Dec. 6, 2019Print | PDF
As part of a foundational research seminar course, graduate students in Wilfrid Laurier University’s Department of Geography and Environmental Studies are confronting the challenges of assumptions, bias and positionality while discovering how their research intersects with Indigenous perspectives.
Three of the 12 weeks of “Seminar in Geography (or ‘On Becoming a Geographer’)” are dedicated to presentations, readings and assignments that address Indigenous perspectives and experiences in research and field work.
“By addressing Indigenous cultures, worldviews and ways of knowing and being – and taking time to understand the history between Indigenous people and researchers – research will embody more robust data and take an important step in redressing the impact of colonial violence,” says Laurier’s Indigenous Curriculum Specialist Erin Hodson. “Engaging in research with cultural awareness is always beneficial.”
During the course – which is co-taught by Laurier Associate Professor Michael Imort and Steffanie Scott, a professor in the Department of Geography and Environmental Management at the University of Waterloo – students are asked to reflect on the relationship between knowledge, research and imperialism.
“In my previous academic experience, Indigenous perspectives or recognition of Indigenous knowledges were not covered,” says first-year graduate student Amanda Wong. “Coming from a scientific background, I had never considered my positionality before, but research will always be influenced by the people behind the data.”
Wong says she hopes to apply what she learned during the course to her research into invasive species management under the supervision of Professor Scott Slocombe, member of Laurier’s Department of Geography and Environmental Studies. Wong noted that it was important to hear from Indigenous researchers who presented as part of the class.
“This course has allowed me to rethink and challenge my previous thought processes in research,” says Wong.
Imort and Scott have taught the course for four years and continually update course content based on the changing landscape of graduate student research. The course brings together 58 master’s and doctoral students from all sub-disciplines within geography.
“I appreciated the chance to challenge norms in terms of the typical class structure,” says Rachel Hodgson, who is pursuing a master’s degree in Environmental Studies. “They created the course in a way you can interact with peers working on similar projects, but I’ve also met people doing research in a totally different area than me who offer suggestions I wouldn’t have considered otherwise.”
Students engage in seminars, workshops, panel presentations, practical writing assignments and “sparks,” which are short group discussions based on questions or comments submitted by students in response to weekly reading assignments.
Another important component of the course is ‘interest cluster’ presentations. Groups are formed based on research interest similarities and each group prepares a short presentation about how work in their field intersects with Indigenous perspectives. Presentations and readings by Indigenous scholars are also integrated.
Imort says he witnesses a shift in the perspective of students who participate in the course.
“At the end of this short three-week section, we are asking students ‘how do you see things differently now?’” says Imort. “The Western way of knowing, being and working is familiar, but students have thanked me for forcing them to look squarely at these issues.”
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