Reflections on our Postering Action Plan

Our action project questions campus politics, how conventional ideas of development are brought into spaces of education, and how capitalism and corporate sponsorship interfere with our learning spaces and environment. We are located within this system as passive learners, as education systems have hindered our ability to think critically. This kind of learning teaches us to be subversive, believe and defer authority rather than become critical investigators of systems of domination and ideologies at play. Our action plan focused on asking questions about learning environments and how privilege functions on campus. Why are we not the most important part of the university? Why is my safety not valued more than what is housed in certain buildings? Where do the funds from York’s corporate sponsorships go? Why is university spending not transparent? We asked these questions through postering on problematic spaces we found around the university to encourage critical thinking at the individual level. By looking critically at these campus politics, asking why certain spaces are privileged over others and questioning interlocking systems of oppression, we want students to recognize and think critically about how public spaces such as bathrooms, food courts, garbage and waste disposals, classrooms, security and emergency systems reflect these overarching issues. I hope our project is inspiring for some students and engage critical thinking about campus politics.

What

We began by locating spaces around the university that had a strong corporate influence, recognizing how the university had been politicized or capitalized and how it related to issues of gender and development. We toured the university, looking at buildings, classrooms and examples of corporate influence in a way we had not recognized before.

Our first round of spatial documenting was successful; we found numerous problematic areas related to development within our learning institution that we could address through postering. A week later, we planned to poster and document these conclusions, but we had not discussed our medium of postering. It was assumed among the three of us that we would use a use a similar computer template and format our questions ubiquitously. In our meeting to create these documents, we decided on a much more affective way of drawing attention to these spaces through the use of a much simpler medium: markers and construction paper. This method fit perfectly for our action plan, taking a reductionist approach to our posters and allowing for a much more creative outlet than our computers would. Our decision to use markers and construction paper relieved us of our dependency on modern development advancements and gave us a means for our voice with an alternative approach. We resisted the professional undertones of our first instinct and hoped that our approach would initiate a conversation in itself, one that deconstructed the link between “professionalism” and “development”.

We worked collaboratively and created over 50 different colourful posters with critical analysis of classrooms, objects and spaces within the university. As we revisited these spaces: the doors that lock after 8 pm, the previous space of the students statue of democracy, numerous garbage/recycling facilities, bathroom ads, Coke machines and water stations, and posted questions that raised issues of the university giving priority to buildings over their students, asking where our place within the institution was, where (if anywhere) we could be ad-free, where our trash was really going, and where exactly private funding was directed within the university [see photos labeled: “Can’t beat the real thing” and the “Great Wall of Donors”]. After each poster was put up, we took a photo to document our actions.

During the time we spent on campus postering and documenting our questions, we experienced very mild curiosity from students, who did not ask questions about what we were doing, but rather seemed skeptical of our message and uninterested in learning more about the issues we were addressing within the university. We had a brief conversation with a young man at a water station in the Curtis Lecture Hall, who jokingly agreed with the statistics we had provided for the students, but did not ask any further questions and did not participate in conversation with us [see: “Water Station”]. We also overheard the murmurs of a classroom we had postered questioning the usefulness of the flat screen televisions on campus and the effectiveness of this investment, but the classroom was unreceptive to discussion [see: TV-Me].

When we had concluded the postering, we uploaded on the images onto a blog as a way of documenting and visualizing the actions we had taken. We named each photo and added descriptions to contextualize the photos and give brief explanations behind our motives. When photo image library of the action plan was complete, we posted the library onto Facebook in order to publicize our conclusions surrounding public spaces within the university. By documenting and creating an online image archive, we hoped to extend our action beyond the school walls, and initiative discussion and critical thinking of spaces within York, other education institutions, and public spaces on a grand scale.

After postering these spaces collaboratively, we divided the monitoring of any change on our posters between the three of us, each taking a different area of the campus.  Documenting whether the posters had been altered, commented on, or removed was our final step in the action plan. We agreed on a day-by-day monitoring system to record any findings. Unfortunately, the posters did not stay up for very long. We did not have a chance to see if any comments were made on our observations by students (or staff) as they were all taken down within one or two days after we had posted them. Some posters were even removed within the time span it took the three of us to poster the campus.

