At the start of the winter term, the three of us enrolled in an intensive clinical program at Community Legal Assistance Services for Saskatoon Inner City Inc. — a local poverty law clinic better known as CLASSIC.
As third-year law students, our work has often consisted of sitting with and listening to clients as they relive their worst tragedies so that we may help them navigate their legal issues within a system that has not been written in their favour.
By March, we had already come face-to-face with an unsympathetic criminal law system, sexual assault, colonization trauma and other systemic fallout. Indeed, it seems that the authors of these laws have never given these people more than a passing thought.
At CLASSIC, we are regularly confronted with the issues created by an inequitable social structure and justice system that we have been trained to uphold. We, who are privileged enough to attend university, all too often reduce complex social issues to vague academic concepts that are soon forgotten once we enter our careers.
This should not be so. Our university is a part of this community, and we have a duty to ensure that community-based education is an integral part of every degree.
The University of Saskatchewan has committed itself to being “The university the world needs” in its 2025 plan, committing itself to curiosity, collaboration and community. This is ostensibly a commitment towards an interdisciplinary approach to education and reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. While these are admirable goals, we have found that the university is far from achieving them.
At the U of S, we absolutely learned the law. We were taught how to read statutes and case law, but this is not necessarily a full depiction of the law. Law cannot be separated from the people who created it, or those it directly affects.
Law cannot be separated from the society in which it exists.
We are calling for an education that is infused with a deeper understanding of social issues and reconciliation. We are calling for an education that includes these aspects in every part of the law, and one that is more open to interdisciplinary collaboration.
It is our hope that the university will break down the barriers between colleges and begin offering a holistic education.
At the College of Law, the classes which focus on Indigenous law and other social issues are often siloed and separated from more traditional classes. The failure to fully integrate important aspects of our education leaves students ill-prepared for the intricacies and complicated nature of working with individuals of diverse backgrounds. It fails to prepare us for reality.
The university will never achieve their admirable goals without facilitating students’ participation in community-based and experiential learning. These experiences allow students the opportunity to engage with individuals outside of their own racial, cultural or socio-economic backgrounds.
We need to move beyond passive classroom experiences where students sit glass-eyed, waiting to get their degrees. We must burst the academic bubble, where scholars research their respective areas without providing benefit to the community they are surrounded by. We need to demand more of our education.
The recent COVID-19 pandemic highlights the need for attention to social justice issues. While you might be comfortably sequestered in your home, bored but unafraid, there are those who fear the loss of their livelihoods, their homes and their health.
There are some who have no homes to seek refuge in. We cannot hope to be the university the world needs if we fail to consider the community around us. In whatever degree you are in, stop and consider the real-world impact of your current research or future career.
Seek out opportunities to work in diverse communities so that you can confidently receive a well-rounded education that moves beyond the ivory tower. Work with others outside of your discipline and take classes that you know will stretch your capacity. Do not allow yourself to become complacent.
This op-ed was written by a University of Saskatchewan undergraduate student and reflects the views and opinions of the writer. If you would like to write a rebuttal, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo: Aqsa Hussain/ Layout Manager