Bonnie McElhinny Wins Larkin Award

Anthropology professor Bonnie McElhinny with her students.
Anthropology professor Bonnie McElhinny with her students. Photo by Diana Tyszko.

Dr. Bonnie McElhinny has been selected for the June Larkin Award for Pedagogical Development for 2017-18 for her project “Something in the Water: Watershed Pedagogies and Teachings about Water in Toronto”. This award recognizes past achievements, and provides for course release to continue to develop innovative pedagogies, and educational technologies in classroom, community and field settings on these topics for 2017-18.

This award honours Dr. June Larkin, an award-winning teacher recognized for her excellence in teaching, educational leadership and community-university connections. Larkin’s book Sexual Harassment: High School Girls Speak Out is cited on the list of the most important 80 books for 21st Century Girls. She is the founding director of Equity Studies at New College. She has headed up curriculum initiatives that include expanding local and international servicing learning programs, developing writing programs, a global food equity initiative with local groups, and a New Media Project that provides instructors with the training to teach students in the multi-modal arguments new media require. Through her community-based research program, the Gendering Adolescent AIDS Prevention (GAAP) project, Dr. Larkin creates opportunities for students to work with youth, community workers, research and policy makers on youth, sexuality and HIV/AIDS. Dr. Larkin’s overall goal is to produce socially engaged citizens who can apply their academic knowledge to real-life situations for social justice ends.

Excerpt from Dr. McElhinny’s Project Description: “Something in the Water.”

There must be something in the water is used to talk about the emergence of a musical scene, or a social movement. It also marks forms of water contamination. This week, some of the key headlines in the global, national, provincial and local news were about water-related conflicts. There was a massive police crack-down on pipeline protesters, most of them indigenous, at Standing Rock. The Labrador government conceded that the flooding of a dam would be delayed, until Innu and Inuit concerns about the creation of methyl mercury were addressed. The Ontario government agreed to a two-year moratorium on water extraction, in light of massive public protests over Nestle. The City of Toronto hosted a public forum on indigenizing public space in Toronto at OISE, with a key focus on rivers, land features, and Lake Ontario.

What are the best ways for universities to educate students and publics about these issues? In Voices of the Watershed, Lavigne and Gates (2000:212) argue that the most pressing challenge for building a watershed movement for restoration and healing is not more environmental studies, but increasing public understanding of rivers and lakes, enhancing ecological literacy, recruiting and empowering leaders, building citizenship organizations, and linking up water activists so they can work together for a common goal. These goals are those that universities are uniquely positioned to support, as we can learn from community partners facing the same challenges. One strategy that has been developed for such education, within and beyond classrooms, is called place-based education (debates on this term are detailed more fully below)…..Some argue for a place-based approach argues that students learn to think differently through reinhabitation, which requires a series of practices for engaging students outside classrooms (Gruenwald and Smith 2008). However, place-based approaches have been critiqued for failing to take into account indigenous understandings of territory (see e.g. Tuck, McKenzie and McCoy 2014). Some call, therefore, for a feminist, decolonial place-based pedagogy (Somerville 2008, Someville et al 2011) or a land-based pedagogy (Tuck et al 2016)….. With this proposal, I request a half-course release in order to deep and broaden conversations on decolonial place-based pedagogies, with a focus on water, amongst faculty, staff and students and with the many water-based activists in the GTA.