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Part of a special feature focused on celebrating and recognizing the contribution and impact of Aboriginal Peoples in Newfoundland and Labrador and highlighting contemporary topics and opportunities related to Aboriginal Peoples worldwide. This feature coincides with Aboriginal Peoples Week running March 21-24.

By Laura Woodford

Tobi Jolly, a fourth-year bachelor of social work student, will present on the topic of Academic Stock Exchange: The Value of an Aboriginal Student’s Tears during Aboriginal Peoples Week: Truth and Reconciliation at Memorial on March 23.

Here, she speaks with Gazette contributor Laura Woodford about being expected to look at her culture from the outside in and sometimes feeling unsafe in the classroom.

LW: The title of your presentation is quite arresting and seems very much to stem from an emotional place. Can you tell me why the topic is important to you on a personal level?

TJ: Being Aboriginal has often felt like something to be exploited rather than something to be valued, particularly in classrooms. The role of educator is often applied to me, without consideration that I might not want that role or that I might not be suited to it. This can even occur without others intending for me to take on that role. It’s important to me because I felt that there were times during my degree when Aboriginal issues could have been addressed in ways that weren’t so painful or awkward for me. I didn’t always say anything and I’d really hate for other people to feel this way throughout their time as students because of that.

LW: Can you tell me an example of the type of awkwardness you have felt?

TJ: People seem to ask questions like my culture is already a comfortable topic between us, even if it is not. I’m expected to share. Also, people speak about Aboriginal culture in a distant or analytical way and don’t realize I can’t do that.

LW: Can you suggest possible ways for fellow students and educators to be more cognizant of assuming people want to or are able to take on these roles?

TJ: I don’t really intend any of this as adversarial or anything negative towards my time as a student or any individuals I have encountered during that time. But I think people often don’t think to consider things such as the fact that I can’t really look at my culture from the outside in, or speak about it in an analytical, non-specific, distant way, which has made a lot of classrooms unsafe spaces for me. Perhaps others may be more comfortable with being the educator or more suited to that role than I am.

LW: Do you have any suggestions for what would make it safer?

TJ: I think things like not automatically assuming everyone is comfortable sharing or educating others about their culture, need to be considered by people in the university community, particularly in areas like social work where Aboriginal topics come up so often.

LW: How important is it for you to present on this subject during Aboriginal Peoples Week: Truth and Reconciliation?

TJ: I’m really not sure. I’d like to think that it’s an important topic to talk about. I don’t know how important it is that I be the one to do it. I’m a bit uncomfortable talking about myself in front of a lot of people, including my professors and peers. And total strangers. [But] I’ve spent too much time feeling uncomfortable in classrooms to not say anything. I think it’s important to talk about that, to confront the truth and begin to reconcile how to change things, in myself (or other Aboriginal students) and in the university community. I’m speaking about my personal experiences, but it’s not about me per se, rather I hope it can be relatable to other racialized students. Maybe others may identify with this and can expand on it in the future.

LW: What would you say are the strengths that Memorial and the School of Social Work has in terms of addressing Aboriginal topics?

TJ: In the School of Social Work, I’ve noted that many students and professors recognize and acknowledge the white privilege that exists in our society. This starts dialogue, reflections, discussion, and hopefully someday, action.

LW: What do you hope people will take away from your presentation?

TJ: I’m really just hoping to start dialogue and ask people to think about the way that Aboriginal issues are addressed in academic spaces. I think people can think that treating everyone the same is effective, and probably in other areas of studies this works. In social work, we discuss Aboriginal issues often and it affects people differently. Discussing Aboriginal topics is a completely different experience for me than other students and treating me exactly the same can make this an extremely difficult experience for me. I guess all I really want people to take away is to consider how a lecture, video, topic, assignment, conversation, reading, or anything can affect someone in a completely different way.

Ms. Jolly will present on Wednesday, March 23, from 12-12:50 p.m. in the University Centre.

To learn more about Aboriginal Peoples Week, please visit here.

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