with independent education on issues that surround daily life. Acknowledging I have no control over how others react or feel towards me. I can, however, control my actions and speech and make my own space in this world. By finding my voice to advocate for myself, I can have a strong voice to advocate for those who need one. 

Working together as a group to create a safer place for each other can start on the individual level. By self-reflecting on how to improve my mindset and make others feel safer around me. How can I cultivate a safe space and continue to do so? Self-reflection can be key, by reflecting on how I handled past situations. Self-improvement can lead to change, on an individual level and a systematic level. Being able to draw people to you means you are not alone and when people are united, change can happen. Hopefully, change for the better.

I want to keep my eyes open to the world around me, like how Buffy Sainte Marie sings “what do you see?”. I want to answer that call and say, “a better world.” This may take a long time and a lot of work to get there. I hope to see that better world and start by looking inwards towards myself. Nya:wen’kó:wa

Speaking Up with Love (and maybe a glass of wine)


In this blog, Vanessa McCourt, Academic Advisor and Undergraduate Program Coordinator in the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies, talks about the importance of having courageous conversations


I’ve never been one to speak up. I get red and flushed in the face, my underarms sweat, the right words don’t come, and I feel REALLY uncomfortable. So, for those reasons, when people have said something that I think is offensive – either directed to me or someone else – I usually keep quiet.

Fast forward 40 years (well, minus the two years before I could speak), I read a Facebook post that made me really upset. Then to my husband’s chagrin, I responded back with my own comments. Of course, this started a commenting frenzy of defending opinions.

The person who posted is my neighbor. The neighbor who is nice to my kids, a great mom, and all-around lovely person.

After about ten comments or so, my neighbor suggested that we needed to sit down together with a glass of wine and discuss our viewpoints on the issue. I agreed.

However, before we had that glass of wine, she posted AGAIN with her support for a certain ex-hockey commentator! I thought to myself, ‘we’ll probably need the whole bottle to get through this!’

We eventually sat down and talked. What I learned from that experience is that in order to undergo a process of unlearning, we must experience an embodied connection. Although we didn’t agree, our talk together cemented that connection – something a Facebook comment could never do.

In the Ted Talk entitled “Get comfortable with being uncomfortable,” Luvvie Ajayi says, “people and systems count on our silence to keep us exactly where we are.” I didn’t want to keep silent any longer. I didn’t want to stay where I was or have my neighbor stay stuck in her thoughts and opinions either.

What I also learned from Luvvie’s talk was the importance of asking myself three questions before speaking up:

  1. Do I mean it?
  2. Can I defend it?
  3. Can I say it with love?

I tried to keep this in mind when talking with my neighbor, and we are both better because of our talk. And, a glass of wine (or two) definitely helps!

Rediscovering my identity: a biracial journey


In our February blog, Nathan Utioh, Residence Life Coordinator, narrates his experience as a biracial person and analyses the impact of an interesting journey of re-learning

I grew up in a small town in rural Manitoba, the younger of two- my mom is a white woman who grew up in the prairies and my dad is a black man who emigrated from Nigeria. Apart from the kids of my parents’ friends, I do not remember other black kids at my school through elementary years and none in my class until high school. It is not an understatement to recognize that I was limited in the scale of diversity I was exposed growing up.

At the same time, I know the smells of my dad’s fufu and pepper soup and can hear the rhythm of the music he would play around the house. So, while being biracial, I was always comfortable self-identifying as Black and while knowing that my brother and I were different, I didn’t think much about or contend with my identity.

Fast forward to 2016. For the first time, I am going to Nigeria with my Dad to stay where he was raised, meet my Nigerian family for the first time, and see how he came to grow from “the poorest family in the village” to leaving for Canada on a scholarship.

In meeting a side of my family I had never seen or spoken with I was embraced as though we had known each other our entire lives. Regardless of this being my first visit, I immediately knew I was home and felt like one of the family. That said, at times when we were out in the city, I overheard on a few occasions people gesture and say something in my direction. I had to ask my dad what they were saying, I was told they were commenting about me being ‘a White person’ walking about the area.

This was the first time I had ever been referred to as White, even though I knew that some biracial people do identify themselves as white or hold a protean identity[i], shifting between Black, White, and biracial. For me, I was thrown back a little, even a little defensive as I felt as though my identity was being challenged. Over time I have been rethinking my understanding of my identity, coming to recognize that the reason why I was thrown was because of my own internalized racism[ii]. I felt that because I grew up in a predominantly White community and didn’t have a strong connection with a Black community I wasn’t “Black enough.”

The problem with this reasoning is of course, that race is a social construct and I don’t have a right to expect that strangers with cultural and ethnic experiences that differ from my own need to see me as one who shares a common identity. Yes, on the one hand, being in White dominated spaces means that as I continue to unlearn how I think about race and identity, I still identify as Black; living in White dominated spaces I will always be aware of how I exist in that context. On the other hand, because of shadeism and internalized White supremacy, there are barriers and biases that I may not face.

So in the years since my visit home I have been taking stock of the biases and beliefs that I have been putting on myself and other people of colour. I make more time to expose myself to the voices and experiences of other people – reminding myself that I can have my perspectives shaped by my experiences without minimizing or diminishing the stories of others. Often our friend groups look like us and are fairly homogenous[iii], so I try to put myself in situations where I can continue to learn.

In my work I continue to advocate for ways that we can increase the diversity of our team and create spaces to ensure that the staff from underrepresented communities feel welcome and supported. I also get involved in committee work and seek training that is focused on inclusion on campus.

For you, here are a few easy ideas that you can try:

– Read a more diverse slate of authors

– Complete training offered by the Human Rights and Equity Office

– Seek opportunities to learn from others both on campus and in the community

– Elevate the voices of those who are asking for change to make Queen’s feel like home

I am appreciative of the opportunity to more thoughtfully consider my identity as a Black biracial person, the context I live in as it relates to systems of oppression, and how I can be more actively involved in anti-oppression work in my life. The opportunity to unlearn some of the biases and beliefs we carry around identity and to relearn how to be anti-racist in our actions will help us think about the impact of the work that we do. I know that it has for me.



[i] Rockquemore, K., & Brunsma, D. L. (2008). Beyond Black: Biracial Identity in America. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 39.

[ii] Bivens, D. Internalized Racism: a definition. Racial Equity Tools. Retrieved from:

[iii] Jones, R. P., Navarro-Rivera, J. and Cox, D. Race, Religion, and Political Affiliation of Americans’ Core Social Networks. PRRI. 2016