The new course is the first phase of the McMaster Indigenous Research Institute’s Prison Education Project

The Silhouette sat down with Savage Bear, Director of the McMaster Indigenous Research Institute, to discuss her new course set to start in January 2023 taught at the Grand Valley Institution for Women in Kitchener.  

The new course is part of the Walls to Bridges National Program where Bear sits as co-director. The program aims to implement post-secondary education in prisons and jails nationwide, offering classes that both incarcerated and non-incarcerated students can attend. The program values dismantling stigmas and creating collaborative spaces for incarcerated students.  

“There are a lot of stereotypes, and we carry misconceptions about what happens in a prison and  what incarcerated folks are like. At the same time, incarcerated folks also have ideas about university and the students who attend. So we bring these two groups together to break down those boundaries,” said Bear. 

“There are a lot of stereotypes, and we carry misconceptions  about what happens in a prison and  what incarcerated folks are like. At the same time,  incarcerated folks also have ideas about university and the students who attend. So we bring these two groups together to break down those boundaries,”

Savage Bear, Director of the McMaster Indigenous Research Institute

Working with the Edmonton Institution for Women, Bear and her team implemented the Walls to Bridges program during her time as an assistant professor at the Faculty of Native Studies and Department of Women and Gender Studies at the University of Alberta. She made continuing her work of implementing post-secondary education in prisons a priority when appointed as the director of McMaster’s Indigenous Research Institute in July 2021.  

“You have 10 students from the university and 10 students in the [prison]. We hold a classroom in the prison, it’s a three-credit course like a regular semester. It's a normal university course in every other way, except it's in a prison and half your classmates are incarcerated folks,” said Bear. 

“You have 10 students from the university and 10 students in the [prison]. We hold a classroom in the prison, it’s a three-credit course like a regular semester. It's a normal university course in every other way, except it's in a prison and half your classmates are incarcerated folks,”

Savage Bear, Director of the McMaster Indigenous Research Institute

Bear described the course as covering historical Indigenous tragedies and how communities preserved their cultures and traditions. 

“We are looking at Indigenous peoples who have resisted and subverted colonial policies, and legislation like the Indian Act — all those types of oppressive structures that pushed back against them historically... We have to recognize that Indigenous people were never passive participants in these colonial structures. They fought back in brilliant and courageous ways,” said Bear. 

Bear and co-facilitator, Sara Howdle will facilitate the course with group discussions and group projects between incarcerated and non-incarcerated students. She characterized incarcerated students that register for courses as eager with an appetite to learn. 

“I've rarely come across a university class where all the students do all the readings all the time. My incarcerated students have an incredible thirst for knowledge. They make notes of what they liked and didn't like about the articles.  Hands down they're some of the most critical thinkers I've ever come across in my entire teaching career. It is such a pleasure to have such engaged and thoughtful minds in the class,” said Bear. 

The Walls to Bridges Program is the first of a three-tier plan for the McMaster Indigenous Research Institute’s Prison Education Project. The second tier involves support for post-incarceration students living in transition houses to attend courses on campus for either a credit or an audit. Tier three is a mentorship program that provides supports to formerly incarcerated people to apply for university. Bear described the project as a pipeline for incarcerated people, from prison to transition housing to post-secondary education. 

Bear highlighted the value of this unique course setting and structure as life-changing for university students. 

“It is a life-changing course. It is something you rarely come across in your life. Walls to Bridges has been like that for students since its inception 11 years ago. If you want a dynamic course that's going to challenge you, make you uncomfortable, but be incredibly rewarding, then this is the course for you,” said Bear. 

Applications for McMaster students to register for the class are due Nov 15th. 

Yoohyun Park/Production Coordinator

The social awkwardness many have gained over the pandemic is affecting our conversations in person

By: Ardena Bašić, Contributor

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has changed our lives in more ways than we could have ever imagined, one of the most potent impacts have been on our social lives. While the most obvious changes have been with regards to the way we interact with those around us regularly, either by a physical or virtual distance, our more casual, everyday interactions have also been significantly affected. 

Before the world was forced to respond to a global health crisis, it was seemingly easy to start general, unprompted conversation. Walking through a library, hallway or even classroom meant endless opportunities for communication. However, as we changed to a virtual platform of school and work operations, this was almost impossible. One would have to deliberately present themselves online in a way that would advance the proposition of small talk. In other words, turning on one’s camera and microphone on zoom, despite how uninviting it may be for some. Being deprived of such interactions for a prolonged period means that we do so now with less confidence and find it increasingly unnatural

This notion likely sounds all too familiar to students who are slowly acclimating to being on campus again. Seeing classmates and friends around campus and town was exciting at first, but the social engagement was ultimately quite draining considering the lack of such meetings for the past year and a half. Furthermore, initiating casual interactions with strangers around campus is much less enticing. As appealing as it may sound to say “hi” or find solidarity in the endless amount of schoolwork university seems to entail, it is daunting after a long period without such practice. 

