Dr. Fiona Rawle

Moving north again for this episode, Jessica and Pat discuss failure and hope with Fiona Rawle of the University of Toronto – Mississauga (Mississauga, ON, Canada). Fiona has won a number of teaching awards, including the prestigious 3M National Teaching Fellowship announced just days after this conversation was recorded. Fiona also leads the Failure: Learning in Progress (FLIP) project.


well thanks for joining us today um it’s uh our pleasure mine and Jessica’s pleasure to be speaking today

with Dr Fiona Rawl Fiona is a professor in the teaching stream for the

Department of biology and the institute for the study of University pedagogy at the University of Toronto in Mississauga

as well as the associate dean of undergraduate for the University of Toronto Mississauga the director of the

Robert Gillespie academic Skills Center and the acting chair of the Toronto Initiative for diversity and excellence

and it’s our absolute pleasure to uh to speak with you today Fiona and we look forward to discussing you know so many

pieces of this Narrative of of failure and hope with you and uh yeah are just

so thrilled to have you today thank you so we’re going to get started with sort

of the the lob ball question tell us your story um Fiona tell us how you became an

educator an exceptional educator who’s won a whole bunch of uh teaching Awards as well as an educational leader

so starting with an easy question yeah absolutely tell us your story

um well I’m from Vancouver Island and loved science ever since I was a little

girl and so I did a PhD in science I have a PhD in pathology and molecular medicine

and as I did my PhD I did a whole bunch of public talks

and it was really interesting to me misconceptions the public would have about cancer progression or cancer

prevention or climate change and as I did my postdoc and thinking about

science it really crystallized for me that the global challenges we Face be it

climate change pollution access to clean water access the sustainable food production

these problems will be solved through education and through people working together and so I I really shifted my

focus into the science of learning and education and I like to say I’m a scientist at heart

and by training so I try to take a scientific approach to learning and then as we were exploring new ways

to teach science what really resonated that it’s all based on relationships it’s based on connecting with people

it’s based on sharing stories sharing narrative seeing relevance seeing

context and if we go back to those global challenges these big problems we

face as a society the answers are going to be found through connection and perspective taking and folks from

political science working with Scientists working with historians working with sociologists so that is

sort of what inspired me to get to where I am right now

I have so many questions and I have so much joy in this right like the science of teaching so and I love that you

identify as a scientist both in training and in disposition because I often say that I’m a Shakespearean in training and

disposition and just finished teaching a course on Shakespeare’s guide to Wicked problems so taking climate change taking

decolonization taking anti-black racism taking these big Wicked problems and

pairing them with a Shakespeare play so that we can get a kind of just a

couple of degrees off the looking at it Square in the eye just to see if there’s a way that we can intervene something

that that we can understand just slightly differently than than what we see all the time in our inundated in the

news to just imagine and think differently than we imagine and think so that we can see better and see

differently and so I’m just I have like my little head is gonna explode with

excitement because you’re you’re tackling Wicked problems both through the science of teaching but also the

ways in which you are engaging in conversations with the public and with Community Partners can you talk us

through um the ways in which you talk to humans who look at these big Wicked problems

like you know sustainable agriculture or diversity in stem and often the the sort

of responses it’s so big I don’t know where to start I can’t find an entry

point in uh it is it is too big and too complex so I might as well just stay over here and watch Bridgerton and drink

wine just as an example not at all describing what I did last week but you know

there’s that kind of Despair and paralysis when we look at the complexity

of these big problems that are that are challenging us as a society and and as

as individuals how do you how do you intervene and how do you take people with you in these

interventions that’s such a good question so I would say that it is big and it is messy and that is wonderful

because there’s so many different ways you can get on that on-ramp if you will but we are like living in an age of

overwhelm where we are exposed to so much information and at the same time we

are exposed to so much grief about what is happening with the world and also so

much hope in terms of things that are happening but it’s an age of overwhelm so there’s a few things we try to keep

