Conference Reflection: CACUSS 2016
On June 19, 2016, hundreds of Student Affairs professionals from across Canada and around the globe descended upon Winnipeg for the annual Canadian Association of Colleges and University Student Services conference. RyersonSA sent staff and students to learn from colleagues across the nation, and bring back an assortment of ideas and knowledge. One can never really know what they’ll get from a conference until the deed is done, but more often than not such a gather will have some impact upon those that attend. Below are a few thoughts from RyersonSA delegates when posed the question, “How did the CACUSS conference 2016 impact you?”
CACUSS 2016 in Winnipeg was the first CACUSS I’ve been to since 2012, when it was at Brock University. Looking back at the changes in my life since then, it’s hard to believe that it was only 4 years ago. I’ve changed jobs, had 2 kids and learned some hard-won lessons about life. When we were asked to reflect on our conference experience for the #RyersonSA blog, I struggled to find specific highlights since so much of my joy in attending the conference was in meeting new colleagues, and reconnecting with colleagues & the profession of Student Affairs in Canada. Plus, this was my first conference since 2012 that I would attend without a baby. To be honest, it felt a bit like a vacation. One in which I looked forward to getting to bed each night by 10:30 and slumbering undisturbed until the morning! In that 4 years since my last national conference, I noticed that CACUSS did a lot of its own growing up. In 2012, we were talking about the newly completed CACUSS Identity Project and trying to figure out the future of the divisions within the organization. My 2016 experience included a pre-conference meeting of the leads for the new Communities of Practice, the introduction of the almost-completed Canadian Student Affairs Competencies & PD Framework, and a robust hiring plan for our association. Overall, the conference felt like coming home, but to a renovated and improved home. And as a different version of myself with a new sense of identity and purpose. It was a great way to kick off my return to work after being away for a year and it left me feeling really ready to get started.
I have a complicated relationship with conferences—the curse of the ambivert. What I want is simple—intellectual engagement from exposure to new, interesting ideas. But conferences strive to be more than just that, full of conference rituals that mash humans together in the hope, I suppose, of creating sweaty spaces of possibility. While most people love that part, I mostly find it awkward and unnecessary. I’m not really a networking, dancing, schmoozing, gallivanting kind of guy (at least not at conferences). I just want to hear about interesting ideas. Period. Increasingly, I have to work hard to find that in all the noise that typically surrounds a conference. It’s like shopping for shirts at Value Village—it requires focus and sifting, but there’s usually a gem or two in there somewhere. Gems this year included a great session by Tayeb Rashid from University of Toronto, Scarborough on the progress of their Flourish program and the research findings emanating from that. It continues to be a program I follow with interest as it intersects with our ThriveRU. And I did have a great evening and conversation over Sri-Lankan food at the Forks, complete with river tour. But, the noise won out a bit this year for me. I came away feeling like it’s a conference that is having trouble taking itself seriously, whatever that means.
This year’s CACUSS conference inspired me and gave me direction.
The Truth and Reconciliation panel was my highlight of the conference. The moderator and panelists were articulate and shared important information and their personal perspectives with us. I appreciated their wisdom and heart.
Reconciliation is about wigoshiwin/wahkohtowin, a Cree word that means “being related”. I am a community-builder and one of RyersonSA’s pillars is ‘community’. Learning about wahkohtowin inspired me to see that I have a concrete role in the reconciliation process in Canada.
Call to Action 63.iii in the TRC final report (2015) calls upon “the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada to maintain an annual commitment to Aboriginal education issues, including…building student capacity for intercultural understanding, empathy, and mutual respect” (p. 331). I can do that. We can do that. We can, as moderator Niigan Sinclair said, “evoke” reconciliation.
Not only did the panel give me renewed inspiration in my job, but it also brought clarity, further direction, and motivation for my PhD research.
We are all treaty people. This means that we care about each other, our collective well-being, and success. How can you evoke reconciliation?
My experience at CACUSS was an interesting one. It was my first time at the conference and I was given the amazing opportunity to be a presenter. What made the experience even better was that I was the co-presenter for the queen of CACUSS herself—Heather Lane Vetere, or as I call her, Heath. I had the amazing honour of calling HLV my teammate over the past year as she joined the women’s basketball team for the second chapter of her “In Their Shoes” project, and she asked me to help her present her journey in one of the biggest conference rooms at CACUSS. Now what made this experience even more special was the fact that it was held in my hometown of Winnipeg. To see such amazing student affairs professionals and up and coming student affairs leaders in one space, all gathered to collaborate and share ideas on how to make the student experience at university a memorable one, I couldn’t help but smile from ear to ear and be proud of the positive impact that RyersonSA has had on my university career. My experience at CACUSS has opened my eyes to the amazing work that SA does, and I am forever grateful for their commitment to putting students first.
This year’s CACUSS had a different but just as important message and feeling left after the conference. We are at an important point of change in the work we do in Student Affairs: the needs of our students continue to change, the policies and procedures required to best support students continue to broaden in reach and evolution, and climate in higher education continues to fluctuate; particularly, in relation to access, quality, and funding. I left with a full head and more commitment to the important work we are doing.
This year was my second time attending CACUSS, and my first time presenting by myself. Last year, in Vancouver, our team delivered a group presentation that told the story of who we were and what we were up to in the fairly newly created “Creative Unit” in RyersonSA. This year, I gave my first solo presentation, and I think it kind of sucked. No, really, it wasn’t that great. I mean, I am my worst critic, I know that; and I had some folks approach me after the presentation with kind feedback and curious questions, so it can’t have been that bad; but I didn’t personally feel good about it. This got me thinking about styles of learning, digesting, and delivering information, and how some formats work better for others. We know this. We’ve studied this. And yet we’re still often stuck, as participants and facilitators of learning, in reproducing structures that only allow certain people to thrive in traditional learning environments. So, CACUSS got me thinking about alternative methods of learning and teaching, how I personally favour facilitating discussions over presenting information, and how we need to continue creating different spaces for learning, and creating innovative programs that reach beyond the traditional classroom or learning trajectory.