As appealing as it may sound to say “hi” or find solidarity in the endless amount of schoolwork university seems to entail, it is daunting after a long period without such practice. 

Ardena Bašić, Contributor

The other negative implication of this lies in the idea of mentorship. Having an upper year student, regardless of whether they are in your program or not, is invaluable in terms of guidance and advice. Knowing what a professor may prefer for assignments, what study methods to use for a particular class or what lectures to never miss is especially helpful for first- and second-year students, many of whom are still adjusting to the expectations of university. Through our newfound discomfort in casual interactions, we are missing out on the opportunity to build these relationships while out on campus. Whilst virtual mentorship programs are providing one solution, the solidarity that arises from meeting someone in public who you can relate to is unobtainable through online platforms. 

Whilst virtual mentorship programs are providing one solution, the solidarity that arises from meeting someone in public who you can relate to is unobtainable through online platforms.

Ardena Bašić, Contributor

Lastly, after being at home for so long, many of us are excited about the opportunity to make new friends on campus. Yet, given our trepidation to approach new faces, this is made even more difficult. As a result, we are still relying on social media and virtual platforms to interact with one another, increasingly diminishing our tangible sense of friendship. As eager as we are to return to a semblance of normality, the habits and routines we have developed over the past year must be conquered — or at the very least revised — first.

 COVID-19 has given us yet another obstacle that we must overcome in order to live regular lives once again. There is so much benefit in being able to spontaneously interact with those around us. A slow, gradual approach to such encounters will likely be most comfortable for some, but don’t forget that we are all experiencing this same effect to some extent. As a society, we can find solidarity in the fact that we are going through this ordeal now, just like we will find solidarity in experiencing a re-introduction to a more social society together in the future.

Photos from Silhouette Photo Archives

By Adriana Skaljin

Conor Marshall has been playing for the McMaster men’s rugby team for three years and has followed the sport since the ninth grade.

The fourth-year chemical engineering student decided to play the sport due to its physicality and challenging nature. However, it was not until he picked the sport back up in the 12th grade that he realized that it was a good fit for himself.

“Rugby teaches you about life lessons, as it challenges you to play as a team, work with each other’s personalities, and ultimately move as a single unit,” explained Marshall. “A rugby team is only as strong as its weakest player, which proves the importance of communication and teamwork.”

[spacer height="20px"]At a high school level, Marshall explained how the differing levels of understanding and skill towards the sport contrast the strong passion for the sport that comes at a university level.

“In university, everyone knows what they are doing in the game, which allows us to come together to build the platform needed to win,” said Marshall.

The team is composed of around sixty players, whose age range is staggered across all undergraduate years. A lot of players were recruited this year, due to the loss of several upper-year players. It was one of the biggest recruiting sessions, as people were pulled from all over Ontario, rather than by joining the team as walk-ons.

“We have many talented veterans on the team, who are joined by lower-years that are stepping up their game,” said Marshall. “Our first-year players are providing us with speed, which is changing the way that we are playing. Others are providing us with size and effort.”

Marshall described how having an age diverse team has contributed to strong levels of mentorship and leadership both on and off the field.

He explained how the upper-year players serve to help correct and assist the younger players on the field. This leadership extends off the field as well, as seen through the implemented mentorship program.

“The mentorship program that has been created for the team, pairs up fourth-year players with younger years,” explained Marshall. “Off the field, these upper-year mentors help lower-year ‘buddies’ with their homework and will check in to see how they’re doing.”

It is evident that this mentorship program is one of the many things that led to Marshall’s classification of the team as being “friendship oriented.” Both on and off the field, the team is described to always have each other's best interest in mind, which ultimately allows them to connect on the field.

[spacer height="20px"]“It’s an interesting dynamic as to how the players smash each other in the game, but then can meet up with one another and have a talk,” said Marshall. “The fact that we can do this with the rival teams prove that rugby is a humble sport.

The team also has six captains who share the responsibility of leading the team. The ‘Leadership Group’ decides themselves who the captains are for each game, and attribute to the team’s purpose of being player-oriented.

These captains sit down with the coaching staff and come up with the areas that they believe need the most work. These improvements are then touched upon during their film study session, which occurs on Sundays, and then becomes the main focus of that week’s practices.

“The fact that we get to figure out our own areas of improvement has created a great environment to play in,” said Marshall. “Coach [Dan] Pletch is a player-oriented person and instead of telling you how to do something, he will ask a question and make us figure it out. He calls it problem-based learning, and I find it to be very effective.”