in mind with our our student teams when we’re working with public discourses of Science and and one is empathy and and

lack of shame or stigma because it can be really easy to say oh how do why

don’t you know this everyone should know this and it it’s important to wreck recognize that folks have different backgrounds folks have different

experiences and everyone is at a different stage of accessing and interacting with information so that’s

one thing we we um we really try to highlight and the other thing is is the

value of diverse teams if you don’t have a background in this that’s amazing because you will ask different questions

and so we know that diverse groups ask different questions to solve problems we

know that when experiments fail diverse groups will try to solve it in different

ways and so and there’s so many examples of that through through science and

through Society so those are probably the two things we try to highlight um that it’s totally okay to not know

and and to be wrong and it it’s really important if you don’t know because

you’re going to be asking different questions so I’ll sort of come in and riff off of

that so you know when you when you don’t know the answers or when you when you

when you fail right in in in your sphere of science or otherwise how do you how

do you pick yourself up what’s the what’s the growth mechanism there right what’s the big sort of like oh this is

how I get this is how I move on from that versus now I spiral into a hole and

I’m like oh I’m not good enough to be at University or I’m not good enough to be in science or I’m not good enough for x

y and z yeah you said spiral into a hole that’s interesting because again biology and

conservation there’s this thing called the extinction Vortex looking at species Decline and sometimes I think of it as

like a failure Vortex how do you get yourself out of that that failure Vortex

or one failure might lead to another or might might lead to shame um and there’s different types of failure

there’s academic failure there’s failure to meet expectations or goals or there’s failure when you don’t learn from

mistakes so I one thing we try to emphasize is that failure is part of learning

failure is absolutely okay and failure is part of growth but Society doesn’t make it easy and we don’t always make it

easy on ourselves and so we have this project called flip which flip stands

for failure learning and progress that all of our first year students do

to try to normalize not knowing as part of learning we can’t figure out what to

study if we’re only practicing the easy questions and we’re always getting them right we have to get things wrong so we

know where our knowledge ends or where our knowledge gets muddy and so we do things where we purposefully get things

wrong and we have to sit with that discomfort and move through it something that I think is important to

mention is that there is a lot of rhetoric around failure like take risks fail fast fail often and you see that in

business education a lot fail fast fail often but when you look at data from banks in the

United States people who get that second loan after the first business failure are usually folks from a background of

privilege and so not everyone has the same permission to fail so there’s Equity access resources and it’s easier

to fail if you have a safety net so in education we have to make sure it’s truly a safe space to fail so it’s not

this empty rhetoric of take take risks Now’s the Time to to experiment so we look at like what

supports do students need to to feel safe are there policies that need to be in

place and then what does feedback look like because the way we give feedback can affect whether or not students

listen if we’ve listened to the students ahead of time is there this this dialogue of

failure feedback because the the professor should be open to that dialogue too

so many things I wrote them all down I have these keywords and I absolutely

am with you on um I wrote an article called um we need to stop fetishizing

failure we need to stop making it something we need to stop importing it from like the Silicon Valley language

into our classrooms because when we say it and then we assess differently or we

give them their consequences to failure that are hidden or invisible we create

something um I think I called it the trust Gap so between what we say and what we do if

that Gap is wide the students will not trust what we say and they shouldn’t nor

should they because the systems are not in place and the systems right now whether that’s grading or getting into

graduate school or scholarships or bursaries are not rewarding failure

they’re not there and they’re not gentle and there is not a second loan when you

when you’re sort of 20 years old and from you know a first generation family

who is going to University and navigating all of these inhospitable systems

and I wonder can we map this from the classroom into the university more more

widely or take a sort of wider lens um because I think what is happening and I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately

is what we say we do as universities and what we actually do there’s a gap there

and that Gap is widening and we’re seeing the impact of that that dissonance between what we say we do and

what we actually do um start to take on all sorts of different implications and I think that

