I encourage you to embrace your own cultural background in this class and to remember that western literature is not the pinnacle of human creativity. The idolization of western literature is an artifact of the western academic tradition that persists because of momentum rather than merit. Don’t get me wrong: the western canon is great — it’s just not greater than any other tradition of literature and storytelling. Your family, your culture, your people – whoever they may be and however you define them as your people – possess a vast collection of art, wisdom, and story (whether or not they ever wrote any of it down). The stories of culture are endless, and though the forms of creativity vary somewhat across cultures, the shapes of stories have a kind of unity. Everywhere in the world we can find oceans of stories, told in different ways but sharing the core themes of human experience. In this class, I encourage you to find stories that reflect you – your values, your character, your innermost nature – and especially to embrace stories that come from your own culture(s) – however you define it or them. All cultures have beautiful, magical, awesome, scary, profound stories.

Perhaps you’ve been told all your life that the most important stories come from the western canon – even if no one actually said that. But ask yourself: how many of the western stories do you know, as compared to the stories of your own culture and people? How do you feel about that balance? And if you’d like to change it, please do so. Your stories are yours to discover. No one else can tell you which stories are the greatest or most important for you.

The reading list has books from various cultures. But there are thousands of cultures in the world; so, unavoidably, most cultures are not on our reading list. If you want to read stories from your culture(s), please help me work with you to find them. Send me a note, and we’ll figure out how to discover the stories that will best feed your imagination and spirit.

About Systemic Racism

For more than 35 years, my career has been focused on working with vulnerable people. In my clinical practice I work with social service agencies to help them deal with the many issues involved in providing care for the most vulnerable residents of our society: homeless, addicted, traumatized, impoverished people of all kinds. I have worked with hundreds of local social service agencies (as well as dozens more across Canada and internationally), and I am the clinical supervisor for BC’s largest provincially-funded program focused on addictions and homelessness.

In this clinical work that I do, it’s impossible not to notice how much overlap there is between vulnerable populations and racism. I have directly witnessed the ongoing abuse, poverty, and death of vulnerable members of our communities. I have devoted my career to helping our society grapple with the many ways in which we perpetuate – intentionally or otherwise – the persistent vulnerability faced by marginalized and racialized groups. In post-secondary education – the context for our courses and our experiences on these pages – many of the traditions of academia reflect values that are out of step with how we think about the development and care of vulnerable people today. This mismatch between legacy values and contemporary perspectives can (and often does) perpetuate harm in a host of ways — some obvious, others more subtle. This is one of the main reasons why so many of our course pages directly challenge academic traditions. I’m not just trying to be cheeky: changing education is essential if we are to move society toward greater health, justice, compassion, and care.

Educators are the gatekeepers and tradition-holders of academic culture. The traditions that perpetuate distress for vulnerable groups; the practices that exclude and deride people; the unexamined and implicit norms that often damage learners: all of these embody a long shadow for which educators are accountable. If education is, ideally, a process of illumination and discovery — of coming out of the shadow of unknowing and into greater awareness — then we must follow that process to where it leads: growth and change.