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HWW: Renee Jackson-Harper

Building communities, allies, and partnerships is an important part of post-secondary and life generally. We welcome you to get to know the members of our Selkirk College community!

What drove you to become a professor?

I guess the quick answer is that I love the conversations about ideas that happen within classrooms.

I got my educational start at a community college and remember vividly how exciting it was to be in those classrooms for the first time discussing everything from world history, to psychology, to cultural anthropology and creative writing. 

From KSA and Okanagan College, I wound up at the University of Toronto and eventually York University, where I continued to rejoice in the learning and conversations that happened in and around classrooms. I treasure the time I spent these spaces, the knowledge that my professors imparted, and the time to they took to guide me on my way as I sought to answer my own questions.

For me, becoming a teacher was about giving some of that back, about opening doors for new scholars who are just starting to find their feet, and about creating spaces where students can to start to ask and answer their own informed questions about the world we live in. 

What inspires you to continue being a professor?

That’s easy: the students. Every semester I’m met with a sea of new faces, which can be overwhelming (for me and them), but, by the end of the semester, I always feel like we’ve been on a journey together. I leave every term grateful for all of the conversations we’ve had and for all that the brilliant people who share my classrooms have taught me. 

If there is one thing you could change about academia, what would it be?

I would love for post-secondary learning to be financially accessible for everyone. 

As a student, I survived on student loans and part time jobs. I remember too well how hard it was to concentrate on my studies when I was worrying about how to pay for rent, food and transit. I remember sitting down at the end of every year of study and wondering how I would afford to keep going another year, wondering if my student loans would be approved and if my part time jobs would carry me.

I see a lot of students having to decide between continuing to pursue their educational goals and putting a roof over their heads. I hate to think of what we’re losing as society when we foreclose on a student’s educational aspirations because they can’t afford tuition and housing.

What do you see as the values of education in society today?

I think education is more important than ever. The challenges we’re facing as a society are acute at every level, whether it be climate change, the rise of hate speech, or the myriad of other vexing issues we contend with at a local, national and global levels. We need people from across our fields of study to continue to bring informed thinking and fresh ideas to bear on the problems that we face. 

When I feel a bit down on the state of world, I look to my colleagues and students at Selkirk who are doing amazing work in the community and beyond, who are sharing their research and passion for learning, and I have renewed hope.  

What is your favourite thing about the Kootenay region?

There’s not much I don’t love about this place. I love the warm, creative community that thrives in these valleys; I love this geographic space and spending as much time as I can on or by the lakes. I also love working here and with the people I get to work with. After nearly a decade as a poor student, living in a run-down and under-insulated apartment in Toronto (that may or may not have been infested by fleas and visited by rats), I’m grateful for where I’ve landed and for the journey that took me here.