So What?

Our idea to address the problematic grids of power functioning within the institution through a method of postering remained continuous from our action plan to the implementation of the project. The abstract contextualization remained the same, as we sought to visually complicate these spaces we had audited on campus. Our choice in visual representation of our critical analysis did change in our decision to take an elementary approach to exhibiting our message. Using an ecological and anti-corporate method of presentation, we opted out of using modern forms of media presentation through or use of cardboard paper and markers. In doing so, we cut personal costs in printing and explored an approach that did not rely on the use of modern development. This minimal approach allowed for a creative aspect of our action plan, something we feel the education system has often rejected from learning environments.

I’m torn as to whether or not I can call this action plan a complete success or failure. Although we did not receive the outcome we were hoping for, we did meet our personal goals of the action plan through creating discussion (even if it was just among the three of us) around the issues of corporate influence at York, and how this affects our social and learning environments within the university. We thought critically about how spaces are used within the institution, and development continues to be rooted within essentialized ideas of gender through the patriarchal influence within the university.  As for meeting our goals, we were limited in documenting any feedback due to how rapidly our posters were taken down. This also complicated the conclusions we could make regarding the student body and their thoughts on our posters. We had no way of truly collecting data to see if the actions we took were affective in encouraging critical thinking from other students and staff.

A poster reading: “We aren’t allowed to voice our own opinions due to the York Postering Policy, yet corporate influence is ALWAYS welcome!” was taken down before our postering session around the university was completed that evening. Although we do not know whether students or staff removed it, the fact that the poster was immediately taken down is symbolic to whose presence is most privileged within the university and what kind of influence is most welcome. We are set within specific grids of privilege and oppression, yet we do not seem to have the means to challenge these corporate spaces with our student voices. The limited space within our institution can be disheartening, as dominant ideologies regarding the role of the passive student continues to be enforced. The politics of these school spaces encouraged the sale of capitalist markets and development, reinforcing what is considered as progress or development while suppressing a resisting voice.

This action plan really solidified my issues with our ideologies development in the West, and how they have come intrinsic to the way we teach.  The ideologies surrounding what we have deemed to be progressive are initially taught within our schools and continue to exist when we enter into the world of work. Because of this, students have been taught to be very passive learners and are limited in our ability to be critical of many of these systems. Our current education system is structured on a banking system of knowledge that relies on the teach instilling his or her knowledge into the student (Hunt 2011). This traditional banking system “is characteristic of the ideology of oppression” which creates passive learners that can be dominated within the larger social structure. When there is little time to think critically about content, learning is impeded, as students are not encouraged to think critically on their own. Students are taught to adapt to systems rather than challenge them (Hunt 2011). We hoped our posters would encourage critical thinking about the decisions the university makes in their spending, policy measures and corporate influence, and how these decisions affect our learning spaces.

Who benefits from these kinds of institutions who produce passive learners? Why are knowledge and development related and influenced easily by a corporate world? Why is development linked to profit and monetary value? Where do our ideas of development come from, and why is the outcome an advertising nation? Our learning environments shape our systems of knowledge, which have become passive and uncritical. The few students we spoke to regarding our posters were very hesitant to discuss our issues critically and often had no interest beyond the curiosity of what we were doing.

This action plan gave me the opportunity to act as an individual agent of change. I was an active culture jammer, challenging and reacting against social conformity as a FES student. Our actions were meant to put the onus on students to question how different forms of development and corporatization have been apparent within the university. We challenged a larger aspect of political culture through questioning how ideas of development are very fixed within our education system. Fatima, Sarah and I worked as a kind of subculture, exposing the assumptions we as students have regarding our personal freedoms and encouraging more transparency from the university and visibly interrupting social spaces within the university. I have become much more critical when I look at spaces of “development” within and outside learning institutions. We must be aware of how ideas of development influence corporate marketing and advertisements, and how these affect the lens in which we view our surroundings. Penny Griffin’s article, “Development Institutions and Globalization” from Gender Matters, discuses the gender underpinnings of neoliberal development, which encourages conventional standards of, power relationships that are “power-laden, regulatory and highly restrictive” (219). Griffin continues, “[a]lthough social concerns that might impact on market efficiency have aroused the interest of development institutions […] social concerns nevertheless remains policy-relevant only as long as they can be quantified as tools for promoting market efficiency” (224). If we refer to York and the education system a development institution, how will our voices be heard if they do not promote economic gain?

