The final keynote for HERDSA 2012 was presented by Liz McKinley, Auckland on making connections with under represented students in our institutions; social justice education.
Again, the sense of identity comes to the fore of our discussion – what is the other? What is the sense of connecting with those that we consider to be part of the other in higher education? Liz made the point that we are focussing very much on understanding the other in our communities, but that we tend to avoid the perhaps more difficult area of making connections with, and learning from, this sense of other.
Liz spoke about three specific projects: the Starpath project, the Maori and Indigenous (MAI) doctoral program, and the Teaching and Learning in the Supervision of Maori PhD students (TLRI).
It was a fascinating discussion, so full of insight into cultural identity, and the tension (sometimes) with our pursuit of academic identity. Much of the work is is relation to PhD studies, Maori students who were pursuing postdoctoral studies, perhaps with a strong desire to explore Maori heritage as their PhD, perhaps having a strong heritage but wishing to undertake unrelated studies, and then a third category of those students who were using their studies to build their connection to their heritage. By crossing cultural boundaries (academic and ancestral) it introduces the potential to learn from the cultural heritage of the Maori students, and to include pedagogy, cultural guides, and elder knowledge as part of the studies. This introduced tensions as well – how can the study of these elements form part of the thesis? How can these activities form part of the experimental framework? Certainly challenging the sense of academic identity, and the view of what research within this environment means.
I couldn’t think of a better end to the HERDSA conference, although for me, the theme for this years conference was not so much about connections, but about identity. A first step perhaps – it is only when we have a true sense of identity, our own, that of others, that of the environment, and the combinations thereof as the identity of individuals is changed by their environment and interactions within, that we are able to consider making connections. This view of connection as one of learning how we can learn from another is built on top of understanding.