Negotiating the space in between

February 7, 2019 | Society, Campus Life
In university, I remember being frustrated that my profs could sometimes only see the whiteness in me. Yes, I have a western education, but at the same time I am not only my whiteness, I am also my blackness and my Africanness.

I was raised in the intercultural space in between. I look for it and I’m used to navigating it. But it’s tricky.

As a black professor, I have to negotiate my space in the classroom. I ask my students, “How many of you in your schooling had a teacher who was black and a woman?” None. They arrive in my classroom and meet me with my broken English – a woman from a French colonized country who went to university in Germany, and who is now standing in front of them and wanting to teach them how to do social work in their country and their home city.

I ask them to think about how they are going to interact with me. How they are going to understand me. Which strategies they need to mobilize to listen to me. Yes, because of my accent, they need to mobilize more energy to be in my classes. I tell them that I don’t think it will be easy for them and that it’s not easy for me either. I want the 13 weeks we spend together to be a time we learn from one another, a time that we grow and celebrate difference.

I ask my students to question deeply why we do things the way we do. Why we celebrate some knowledge and not others. I know the way I think shakes the mainstream. I know it shakes my students, but I feel safe to talk about these things because I know that MacEwan, in every aspect, is an open space. My purpose is not to escalate. It's not to cause conflict. It's about letting us open up to our differences and learn from them.

This is part of me. It's part of my pedagogy. It's part of my social work identity.

– Dr. Valerie Ouedraogo, social work faculty member

Valerie is a member of the committee organizing MacEwan’s first Black History Month.

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