Spirit of activism is a life-long journey
Professor Rebecca Tiessen joined the Faculty of Social Sciences of the University of Ottawa in the summer of 2013, and she immediately chose to offer Community Service Learning (CSL) as part of her courses. Her work calls for extensive organization and outreach to Ottawa-based NGOs working on gender equality in international development. Last fall, she offered a CSL component in her Gender, Security and Development course (DVM 6113) to examine several gender and development issues and to look at a feminist theoretical framework. Students had the opportunity to choose from a long list of organizations and find one that best fit their research interests. Tiessen then arranged a conference for students to present the results of their research to a large audience of academics and leading Canadian development organizations.
For Tiessen, the CSL program is central to a comprehensive education: learning, applying what they’ve learned and collaborating with people outside the University. “Students can recognize the importance of learning from practitioners and applying what they are learning in class, as well as the networking opportunities it affords,” she says. Theory is not always well suited to practical application. For example, she says the concepts like gender equality, feminism, masculinities and gender-based violence are well known, but that CSL is one way to ensure that the students can understand them in relation to the lived realities of those who are marginalized or experience oppression, violence and inequality. They are not abstract concepts when applied in practice.
Tiessen defines community engagement as a full interaction with communities, to better understand organizations’ needs, priorities, constraints and opportunities, locally and globally. It is also a process that is meant to continue beyond the 30 hours by course program of study, where students play an important bridging role. “Volunteerism and community engagement is a life-long journey; it builds a stronger society, it demonstrates activism and community service,” Tiessen believes. She also thinks that living by example is the key; Tiessen is active in the community as a volunteer working closely with the Women, Peace and Security Network, where she deals with student volunteers, many of whom have continued to serve the community even after their CSL placement has ended.
According to Tiessen, a good community engagement leader should be adaptable, resourceful and dedicated. She plans to continue to offer the CSL program and find ways to better integrate student experiences within the course content to give time for ongoing reflection and discussion.
For her extraordinary dedication and her instrumental role in enhancing student community service learning while supporting gender equality and women’s rights organizations in Canada, Professor Rebecca Tiessen is the recipient of this year’s CSL Award for Outstanding Achievement for a faculty member.