1462 Graduate Liberal Studies by Zoom
Act II: GLS goes live
by Sasha Colby
The SFU M.A. in Graduate Liberal Studies Program is a part-time, interdisciplinary exploration of the foundational values that have shaped our culture and the currents and ideas that challenge the status quo. Beginning this September, the M.A. will be offered online: a small, diverse group of 15 adult learners across the province will meet Wednesday evenings by Zoom, complemented by two in-person instructional and social weekends at SFU Vancouver. After this first year, students will be able to complete the M.A. through live Zoom, in-person, or travel study seminars (Oxford and Spain). Past and present students include teachers, M.LA.s, breakdancers, C.E.Os, stay at home parents, Juno Award winners, and farmers – which contributes to the liveliness of discussions led by SFU professors chosen for their experience and interest in moving conversations between important books and contemporary life.
Below, GLS director, Sasha Colby has written a short personal essay about her teaching career and the unexpected movements that led to the online version of the Liberal Studies M.A.. She also provides application information at the foot of this page. — Richard Mackie. Editor, The British Columbia Review
Act II: On the launch of the live-Zoom M.A. in Graduate Liberal Studies, by Sasha Colby
I was hired to teach my first class, possibly by a somewhat over-trusting department head, at the age of 24. The university-college was in a town on Vancouver Island with a history of coal mining tied to Scottish and Chinese immigration and a future pinned to the pulp-mill and a downtown that survived through cruise ship traffic. In the centre of town, the coal-mining museum teetered on the hill above a newly constructed theatre. The theatre, along with a new library, had been dubbed “the cultural district” by city council. Across the street on the waterfront, two totem poles pointed to the reserve further down the highway. The students in my class were all from this town, but then again, and despite the fact I was writing a doctoral dissertation for a university half a world away, I wasn’t from so very far away either.
It has been twenty years since I taught this class, and so I don’t remember exactly how I learned that The Rez Sisters, Thomson Highway’s play about a group of women on a reserve in northern Ontario, was playing at the new theatre. I also don’t remember how I pitched paying for tickets ($18 for a Tuesday night preview) to the department head, though I am pretty sure I used the word “culture.” What I do remember is the ripple of energy that passed through my twenty-five students in my mandatory first-year English course, only one of whom had been to the theatre before, when the actors appeared on stage. When the lights came up at intermission, a rangy welding student put on his beige jacket and came over to shake my hand. “Thank you,” he said. “That was amazing.”
“Don’t leave,” I said. “There’s … more.”
Two years after this particular class, I finished my degree and was hired by Simon Fraser University to help build a first year program in arts and social sciences in Surrey. This was 2005 and Bing Thom’s emerald campus over Surrey Central mall had yet to be completed. That first year, we taught behind semi-permanent dry-wall erected just beyond Zellers and the food court. I co-built and taught arts programs at Surrey for nine years, until I was appointed to direct the Graduate Liberal Studies Program, an interdisciplinary MA for working adults at Harbour Centre in Vancouver in 2014. When I look out my office window now, I see business towers to my left. On my right, I can see the top of Water Street as it begins its descent into the Downtown Eastside.
When I first arrived in Graduate Liberal Studies, I expected things to be very different. The MA students were older and more experienced, mostly mid-career to retired. And because the program is located in downtown Vancouver, cultural offerings are thick on the ground. But largely students continue to come to class with the hope and expectation of more: more contextual perspectives, more historical framework, and more theoretical vantage points, which they use to better understand themselves, each other, and the world. Consistently, the material is transformed and enriched by students’ own stories and perspectives. This is true in the MA foundational courses, Reason and Passion I and II, where we traverse material from the Ancient Greeks to Postmodernism, propelled by this central human tension. But it is also true in the wide range of electives on contemporary issues, courses like “Mercy and Regret,” “Liberty and Authority,” “Human and Animal Ethics,” “Home and Native Land,” and “Writing the Self in Modernist Paris.”
The Covid university-mandated transition to online seminars the spring of 2019 was a shock. As someone committed to the kinetic energy of the classroom, I had never used Zoom. It was only in working creatively with students that I came to understand remote teaching is its own form, with its own rhythms and potential: online writing forums, darkened screens for student poetry readings, breakout rooms, guest-experts from around the world. Students actively contribute from wherever they happen to be to create a community of learning. In many ways, it reminds me of nothing so much as the way the CBC would float into the house through the radio when I was a child: that level of discussion but also that level of intimacy, as we participate in the world of ideas from inside our homes.
And so even though the University and our Program have returned to in-person seminars, we are continuing with a Zoom pathway through our M.A.. This is at once a new way forward and one that has brought me back to communities with pulp mills and downtowns where the cruise ships no longer stop. In this sense, the remote MA will also be central to my own second act, one I could have never imagined was there and still, now, am only beginning to understand.
To begin an application for September 2022 entry to the remote version of the Graduate Liberal Studies M.A., please be in touch with the Graduate Liberal Studies program assistant, Sandra Zink at email@example.com The prospective students’ page is here. Applications will be considered into June.
The Graduate Liberal Studies Program also has its own journal on the site of the BC Review. — Sasha Colby
The British Columbia Review
Publisher and Editor: Richard Mackie
Formerly The Ormsby Review, The British Columbia Review is an on-line journal service for BC writers and readers. The Advisory Board consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Cole Harris, Hugh Johnston, Kathy Mezei, Patricia Roy, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Provincial Government Patron (since September 2018): Creative BC. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies.
“Only connect.” – E.M. Forster