there is a an erosion of public trust in publicly funded social institutions and

just as we need education more as you say to tackle these big complex Global

issues we’re seeing a sort of erosion of trust because what we say we do and what

we do are different and we seem to be following a model of

um the business World rather than understanding very clearly what our social mission is to the broader society

and I wonder if you’ve thought about that um in in the work that you do in

the science of teaching but also in the science of leading [Music] it’s really important so being genuine

and following through with structural supports I am it’s a little bit related

but I wrote an op-ed in the fall because I was there in the spring sorry so I wrote an op-ed in the spring and I was really frustrated

and I I called it you know beware of Wellness theater so I think it was a Wednesday and I got an email on a

Wednesday that was like you know Wellness Wednesday don’t check email on Wednesdays and I was like this is

Wellness theater and there’s so many examples of theater in society by that I

mean you say something and you don’t follow it up with structural support right so so Wellness theater is when you

tell people to go for a walk or do yoga or not check email on Wednesdays and you’re expressing Goodwill and you’re

expressing support but the structural support isn’t there so for what we’re doing with science of

learning or learning from failure we can frame things in a positive way but it

only makes a difference if the actual structural support is there and so maybe this is having additional Tas to help

coach students through failure maybe this is creating purposeful connections of peer learning groups that are

accountable but it has to have structural support and there’s lots of different examples of of theater like

with covid we know that covet is Airborne and washing floors is hygiene theater but it doesn’t actually go to

the root cause and it’s not actually helpful so I would say to that end we need to make sure we are

genuine in our expressions of care and then those expressions of care are

followed up by structural support can I have a follow-up Pat thank you so

as a Shakespearean right who is both by training and disposition you’re blowing my mind right now you’re using theater

in a way that I had not had not ever thought about it because so my world of

theater is that um in three hours or however long the

theater is the the sort of performances it invites in spectators not as consumers but as co-producers and

co-designers in a world that unfolds over say three hours in a physical space

through dialogue conversation and bodies moving in space and so for me theater is

a microcosm for society it’s a microcosm for the classroom or sorry a metaphor

for society and for the classroom because what it does is it says we are all involved in the co-design of

a world that unfolds in real time together and that if we’re doing it right if we’re doing theater right we’re

all leaving the theater transformed but also clearer about our social Mission

about the ways in which we can go back into the world and to intervene and so

the the word theater that you’re using is so interesting very different it’s totally different yeah but there’s a

there’s an element in Shakespeare that is dissembling and the dissembling is

exactly the the word that you use which is genuine so dissembling is to have two

selves to seem to be one thing but to actually be something else and to be a

dissembler is to play in those spaces between what you appear to be which is

highly performative highly stylized and highly curated for a particular audience and a core that is genuine and true and

you see in in Shakespeare all of these characters who cannot dissemble fall into traps and get get caught because

they don’t see the the difference between those Othello is one of them he gets completely fooled by Iago who can

dissemble he can seem to be different things to different audiences so I I don’t think we’re we’re in opposition I

think we’re totally talking about similar things but with different language of when I say theater I mean

like performative and an act that stops on stage it’s not like that Shakespeare

experience versus experience yeah that there is and there’s something really dangerous and I I see this in

um the the kind of consumer culture that we have right now is that you can go and

watch Bridgerton and Escape from the world but you’re not asked to go and do

anything about it you’re in fact asked to just park your brain your heart and your soul at the door be entertained

consume something that makes you feel good even as it is ephemeral and then to

go back into the world with the catharsis with a sort of like release of

energy not to learn anything but to go back and to have to continue to work in

deteriorating conditions and I love that Wellness Wednesday we have Wellness Men’s days and I every time I get one I

want to scream into the abyss because I’m like don’t tell me to breathe I can’t breathe

again I’m gonna drink water this is this is beyond that and and yet

the people in in the the roles that are trying to make us feel better are

actually unintentionally harming us so what do we do with it how do we if we

can name it as uncomfortable where do we where do we aim at what are we supposed to do and I think for this a lot of this

