Dan Irving – Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies

The Human Rights and Resistance course is organized as a critique of the Academic Industrial Complex (AIC). The objectives of this course is for students to be able to better understand the ways that university education has been devolving into a business and learning is often approached from a very rationalist and instrumentalist basis (i.e. doing what needs to be done to become employable). How can they orient themselves towards student-­led advocacy and resistance?

Clearly, understanding of neoliberalism, ablism, etc., provides the analytical foundation for this critique of education; however, this course begins with a think-­piece assignment (“Why are you here?”) so open space for students to understand the importance of their embodied existence within the classroom as a microcosm of society. Why are they in university? How do they think about themselves as students? What are their expectations of themselves, their peers as classmates, faculty, senior administrators? I try to foster spaces where students themselves understand that they are texts. Their thoughts, their embodied responses to the demands of education and the imbalance of education-­work-­social life-­activism are all very important pieces to come to a deeper understanding of the systems of power framing society and the ways that such relations mediate everyday life and interactions with others.

By lectures where I raise pointed questions, think piece assignments, class discussions and group work where students spend class time establishing a campaign/intervention/action that addresses a specific issue on campus (past examples: necessity for more support for student’s mental health; the politics of space on campus; the politics of food on campus and corporate contracts (e.g. Coke); services for “international students”), students become more comfortable inserting their own embodied and experiential knowledge into analysis.

They also begin to understand the hyper-­individualism of neoliberalism and the ways that resistance through building social environments and relations can be enacted within the classroom. For example, the last time I taught this course (2012) students remarked that when they come to a class, they only talk to their friends but rarely to those around them. They often feel so ashamed and stigmatized by their struggles with anxiety, depression, etc. and feel they are so alone; however, group projects where students shared their struggles and organized to find out more about counselling services and other ways of meeting their needs on campus brought them together. Others spoke of feeling better about relating to students not as competitors for the professors attention but as allies and part of a community (i.e. we were all working towards a common event -­the four/fivegroup projects merge into one big event at the end of the semester -­ in 2012 it was called “Got Space?” and took place in the Atrium).

I have been able to witness student’s confidence grow, their abilities to trust their bodies and lived experiences as teachers and sources of knowledge that need to be valued. Yes, they are graded but regardless of the letter grade received, they often continue to foster relationships with their classmates, work on campus-based issues and feel more confident in pursuing areas of scholarship that interest them and incite a passion for learning.