Learn building blocks

Language, learning, and labour

Carla DeMarco

The Institute for the Study of Pedagogy (ISUP) held its inaugural annual colloquium on March 25, and though the theme of the event was linguistic diversity and justice in pedagogy, a thread that carried through significantly in all the presentations, some participants were also just delighted to be gathering together in person for the first time in two years, and it was palpable.

“I am really, really thrilled to be able to share something I wrote during the pandemic and have some engagement with it because I found writing during the pandemic was actually quite a lonely and a very isolating exercise,” said keynote speaker, Eve Haque, York Research Chair in Linguistic Diversity and Community Vitality.

Her talk, “Forced (Im)Mobilities at the Nexus of Race and Language in Pandemic Times,” was in response to an article in The Modern Language Journal by scholar Suresh Canagarajah from the Department of English at Pennsylvania State University.

Haque drew on this article, which was a rethinking of language and mobility, and she further teased out the ways in which the global crisis of the pandemic impacted human mobility as well as various sectors, such as international markets, industry, migration, geographic and spatial mobilities, and social-upward mobility, citing British writer and scholar Timothy Cresswell, who said that “mobility is one of the major resources of 21st-century life.”

Haque also outlined the associated ecological imbalances and work precarity, poverty, and unhealthy workplaces that were further aggravated along racialized lines during the pandemic, particularly in white-settler societies such as Canada.

“Fixity, stasis, and immobility need to be kept in mind as we trace these continuities with the past that are central to understanding the effects of the pandemic on the mobility of racialized bodies and inequities that are therefore revealed and exacerbated,” said Haque.

“Language is a key technology for this racialized entanglement, which then regulates the mobility: first, as movement across borders, second, as representation through labour-market mobility, and finally, as embodied practice of actually having the ability to labour.”

She further proposed the incongruity in Canada, where French and English, both white settler, colonial languages, remain the official languages of the country according to the Official Languages Act of 1969, despite the introduction of the more recent Indigenous Languages Act. Passing in 2019, this act recognizes the estimated 90 Indigenous languages spoken in Canada, however does not elevate any of these languages to an official status, and does not even touch on the more than 200 immigrant languages that are spoken at home by over 22% of the Canadian population.

Haque’s talk was followed by a series of presentations that carried this thread of racial injustices and inequalities in academia and pathways forward for action.


ISUP Colloquium presenters and organizers

The panel discussions featured Colloquium co-organizers and ISUP faculty members Sheila Batacharya and Zhaozhe Wang: Wang presented Autoethnography as a Site of Negotiation for Linguistic Difference,” and Batacharya along with ISUP colleague Phuong Tran delivered “Critical Approaches to Intercultural Communicative Competence and Writing Instruction.”

The event concluded with learning strategists Yaseen Ali and Jasjit Sangha presenting their talk “Inclusive Teaching Strategies for Supporting EAL Students.”

Ali and Jasjit ended their discussion by thanking the students who shared their personal narratives “around really vulnerable topics," and posed two questions of reflection for participants:

What are some of the challenges or discomforts that you have encountered while supporting multilingual students?

What is one small thing you can do to have a big impact in addressing the challenges?

With ISUP faculty member Mark Blaauw-Hara serving as moderator, the colloquium was presented as a hybrid event, likely a format that will be gaining traction as an aftermath of the pandemic, and there were roughly 130 participants in total: some 40 educators joined in person and nearly 90 attended virtually over the course of the morning.

The event was made possible in part with a grant from UTM’s Teaching and Learning Collaboration, and acknowledged assistance from several departments: the Robert Gillespie Academic Skills Centre, Collaborative Digital Research Space, UTM student group WomINclusive, UTM’s EDI Office and its Indigenous Centre, UTM Deans’ Office, and UTSC’s Centre for Global Disability Studies who helped make the event accessible.

As further reflection of the Colloquium’s theme, co-organizers Batacharya and Wang stated at the outset of the event in their thoughtful land acknowledgement that the day’s discussions were one of the ways the ISUP team was upholding the University of Toronto’s Calls to Action in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

“Bethany Hughes, Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and Assistant Professor of American Culture/Native American Studies at the University of Michigan, explains guesting on Indigenous land as ‘focused not on attaining or accreting, but on relationships, humility, and reciprocal nurturance’” said Batacharya.

“We feel this explanation offers good advice for establishing ISUP and for guiding our work. For ‘guesting’ directs our attention to being accountable. Hughes says, it ‘is for those who seek to work with and not demand from Indigenous communities. It is for those who guide students into spaces with often unacknowledged history. It is for those who wish to no longer live as customers.’ In offering this land acknowledgement we hope that this event inspires rigorous, respectful, and honest discussion, and as organizers, we commit to acting with respect and good faith in our relationships with Indigenous community members and the academic community at large.”



See the full ISUP Colloquium 2022 schedule and speaker bios on the ISUP website. The event was recorded and will be available to the UofT community [LINK to come] or by request to the ISUP co-organizers, Zhaozhe Wang or Sheila Batacharya.

The ISUP Colloquium will be an annual event in late March. Stay tuned to the ISUP website for updates and registration information.