It was 1973 in an Ontario Community College
“They fired one of our best teachers,” was the cry from a group of students who landed in the offices of the Student’s Union . The teacher was one of the French speaking staff in a bilingual college. My Francophone friends pointed out it was not easy to find French speaking teachers with this man’s qualifications and ability to teach fairly and compassionately. He was top notch and they felt he had been discriminated against for expressing his opinion about an issue he and many other staff had with college administration.
As the Director of Communications for the Student’s Union I suddenly found myself in the role of press liaison, negotiator and one of the leaders, albeit instigators, of a walkout which involved 30,000 full and part time students on ten campuses throughout the Ottawa Valley. When a government funded college loses one day worth of grants for that many students they pay attention.
It was a grueling time of meetings, interviews and press releases. I cannot share all the ins and outs of the negotiations about our student demands but I can share the final result. Sadly the teacher was not reinstated but our other demands for increased communication with students were met. One of those demands was for a committee to investigate and report on the communication needs within the college community.
The Communication Committee was composed of about eight people including governors, department heads, staff and a student. It was my great privilege to serve with this very devoted and concerned group who sincerely wanted to improve the flow of information within the college. Together we took on the “Howard Hughesian seclusion” the Board of Governors had been accused of displaying.
It was a great adventure for me and was probably the very first time I felt like a peer in an “adult” forum. People listened to what I had to say with respect and took it seriously. I believe I may have been the first student in Ontario to sit on a college, Board of Governors committee.
After several months of work researching, interviewing and fine tuning an extensive report the committee’s report on Communication was presented and accepted in whole by the college Board of Governors and the Student’s Union.
The result was: two student seats on the College Board of Governors; a student representative on every college committee; two students on every hiring and firing committee: and the creation of a weekly, bilingual college newspaper to be administered by the Student’s Union.
The experience was not my first trip into advocacy and not my last but it cemented in me, the underlying need of every individual and group who is marginalized and feels unheard to be included and listened to. It also made me understand some of the struggles of bias and bigotry experienced by French Canadians in that time.
My training and work as a journalist taught me to listen not to just words but to the situation, the body language and even to what was not said. Over the years I have done much learning and teaching on the subject of communication, particularly in the mental health field.
A Course in Communication
As a prepare to create a short on-line course in communication and listening skills I revisit this moment of my past as my great teacher in learning that skill myself. I have not mastered it by a long shot and I often fail to hear what people are really saying.
I have also learned through 30 years of teaching adults in the art of communication that the teacher always learns more than the student. If you would like to learn with me and think you may benefit from such a course let me know.