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Teaching and learning cultural awareness
Lisa Pendergast
Ms. Sheila Freake, Ms. Catharyn Andersen and Dr. Kirk Anderson

The Faculty of Education is making an effort to increase our collective understanding of cultural diversity. On May 5, Ms. Catharyn Andersen, Special Advisor to the President on Aboriginal Affairs, and Ms. Sheila Freake, Coordinator with the Aboriginal Resource Office, were invited to present to faculty and staff members on awareness and sensitivity towards our Aboriginal students, faculty and staff. A key purpose of this presentation was to get a better understanding of any racism and cultural biases in our faculty and the university at large.

Ms. Freake began the presentation with an overview of the Aboriginal groups in Newfoundland and Labrador and the population of these groups. She then continued with a discussion on terminology for Aboriginal groups. Have you ever been confused or unsure about the proper contemporary terms for Aboriginal groups? The Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK) has a helpful article on this topic:

Ms. Freake concluded her portion of the presentation by outlining some cultural traits of Aboriginal people that can be misinterpreted. “In Aboriginal culture, some people do not make direct eye contact, especially with Elders in the community,” said Ms. Freake. “This behaviour can sometimes lead people to believe that an Aboriginal person who is not making eye contact is rude or uninterested, but this can be a common misunderstanding.”

Ms. Andersen then spoke to the group about the term “micro aggression.” These, often unintentional, slights, insults or negative messages can come in the form of:

  • Micro assaults which are intentional hurtful actions or language,
  • Micro insults which are words and actions that are subtly insensitive, and
  • Micro invalidations which are subtle messages that exclude the feelings or reality of a person in a minority group.

Students who experience micro aggression may feel that something is wrong, but not know how to react. Our students may face many of these issues, in addition to university stress, and it can accumulate, leading to feelings of anger, frustration and exhaustion. Aboriginal students can feel that they have to either represent or hide their background. This can also affect their confidence and self-image, leading to a poor performance in their classes.

The Faculty of Education wanted to know what we can do to better acknowledge, celebrate and honour the diversity within our student groups. A key takeaway from this session was to be aware that these issues are present and open to educating ourselves and changing potentially damaging behaviours.

In June, Ms. Freake and Ms. Andersen will be offering two sessions of their presentation to students of the Faculty of Education.

For additional information on Memorial’s Aboriginal Resource Office or to plan a presentation for your faculty or department, please visit

May 7th, 2015

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