Bridging the gap: New WGST course connects academia and community

By in News

Many students wonder how to use the theory and knowledge they gain in university in a practical and beneficial way. To enable students to work directly with community organizations and expand their work outside the academic bubble, the University of Saskatchewan is offering a new women’s and gender studies class during the spring term.

WGST 242: Colonization, Migration, Diasporas: Critical Transnational Feminist Perspectives is debuting this spring term, and registration is available on PAWS until May 11. This class differs from many others offered at the university, as it explores community- based outreach and learning, with classes taking place at organizations all over the city.

Manuela Valle-Castro, the instructor of this course and a professor in the WGST and political studies departments, discusses how the course will use theory to examine how colonialism has shaped Saskatoon through narratives and histories told by dominant and marginalized groups.

“What we are really trying to do with this course is to develop a theoretical and conceptual framework that allows us to read the city as a space where there [are] a lot of overlapping stories. To develop a critical eye on how to read those stories and how to read what historical forces have shaped this city. What kind of subjects and communities exist in the city and how we all inhabit this space, with all our different backgrounds, wounds and desires,” Valle- Castro said.

Some of the locations included in the course are Station 20 West, OUTSaskatoon, the Western Development Museum and Turning the Tide Bookstore. With hands-on assignments and direct involvement with community organizations, students will experience learning in a different capacity.

Valle-Castro discusses the focus of the course and what she hopes students will learn from it.

“We will try to unpack the city as a space where all of these histories — colonization, migration, diasporas — are inscribed, but also what is erased in these histories? What kind of things are remembered and recorded, and what kind of stories have disappeared,” Valle-Castro said.

This course also acts a precursor for a subsequent study-abroad class that will be happening in Santiago, Chile. This upcoming 300-level WGST class will make connections to the material students learn in Saskatoon and its communities, creating transnational links between North and South America on gender and Indigenous issues.

Valle-Castro explains the connection between different geographies, their forms of resistance against colonialism and the way in which these two courses, both in Saskatoon and Santiago, will bridge gaps.

“There are so many issues here in Saskatoon and Santiago that are so connected. The crisis with extractive industries that is happening here is happening down south. The Indigenous resistance is happening north and south. People are getting sick of neoliberalism, austerity and social cuts, profits before people. These are things that are happening all across the Americas. There are so many histories and stories, big stories and small stories, to unpack and learn from them,” Valle- Castro said.

Valle-Castro is the creator of this course and has been working on it for a number of years, but it is now a tangible reality. Valle- Castro, originally from Chile, notes her love for Saskatoon, its communities and the vibrant activism and movements that exist within it.

Valle-Castro explains that, in this new course, students will be able to build a bridge between academia and community-based activism and experience new ways of learning.

“This class aims to participate in other ways of learning and producing knowledge that are not attached to the university, but also how can we connect these spaces … to build those bridges and keep research and teaching practices relevant to what is going on in terms of social movements and activism.”

Mackenzie Paradzik

Graphic: Lesia Karalash / Graphics Editor