UFV Research News
University culture influences integration of social justice values and surrounding community
UFV’s institutional culture may be influencing the surrounding community more than we suspect says Dr. Adrienne Chan, professor of Social Work and Human Services at the University of the Fraser Valley (UFV). Chan is nearing the end of a four year research program focused on examining how social justice is conceptualized and experienced in universities. She is also interested in understanding the impact of institutional culture on surrounding communities.
|Dr. Adrienne Chan|
“Universities can be change agencies that can set the stage in the community for positive or negative growth,” she explains. This is more likely in communities such as Abbotsford, where the population is smaller.
Chan clarifies that social justice can be defined as social conditions and actions where all members of a society have equal rights and opportunities, responsibilities and obligations. The implications of her work are far-reaching.
While many universities are known to house Centres for Aboriginal Access, for example, the problem is connecting those engaged members and ensuring such programs are sustainable, accessible and are not simply window dressing. “A university whose cultural is characterized by strong principles of social justice is one where the institution’s administration, faculty and students are involved and committed at the core level. The administration is key to setting the tone.” She advises that this is not always easy to set in motion. “When we commercialize education and focus solely on full-time equivalents, administrators tend to get caught up in the fiscal aspects of their positions and lose track of the bigger picture.”
What does a university with strong principles of social justice look like? “When we work towards equality and equity and when thought and reflection turn into consistent action, this is a strong indicator of positive growth.” A healthy university culture is created when principles of social justice are embedded in the very fabric of the institution. It requires that hubs of activity (such as UFV’s Centre for Disabilities) are connected to one another; that a strong awareness seeps into the consciousness of the institution’s members and, more tangibly, when there are regular seminars and workshops held on site. “A Centre for Equity, for example, is very different from an office of conflict resolution,” she says.
This project is funded in part by a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Chan is in the process of a writing a book about the topic. The first phase of her research focused on documentary analysis in twenty Canadian universities while the second involved interviews at three universities, including faculty, staff and students. She is supported by a team of eight UFV student researchers.
Read more about Dr. Chan's research program.