Muskens: Colleges key to nation building

Colleges are important to our communities and to the economy and the future of this nation.

This past weekend, I attended the Association of Community Colleges of Canada annual conference.

It was held in Penticton, hosted by Okanagan College. There were people there from all over the world representing either their college or poly-technical institute. Some came from as far as Africa and Southeast Asia. It was a great event with speakers such as authors Wade Davis (an Explorer in Residence for National Geographic) and John Ralston Saul.

So at the end of the four-day conference many people asked me what were the highlights?

In other words what did I take away and what did I learn.

One of the most interesting sessions I went to was on bullying. One of the presenters was Richard Fillion, director general from Dawson College. Most of you probably know of this college because of the shooting that took place on September 13, 2006 where one student died and many others were injured.

Fillion told us about the healing Dawson College went through to deal with the aftermath of the shooting which included an aggressive campaign to combat harassment and bullying on campus. They did two things. The first was a series of posters which talked about how they had to build a community of respect.

The other initiative was to create a peace garden on campus. This project included staff, students and those from the surrounding community. The project gave a fragile community an opportunity to rebuild something beautiful to deal with tragedy.

Another interesting thing I gleaned at the conference was how the term Sixties Scoop is applied to Canadian aboriginal people, many about the same age as me.

This term was coined by Patrick Johnston who wrote a report in 1983 which refers to a practice starting in the 1960s (ending in the late 1980s) where aboriginal children were removed from their families and placed in foster care—usually with a white family—they were “scooped.” Many of these children suffered physical and mental abuse coupled with the loss of culture and identity.

Some of these adults are students in college today. Some are the children of these foster kids. This is why it is so important to respond to the needs of aboriginal students with appropriate support services.

Other things that I learned:

• If you create a new program and you give it some convoluted name that nobody understands, this can stop students from enrolling. One college noticed this, changed the program name and—lo and behold—they finally had students apply.

• There are a whole lot of people in Canada and in other countries who are really committed to seeing students succeed at college.

If you look at all the good things these people are doing, you get a pretty good idea of how important colleges are to our communities and to the economy and the future of this nation.

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