Like most non-essential services, Merchants Corner closed its doors last week. The Department of Urban and Inner City Studies followed University of Winnipeg directive and suspended all classroom instruction. Students are now at home finishing up assignments and completing courses through online formats.
It is a temporary measure that is necessary, but it is completely out of sync with the spirit of our program. Our pedagogical model is built on the concept of bringing people from various backgrounds and experiences to learn in a small, safe space. To think critically. To better understand the root causes of injustice and how we can challenge injustice in our daily lives.
Students learn as much from the classroom experience of sitting next to and sharing with a person from a completely different lived experience, than from the professor at the front of the class. Many of our students are not the typical university student. They are older, having returned to post secondary education as mature adults. They come to rely on the day to day support and encouragement they receive from our dedicated faculty, instructors and staff. Many have children who are now also at home. It will be particularly challenging for these students to complete their term assignments and study at home.
Donna: a reminder of the power of pedagogy and place
While working at my home computer yesterday, I received an email from Donna. We then had a nice chat on the phone. She said she just felt a need to connect. I reassured her about a few assignments she has due and we ended our call wishing each other to “stay well – stay healthy – stay home”.
Later in the day I received an email from Donna. She has given me permission to post the text here:
“As I sit here at home in quarantine, I have had a lot of time to reflect on my classes in Urban and Inner-City Studies at Merchants Corner. This April I will complete my certificate in Urban and Inner City Studies with a focus on Advocacy. I’ve been so excited about this, feeling a sense of accomplishment as I reach the finish line. But the past week has been very difficult as I try to finish up my papers at home, unable to connect with my support system at Merchants Corner. The professors have been great at keeping us informed and fulfilling our needs regarding assignments, but I have gone from feeling ecstatic about graduating with my certificate, to feeling lost and disconnected.
You see, Merchants Corner is more than just a place where I take my classes. It is a place I feel connected to. It is part of the community and important to the students who attend courses there.
It is a great start to my day when I’m greeted by the friendly woman at the front desk and smell the good food coming from the cafe. The friendly University of Winnipeg staff and professors make me feel welcome and safe.
Merchants Corner is a special place where the professors really care. It is where us Indigenous students interact with other cultures and respect each other as we share our stories.
Reconciliation is real at Merchants Corner.
I am disappointed that I cannot finish my last few classes on site at Merchants Corner. I’m disappointed that I won’t be able to celebrate graduation this spring with my peers and professors. I’ll miss the smell of burning sage, the sharing of food at our end of term potluck, having a cup of coffee wth supportive encouraging professors, and supportive hugs from peers.
I will get through and complete my certificate. But I am sad that I will have to do so at home alone at my computer, waiting for my grades to appear online. But my experience at Merchants Corner is one that I will never forget. The professors, the staff and my peers will remain in my heart. I am blessed to have known you all.”
Thanks to Donna and all of the great students who choose to take courses with us. You’ll get through this, and you’ll go on to do great things in the world!
For COVID-19 updates at UWinnipeg please visit What you need to know about COVID-19.
Dr. Shauna MacKinnon (PhD), Chair and Associate Professor
Department of Urban and Inner City Studies