comes to time because we can give students support groups and peer networks and extra assignments but if we

don’t protect time for them so that the work can be slow and they

can pause rather than rushed then it’s not going to have the outcomes we need

and so to do that we have to look Beyond one course we have to look at all the courses that students are taking and all

the support that they’re accessing so a big part of that is is breaking down some of these silos that rise up between

disciplines or between units at the University and we’re definitely not good at that

breaking down silos and we’re not good at like the the students are getting this not just at University but they’ve

had it all through their high school years right where everything is here’s your 76 minute block of this and when

you’re done School your parents have programmed you into like soccer followed by choir followed by whatever else right

like it’s giving folks space and just letting them have the time to stumble

and fumble and work their way through things is is not a strong suit of North American society it’s it is probably the

strong suit in other places but but certainly not here and what that brings

me to is is is the sort of the spaces and the terminology but also the

juxtaposition of some of the things that we say and do right so we talk about you

know vulnerability and we talk about that in relation to failure right and we talk about growth and we talk about Hope

and we talk about despair right like so how do we put all of those things on a on a spectrum how do we say we want you

to be vulnerable and we want you to fail but that’s not going to work with everything that you’re you’ve already been you know engaged with or we’re

offering you a safe space and a brave space but you know that only comes if you have X amount of privilege right or

or things like that so how do we how do we wrestle with that or how do you wrestle with that Fiona or you know how

do you see it being wrestled with that uh at universities yeah

I think that vulnerability is a core part of learning and we mentioned

earlier about being wrong and being comfortable with being wrong and admitting that you were wrong and that can be really hard for some of us

especially if we are in a precarity precarious position if someone is in a

position of precarity or someone is on scholarship and needs a certain grade to maintain that

and so I think a lot of this comes down to these pedagogies of care and kindness

that focus on connection because when we share vulnerabilities

we’re connecting and relationships are at the core of

learning in order for relationships to be valuable they need to be genuine they need to be vulnerable and they need to be open and

I think one thing that has really been challenging for that

is this position of this like expert on the stage with the professor the professor is right and the professor

knows best rather than recognizing the professor as a partner in learning

that’s helping to facilitate learning so I think in terms of that juxtaposition that you

asked about we have to shift that view of the professor as is not an expert to

to disseminate something it’s more of a guide and a partner in learning and if

professors feel more comfortable to share vulnerabilities then I think that can

help have a more meaningful relationship with students and I think also this like this idea

that failure is bad we need to get rid of that like absolutely some types of failures are bad some are because of bad

choices some are just bad luck um but there’s a whole bunch of failures related to

trying out new things and and taking risks and and figuring things out that that we can celebrate

I totally agree and it it resonates for me because I work a lot with faculty members so I I teach in in classrooms

but I also work a lot with the outliers and innovators across many universities

in Canada and and Beyond and one of the things that I I have found is that

students when they trust you and when they trust that it is a safe and brave space where they can model their own

vulnerability and see it modeled for them they’re like yes thank goodness this is

a relief yes messy Journey we’re crossing a threshold we’re experiencing discomfort they’re once they’re given

the language in the framework they’re pretty open to um re learning new new ways but I find

that faculty are way more armored and

blocked and resistant to being vulnerable resisting to resisting

sharing vulnerability even full professors who are not at all precarious there’s a there’s a kind of Shame and a

kind of grief sort of that has been um I think trained into them for so long

that there’s a there’s a bigger and more disruptive process of unlearning that

has to happen for them to be broken open rather than being broken apart and I

just wonder about this you know Shifting the view of the sage Sage on the stage

is an authority there’s a lot of work that they have to do about their self view their view of

themselves and their identities and I wonder if we can think about how the

systems themselves don’t value faculty being vulnerable or opening up to these

these unlearning but where we can intervene whether that’s promotion evaluation review whether that’s hiring

