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Concordia’s Winterfest 2019 offers a forum to learn about student diversity and inclusive teaching

The annual event kicks off January 24 with an interactive theatre performance
November 30, 2018
By Kelsey Rolfe

Winterfest 2019 Jessica Bleuer: “My ideal outcome is professors go to the classroom with strategies to deal with microaggressions.”

This year’s Teaching and Learning Winter Festival (Winterfest 2019) will give faculty the opportunity to learn how to foster more inclusive spaces for students.

The event will be held over four Fridays — January 25 and February 1, 8 and 15 — with the keynote taking place the evening of January 24.

Alicia Cundell is a teaching consultant with the university’s Centre for Teaching and Learning (CTL). She says the goal of Winterfest is to create a non-judgmental space for faculty to learn about microaggressions toward marginalized students, such as those who are racialized, LGBTQ or female, and how to handle them in the classroom.

Microaggressions are small or commonplace comments or gestures that communicate a denigrating message to the person on the receiving end. Though each incident is small and innocuous, they exert a cumulative effect over time that can be quite harmful.

“We want faculty to become aware of and at some point be able to change those behaviours that students find marginalizing, offensive and exclusionary,” Cundell explains.

Winterfest will offer sessions on nonviolent communication in the classroom, Indigenous experiences, inclusive teaching practices and course design, and there will be presentations from the Centre for Gender Advocacy and the Access Centre for Students with Disabilities

Cundell says the CTL also hopes to bring in a guest speaker to discuss anti-bias and anti-racist practices in the classroom.

She hopes the event will pique the interest of faculty members who might normally feel intimidated by these topics, and in particular members of the Concordia community who hold positions of power and privilege. 

“We want to emphasize that it’s a non-judgmental event where we want people to think, ‘I might learn something without feeling like I’m going to have to defend myself or the actions of colleagues.” 

Learning through interactive theatre

Winterfest’s keynote event will be an interactive “forum theatre” performance at the Black Box venue in the Engineering, Computer Science and Visual Arts Integrated Complex (EV). 

Faculty members will watch as actors play out vignettes of microaggressions against marginalized students that were inspired by exchanges that have occurred in classrooms across campus.

This is the first time a forum theatre event has been performed at Winterfest. It is being directed by Jessica Bleuer, a cultural equity consultant and registered drama therapist who lectures in Concordia’s Department of Creative Arts Therapies. She recently won a Raymond Jacobs Memorial Diversity Award from the North American Drama Therapy Association.

To prepare for the event, Bleuer interviewed students about their experiences with “emotional safety” on campus, both in and out of the classroom.

As the stories play out on stage, attendees will be invited to “work in solidarity with the storyteller,” Bleuer says. They will be encouraged to consider how they would address the situation and act that out with the actors.

Bleuer explains that the actors will have prepared in advance for possible audience suggestions. However, if she feels the audience is struggling to empathize or understand where the storyteller is coming from, she has interventions up her sleeve and will step in. There will also be opportunity for discussion throughout.

“My ideal outcome is that professors go back to the classroom with some strategies to deal with microaggressions,” she says. “My hope is that professors will have a more empathetic understanding of their minority students and an idea of the things that make classrooms unsafe.”

This year’s Winterfest theme is part of the Next-Generation Learning Project, led by Sandra Gabriele, vice-provost of Innovation in Teaching & Learning.

“It will launch a handful of initiatives designed to help us realize our commitment to ‘Teach for Tomorrow’ by exploring new ways to deliver next-generation student learning. Inclusive teaching is at the heart of that aspiration,” says Gabriele.

“Next-gen learning begins by recognizing that our student diversity demands inclusive teaching.”


See the full schedule for Concordia’s Winterfest 2019.

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