Imagining a Better Society through Higher Education


This paper discusses a case study of one small institution of higher education where professors from three departments: Education, Sociology and History, designed an inquiry into the capacity of the university to change institutional culture and increase Indigenous student success. The study is a response to the 2015 release of the findings of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and a comprehensive and related set of guidelines put forward by Universities Canada (UC). The TRC reports point to disparity and racism currently experienced by Indigenous Canadians in areas of income, health, social conditions and education; the TRC “Calls to Action” direct universities to revise selected programs so that graduating healthcare providers, lawyers, educators and journalists will better serve Indigenous peoples. The UC framework provides additional points of departure for universities that take into account the possibilities of transformation for all learners and institutional structures. A mixed methods approach was used to answer the following questions: What is the readiness of the university to act upon the UC Principles? What are the barriers and drivers that might shape the design of a less-oppressive and transformational university environment? Participants of the study include faculty members, university administrators and Indigenous students. Finding show that three main perspectives are held by participants; these include: desire to retain the status quo, interest in carrying out limited reforms and 3) commitment to radical reforms or those that are relationally-driven. Actions taken by the university in response to the research findings will also be discussed.


Anti-racism, Reconciliation, Canada, Institutional Transformation, Case Study


Learning in Higher Education


Paper Presentation in a Themed Session


  • Prof. Jean L. Manore
    • Full Professor, History, Bishop's University, Canada Quebec, Canada
    • I have a Phd in history, specializing in First Nations/settler relations in Canada. I also have interests in environmental history and public history
  • Dr. Mary Ellen Donnan
    • Associate Professor, Sociology, Bishop's University, Canada Quebec, Canada
    • Mary Ellen Donnan writes and studies primarily in political economy with particular attention to issues of diversity and of social sustainability. I published a monograph about the causes of homelessness in Canada's cities, entitled The Shattered Mosaic. Other publications address issues of social equity and inclusion relating to colonialism and gender.
  • Avril Aitken
    • Full Professor, School of Education, Bishop's University, Canada Quebec, Canada
    • I am a settler scholar working at Bishop's University, in tradtional unceded Abenaki territory, in an area known as Nikitotegwasis. The university is located near Sherbrooke, Quebec in Canada. I have been at Bishop's since 2006. Prior to that, I participated in ministry-university initiatives across the province to support teachers through widespread curriculum change.