that’s ongoing professional development that is reverse mentorship but what

systems and structures do we need to put into place to shift the the view of Faculty themselves from Sage on the

stage to guide on the side or whatever whatever rhymes for you but a new way of

thinking about Authority and expertise I think

there are institutional cultures and disciplinary Norms that are that work

against vulnerability sometimes and these professors have come up

through those systems so one another thing to consider is that

like with students trusting professors professors have to earn that trust we

can’t say you can trust me and expect that it will follow we can’t say this is a safe space and expect that students

will feel safe so we have to demonstrate that and and earn that and I think it’s

similarly true for professors we can’t say to professors it’s okay be vulnerable

when we know there’s really well documented bias and student evaluations of teaching around vulnerability there’s

well-documented bias uh gender bias racial bias sexuality bias in student

evaluations of teaching so I think we have to figure out how we can earn professors trust in the context of a

broader system that historically has penalized vulnerability and so I think

one thing we we have to do is recognize who holds the power in those systems to

to change those systems

I’m going to swoop in and and ask Jessica’s big question here because this is the one that she usually puts on the

table but it fits so perfectly right now um so so Fiona thinking about those big

systems and the problems that are there in those big systems and you know X Y

and Z that’s that’s documented as as being systematic failures in those systems if you had to redesign the

university right if you had this hopeful outlook on what could we do better where

could we do better how we could do better what would that look like for you

such a great question and it might be easier to say what it isn’t rather than

what it is it is not an institution where grades are foundational

right so in terms of what it is if we go back

to the global issues we talked at the beginning it’s a global climate change access to clean water sustainable

agriculture pollution escalating cancer rates and detection

all those problems are going to be solved by people working together and so a new type of University I would want at

its core to be relational to highlight the value of relationships

to learning the value of relationships to Innovation because when we think about What Gives Life Meaning you look

at all the the surveys and the studies that exist for people’s perspective at the end of

their lives in terms of What Gives Life Meaning and the answer almost always comes back to relationships

and so if this is What Gives Life Meaning shouldn’t that be the core of university practice

so my short answer would be that its practice would be relational

and focus on relationships and no grading

and no grades however there would be feedback like feedback is part of

relationships and community and culture and connection

and so feedback is foundational but grades are not yeah I love that word the

maple league has um they just finished the book club on ungrading this semester

and you know we had like 80 people go through this and we did we did them in

small little communities of practice and people came with with varying degrees of of

um relationship and you know holding on to grades and a lot of people in the early sessions we did over 12 weeks and

and broke them down into chapters came with this but what about rigor what

about academic Integrity what about standards what about professional

designations and credentializing and by the end most of them were Evangelical

let’s Challenge and dismantle these systems because rigor I always think

when somebody uses the word rigor if first of all it’s an excuse to not be compassionate right it’s the sort of

blunt instrument that that you bash over people’s heads so that they get harder and not softer which is is not a

compelling argument for me but I always think of rigorous rigor mortis as this

sort of like rigid um inhospitable impervious dead thing

that has um that blocks living and breathing and

growing and adapting and being joyful and messy and all of the imperfections that make us human

but it was really interesting to see you know 80 people go through their own Journeys around their relationship well

wait a second I became a professor because I understood the system and I understood

how value circulated in that system and I understood how to game that system in order to maximize my results and

minimize my work or not minimize but work effectively work smart and and I’ve

been rewarded for that my entire trajectory so it is understandable for

people who’ve been rewarded in that system and who have thrived in that system to reproduce those systems

unreflectively and to not realize until you surface

those deep assumptions that grades for a number of us become ways that we

understand uncomfortably that maybe we’re Gatekeepers maybe we are maybe we’re the

problem and maybe we’ve internalized systems that no longer serve us or the

discipline or never did yeah so one rhetoric the rhetoric of rigor is a core institutional Norm that

instructors have have been exposed to since they were in school so it’s not surprising that some

will hold on to that rhetoric um and it even is as

ingrained as like I can’t possibly teach this course in anything less than 12 weeks because I know 12 weeks is the