This coaching style forces the players to figure out the problems themselves, which is a challenge that the team has accepted.

“It allows us to come up with ways to better the system,” explained Marshall. “By allowing us to come up with our own solutions, Pletch has implemented a method that makes us very player-oriented.”

It is through a player-oriented approach and the strong mentorship between teammates, that players such as Conor Marshall, have recognized their areas of improvement and the fact that they are stronger together.

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International Student Services is currently recruiting over 100 undergraduate students to be a part of a mentorship program that supports international students in their transition to the McMaster and Hamilton community.

Student mentors play an important role in creating a welcoming and inclusive community for students who need the extra support to better integrate into McMaster and Hamilton.

However, this way of bringing support for international students seems forced, almost like a course or a job might. The fact that students who are interested in mentoring and being a part of this program must apply for the role, as if it were a job, is an odd process.

According to an email that was sent by the McMaster Alumni Association to students, mentor interactions in the role would occur “through email, by phone, on social media and in-person beginning in June 2018 and ending in April 2019”.In addition, all volunteers would be expected to attend an in-person orientation and complete mandatory online training for the position.

Volunteers would also be expected to attend a few monthly mentorship events, where they would have an opportunity to connect with other mentors and international students face-to-face.

The position is available on OSCARplus and is considered a volunteer position that you would apply for. Although it is a volunteer position, the role has a process that seems a bit too formal for a program that is meant to help International students make friends and feel more comfortable at McMaster.

The fact that students who are interested in mentoring and being a part of this program must apply for the role, as if it were a job, is an odd process.

The main goal in running this program would be to help make a fellow student’s transition to McMaster a memorable one, though the process of qualifying for the role seems a little too formal to be accepted as a mere social relationship that is meant to be enjoyable and genuine.

I’m sure that if students wanted to help themselves get a better sense of the community, they would have paid for a tour to get a similarly formal and socially disconnected experience.

Given that that the incentive for applying would be to “make a positive impact on a student’s experience”, there could have been a more effective way of achieving the same goal and helping benefit students for volunteers who may be interested in applying for this position.

Though both the mentor and mentee would benefit in one way or another, the requirements and expectations on the mentor’s ends seem a bit forced and could have an effect on the mentee where they may feel like the mentor is only putting in the effort to meet the requirements of the mentor position.

This just puts both parties in an awkward position, whereas, if the position was merely a volunteer position that students would sign up as if they were volunteering for a club event, the experience may feel more genuine for all participants.

I am not saying that finding ways to help international students at McMaster integrate and create connection is a bad idea.

This program has all the right purposes and intents. However, the same purposes can be achieved simply by having a space for students to connect with other students or running events that would integrate both international students and other undergraduate students that are more familiar with the McMaster and Hamilton community.

Though the purpose of the ISS mentorship program is important and beneficial, the process could be seen as unnecessary for a program that focuses on having a positive impact on a student’s university experience.

Maryssa Barras

The Silhouette Intern

Alumni Association hosts Welcome Wednesdays

Starting on Jan. 23 the McMaster Alumni Association will be hosting Welcome Wednesdays. Once a month students will be welcome to visit the Alumni House for free coffee and bagels from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Members of the Student Relations Committee will be present for information on how to get involved on campus. Registration is required and free at alumni.os.mcmaster.ca.

New mentorship program launched

On Jan. 23, Communication Studies and Multimedia unveiled a new mentorship program where upper-year students are paired with first and second-year students. A meet and greet social was held to introduce and pair up mentors with mentees. This program was the result of a student-led initiative and will have continued socials for mentors and mentees to bond.

City of Hamilton issues cold weather alert

There is a cold weather alert for the City of Hamilton as of Jan. 18. Cold weather alerts mean that temperatures are expected to go to or below -15 C. The cold weather could reach up to 10 degrees lower than average for this time of year, is expected to last all week, and could potentially warm up over the weekend. Students should be advised that the cold-warm trend will continue for the weeks to come.

Humanities launches Experiential Ed. centre

The Faculty of Humanities is launching the Humanities Target Learning & Experiential Education Centre (HTLC). Funded by the Faculty of Humanities and full-time Humanities students, the HTLC was passed by students through the McMaster Humanities Society Referendum with the goal of increasing career exploration an experiential opportunities for Humanities students, and will be hosting events throughout the semester for interested students. The official launch is on Jan. 21 in CIBC Hall at 10:30 a.m. Students, faculty and staff are all welcome.

Study finds 905 residents oppose austerity cuts 

A new study by the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA) found that over two thirds of residents in the 905 region of Hamilton do not want the governments deficit-cutting agenda to compromise the quality of university education in the province. 86 percent of residents oppose university funding cuts, and 75 percent oppose shifting the cost of higher education onto students with higher tuition fees.

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