March 25, 2024

Courageous practice comes with fierce compassion and empathy

Fouzia Usman reflects on Courageous Practices, this year's theme for the Conference on Postsecondary Learning and Teaching.
Fouzia Usman, a woman with olive skin, is wearing a pink hijab and black blazer. She is smiling.
Fouzia Usman is an educational development consultant with the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning. Adrian Shellard
The back of a woman wearing a hijab and a backpack looking out over a mountain view.

Fouzia Usman

“Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can't practice any other virtue consistently.”
— Maya Angelou

Thinking about Maya Angelou’s words of wisdom on the virtue of courage, I have lately been reflecting on what that means in these times. I often wonder, what do courageous practices entail in post-secondary education in a post-pandemic world? How do we grapple with new policies that specifically target those that are marginalized and navigate tensions due to devastating conflicts? What is required of us as we work towards decolonizing our institutions and dismantling systems of oppression through anti-racist approaches? 

As an Educational Development Consultant my role focuses on strengthening and improving the University of Calgary’s teaching and learning cultures, along with its communities and practices. Particularly, I work to promote and foster a greater understanding of EDIA and Anti-racism principles in education, and to provide tools and resources to help faculty and the wider campus incorporate these principles in their own educational practices and perspectives. Though I am, as a hijabi woman of colour, still relatively rare in the EDIA space that is otherwise occupied by white folks, I have faced fewer barriers than I expected, and some feedback indicates that my work resonates differently given that it comes from me.

A combination of research, scholarly literature, and my own lived experiences as a Muslim hijabi woman of colour have led me to conclude that society is stratified based on people’s social identities. The year 2020 was a turning point for the university, which began a process of formally acknowledging the systemic inequities that exist in post-secondary education, by embracing and employing policies relating to Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (EDIA) and Anti-racism to combat the gaps. In the years since, the movement towards recognizing the disregard and systemic inequalities faced by racialized persons and other equity-deserving groups has gained significant momentum across the University of Calgary. Campus-wide, faculties and departments have embarked on a paradigmatic shift, taking steps to weave EDIA and Anti-racism intentionally and actively into pedagogical practices, as academic and teaching staff members show increasing interest in expanding their learning to this same end. 

As the institutional commitment towards EDIA continues, I am reminded that educators are uniquely positioned with the social responsibility to advance significant change through teaching and learning. Our teaching and learning spaces are microcosms of the greater society, hence courageous practices in post-secondary teaching and learning involve challenging traditional methods and norms to enhance deeper learning, critical thinking, and inclusivity. It also involves promoting fairness, eliminating barriers to success, empowering learners, valuing diverse perspectives and experiences, and fostering a sense of belonging for all members of the educational community.

In these times, we have a responsibility to respond as educators, leaders, and citizens — a responsibility of high regard and respect, committed to inclusion by standing with and for anti-oppressive educational spaces.  

Actively embracing principles of EDIA and supporting the ongoing development of an inclusive and safe environment is a necessity in these times which can only come with courage, compassion, and empathyI have been on the University of Calgary campus for over 10 years now and have noted the atmospheric shift at this institution. While we still have a long way to go, I am enthusiastically encouraged by the progress I am witnessing and part of, and hopeful for what’s to come. 

Dr. Fouzia Usman, PhD, is an educational development consultant with the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning at the University of Calgary. In her role, she works to advance equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) initiatives, including anti-oppression pedagogical practices, across the university’s teaching and learning communities.

Registration is now open for the Conference on Post-secondary Learning and Teaching. The conference starts with an in-person pre-conference at the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning, followed by two days of virtual presentations.