magical number that I have to teach this in couldn’t possibly do it in 11 or 10. that’s something else we should change

for like a new University is completely re-examined time and speed and how much

we rush can I go back just to the rhetoric of rigor and connect it to something that

you talked about earlier which was shame is the rhetoric of rigor rooted in shame

insofar as thinking about I’m thinking about sort of the context of the universities I work within and we have

austerity so we have lack we have lack of we never have enough time we never have enough resources we never have

enough staff we never we never have enough X and over time I have seen new faculty

come in and take we never have enough X to I’m never going to be enough

and what that does I think in in institutional cultures and disciplinary Norms is to bake shame into the walls

and to overcompensate for lack by creating impervious or you know um

armored spaces and to unlearn that requires us to

surface our discomfort and to name that shame and to understand how systems have

consistently and repeatedly said even to privileged historical majorities you are

not enough and you need to hustle you need to make a case for

yourself you need to demonstrate impact you need to you’re never going to be enough

and I wonder if the rhetoric of rigor I’m this is just a half cooked thought as as you two were talking

did we treat it with the kind of critical empathy that it comes in its roots from something of lack

that’s really interesting I think with shame and the rhetoric of rear shame is a is

one of the threads but there are sort of other threads wrapped around as well

because I think we have the scarcity mindset related to budgets or positions or

number of students we can take in research positions and then that scarcity mindset leads us to think oh

meritocracy is the way right and if we are rigorous we will

only select the quote Best or the quote excellent but what what does excellent even mean

and when we are applying rhetorics of rigor I think what’s happening is we’re

reinforced biases and these systems are are reinforcing biases that are

inequitable so I think those are other threads that are in there but then the

exclusion that happens is absolutely connected to scarcity mindset and then that’s connected to

shame and just thinking on that that time

scale right we’ve been talking about um you know not having enough time and and and and and needing to re-examine

time I’m I’m wondering if like as you’ve seen this play out let’s just say in the

last five years right like do you see some inherent changes

um or or maybe what would you what would you like to see as changes if we talk about a pre-covered uh where we are

right now and where we might be going based on some of these um some of these

issues whether it’s around Equity whether it’s about scarcity of resources

you know whether it’s about simple things like internet Broadband availability right like do you see do

you see these things changing over time yeah I really do and I think for some

things we don’t realize how important they are to us until we don’t have them

and for a lot of students and faculty that we work with during the pandemic a

lot of that came back to relationships and connection and the value of connection and

connecting in different ways and so I think something that happened with the shift online and

the shift to remote with the covid-19 pandemic is people realizing how

important meaningful connection is and realizing how that can be achieved in

different ways so I’m hoping some of the flexibility of online connection will

take with us but then we will also slow down to try to cultivate meaningful

connection in different ways so I think that will come forward and I think

this is a thing about crises is they can be wonderful

opportunities to reflect and re-examine and shift course if we are supported and if we have structural supports to do so

so I really hope we don’t go back to normal because that wasn’t working

for a whole swath of our student body so I’m hoping that we moving forward

this increased value that’s been placed on connection I hope that keeps moving

forward foreign yeah we were just um discussing

the slow Professor um the book by Maggie Berg and one of her colleagues at queens and we’re

looking at it as a spring book club for our communities of practice across Maple league and available to any of you who

want to join we’re actively recruiting and open you know we’ve got 60 plus

universities that participate regularly in our programming because I think there’s a real need to have those conversations about

we can’t go back to normal but what are we going to do like how do

we how do we change that and the slow Professor you know we we’ve been back and forth about this choice because it

got some criticism when it was first released because being slow and slowing

down is a privilege of the full Professor or privilege of the student

who doesn’t have to work a part-time or full-time job support their families commute and manage a whole host of other

kinds of responsibilities and is really hard to think about what slow professor as a slow cooking movement it was

inspired by the slow cooking movement looks like with precarious and contingent faculty and students

um but reading it and thinking about it as a systems level

shift and mindset and series of behaviors where there’s interventions at every level I think it’s really

important and it was prescient coming out pre-pandemic in giving us one not

the total guide but one intervention or one talking point for us to think about

designing future facing spaces that are more hospitable human and Humane and as

as you say relationship Rich right founded in in the relational founded in

meaningful authentic joyful spaces where people are are learning alongside one

another rather than learning in in power dynamics that are can be really harmful

so I just I wonder if you might want to talk about that but talk about it maybe in through the lens of my favorite of

your title and you have like five titles yeah like lead here and running this

here and doing this here and and an undergraduate Focus but also diversity and excellence

so the diversity and Excellence portfolio how do we do slow with

diversity and excellence and especially in the lens of well Excellence

traditionally has meant let’s reproduce unconscious by biases and exclude a

whole host of members of equity deserving groups what do we what do we do how do we challenge that to say

diversity is excellence and move that was like five questions

[Music] keep me awake at night

and there’s there’s so many places we could go to

explore that but the value of diversity is just

mind-boggling it’s amazing people aren’t shouting this from rooftops for the the

best ways to build teams and to work on projects and and this should not be something that’s

under debate and there’s so many examples we could look at like when YouTube first came out with its direct

upload to Youtube app so Google owns YouTube and they’re famous for their beta testing they don’t make mistakes

they went through the development phase beta testing launched worldwide failed five five to ten percent of the time

five to ten percent of the time the up the image was upside down the upload didn’t work it was considered a failure

and do you know why it’s because there were no left-handers on their development or beta test team because

left-handed people hold their phone in a different orientation and they had to come up with a statement saying we’re not biased against

left-handers we had poor diversity on our team it’s like yes you need diversity on your teams we know that

like Fortune 500 companies make more money when their teams are diverse we know that groups of scientists ask

different questions when their teams are diverse like for bird watchers and ornithologists it was thought for 150

years that only male birds had complex song in certain parts of the globe and it wasn’t until more women were being

trained with phds and animal behavior and directing the studies it was discovered that actually female birds in

these regions have really complex song and complex song Evolved first in females there’s so many examples we

could talk about about with diversity and so it can be a little frustrating when people still

need to be convinced of this because there’s there’s so many examples out there and so that’s one thing is just to

keep talking about it and how exciting it is that you can get to different answers through different paths so this

goes back to recreating the university this idea that there’s only one right answer or one right way and on my

midterms and my final exams they always end with an essay and the students have to design an experiment and they’re and

they get points for creativity and this is deeply uncomfortable because there’s no one right answer and there shouldn’t

be like it can be interesting and messy and creative and yes it should be a well-designed experiment but there’s

lots of ways you could go with it and so you asked five questions and I

don’t think I answered any of those questions in that answer but going going back to the

Equity diversity and inclusion aspect of of some of the things we’ve discussed

something that this group I’m involved in this tide Group Toronto Initiative for diversity and Excellence on one of

our slides it says there’s this like false narrative

between institutions are made of people people have to change we need to focus on bias

awareness for people because people make up institutions and then oh like people can’t change systemic problems we have

to focus on institutional and structural change and it’s not one or the other we have to be doing both and they have to

inform each other and and their continual so with that I would I would say

we have to be doing both we have to look at personal awareness and personal actions to minimize bias but then we

have to look at structural change and that’s so that’s also important and

to bring another sort of book into the conversation there’s a at nippersing we have a book club as well right and our

next one is it’s called transforming universities in the midst of a global crisis and it’s a you creating a

university for the common good and it’s sort of in looking at that book we were sort of like these poor authors they

started this this this book pre-covered right so they probably added the in the

midst of the global crisis after the fact like after they already had the contract but it’s so cool that they took

it and they ran with it and they put it out anyway right now how much of it is dated that’s a pre-covered thing or how

much of it is wholly relevant now but it’s the strength in here’s our

situation and we’ve got some new variables that we didn’t know existed in

2019 when we started this thing but let’s roll with it anyway and and so I I haven’t read it yet but but it seemed

like quite it’ll be interesting to see where a small University in Northern

Ontario aligns with this large Australian cohort of of authors

um you know in terms of it’s the same everywhere we’re running into the same problems we need to do

this at an individual level we need to do this at a systematic level we need to do this at every single level and and

then some right and in both the spaces of privilege but also the the

the the the spaces that our Equity deserving and and so on and so forth so

but I have one question for you one one sort of I don’t know if this is a last question or uh like here you go another

great big huge big picture question but Fiona when you think about you know

teaching and learning and you think about universities and you think about higher ed in general and all these bits

and pieces what is it that keeps you up at night right what is the like ah or or or

conversely you know what is it that gets you up in the morning right to be like I’m gonna go and I’m gonna combat that

maybe they’re the same thing maybe they’re not who knows

I think they are related but if something’s stopping me from

sleeping it’s probably related to some of these Global challenges like global climate

change yeah because I’m I’m deeply concerned about

where we are headed and what we’re going to need to do to be okay

but on the same point probably what gets me out of bed in the morning is that I have so much hope

for what we can do and and that comes back to relationships like what gives my

life meaning or my relationships with my family friends colleagues and students

right so I think they’re definitely related uh one stops me from sleeping and one helps me uh get out of bed with

joy and we really are in the a world of Hope

right we have sort of institutionally mandated hope in like as a fundamental

what we say we are as it’s a wellness Wednesday come on it is not happy performative it can be dissembling but

it we there’s nothing more hopeful than learning because when you set out you

are willing to challenge the actual in the name of the possible as Ira Shore

says in empowering students you’re willing to think differently than you think and see differently than you see and you’re

willing to do that with other people in both individual learning Journeys and in communal spaces and to for the The

Audacity Of Hope of our young people to walk in to a classroom and say I don’t

know break me open let’s build something together and to trust us enough and to

trust the process enough to feel the discomfort of of a

reconstituting of of their self there’s nothing more hopeful than that and I

think that we’ve got a really um tease you know as a secular human a

sacred responsibility here to build systems that allow for this hope to flourish and

for our our humans to flourish both as individuals and in inextricably bound up

ways with one another and so I I’m just so grateful for for

you walking us through like you’ve taken us through the whole journey of that hope which is sort of starting with

relationships um moving into the age of overwhelm surfacing grief and shame

um resisting the rhetoric of failure as a fetishizing but to sit in the the

genuine nature of the discomfort of vulnerability of to to think through and

reimagine power dynamics and power relations um to to think about the ways in which

we shift the view of of the professor and expertise and authority to make

space for for diversity as excellence and and hope as a verb right hope in

action so I’m I’ve written all sorts of stuff and I’m like okay we need to we need to follow up on the rhetoric of

rigor we actually have an op-ed we’re writing right now and the title is beware the

rhetoric and freaker oh I can’t wait I cannot wait to read it

when you give people language when you invite it into conversation when you give people a framework there

is a huge amount of critical reflection that can happen right that instead of saying you’re doing this wrong and

you’re like these are systems and structures that you are you are surviving but not flourishing in what

kind of processes of unlearning and relearning do we have to do I think that is so tremendously powerful so I really

want to want to express my deep gratitude for for this conversation and for all of the the seeds that you’ve

planted which I’m sure will grow in um in lovely future kinds of ways

thank you so much plus my husband is a massive bird watcher so I’m gonna lose

anything about guess what Rob the bird calls we’re all for

there’s a wonderful article in the conversation you can Google it but it it goes through the history of

um women scientists and Birdsong and it’s really interesting I love it

thanks so much Fiona it’s been an absolute pleasure to to chat with you this afternoon and just like you know

Zing ideas off of one another and uh and go from there um so thanks so much for that thanks Pat

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