Dominant discourses of sexism and racism exist within these neoliberal structures of development, where bodies are fixed and gendered. If these ideas of development are dominant in shaping the neoliberal institution, where does this leave the student body? If development is focused in marketization, privatization and deregulation, how are student bodies used as a means to progress the economic value of this institution? If development is founded on sexist and racist undertones, how can we emancipate ourselves from these structures within an institution that is closely tied these traditional ideas? How do we create change within this capitalist discourse that has infiltrated our ideas at the most fundamental level: within the education system and institution?

Our learning environments should not be used as tools for the enhancement of Western ideas of neoliberal development. The university is a place that represents the ideals of development based with the patriarchal dominance and focus on profit within a place without equality. Shelagh Day and Gwen Brodsky’s “Home come women are so poor?” focuses on the economic aspects of human rights and the funding that is put into social programs. As York is a publicly and privately funded institution, much funding is reliant on the public funds that are administered by government policies. Provincial and federal decisions about public spending affect students, and when funding for social programs like education hinder learning environments, students are affected by these cutbacks. Students must ask why tuition costs continue to rise and demand much more transparent spending from the university. Students must be critical of how the university has distributed its funding, and whether it is in the best interest of the collective body or certain groups. Why is safety on campus not a priority in the budget? Who is disproportionately affected by lacking safety measures on campus? Why are sexual assaults continuing to happen within the institution, and why have better safety precautions not been taken?

A number of our posters also focused on safety on campus, pointing to recent issues regarding women’s safety in the washrooms on campus, as well as the lack of responsibility York has for the violence that happens off campus (i.e. the Village at York) and the doors of buildings that lock after certain hours in the evening. All of these posters focus on safety here at York, raising the question of where funding is going and if it is going into services that protect student’s safety. What/who is privileged over student’s safety? The message of these posters is to encourage students to think about how the university is creating disproportionately unsafe environments for students, especially women.

As we surveyed the school, we noticed a complete lack of female statues and representation on campus [see: “Our Lady of Democracy…where did you go?” and “Penis Envy”]. The female structure of democracy was a symbol for the student icon of liberty and democracy. The statue signified the right for a student voice within the institution, the right to ask questions, raise concerns and recognize that as students, we are the citizens of this political structure. The female statue was removed without explanation and replaced by a giant sticker that reads: This is your student centre – Creative, enlightened, diversified. Student democracy was once represented by a symbol of femininity but was replaced by something that is currently being walked on. I also question why the Student Center is the only space in the university that has been labeled as a place entirely for students.

We were also critical of the phallic sculpture’s presence within the Accolade building. Coincidently, we had discovered that someone had used the “Hello, my name is _____ and I am a feminist” clipping from the current Excalibur issue. This finding encouraged our plight, seeing the satirical undertones of the clipping stuck on the statue. The statue is a symbol of the underlying patriarchy here at York, but also on a greater scale, how it is embedded into social notions of development. York projects an image of equality within the institution, yet there are no spaces for women on campus. We must be critical of what this represents, and what messages it sends about women within the liberal development structure to students.

Now What?

Our action projects focus was to address how development has infiltrated the learning environments of our university. Conventional ideas of development are held within the ideology of the institution, which in turn is a part of a bigger form of social organization and the links to the global neoliberal agenda. The idea of students remaining passive learners for the continuation of our present society is not progressive. Challenging the structure of the education system is necessary in order to create change surrounding the outcome of the learning. We must engage in active learning to look critically at all aspects of life through informed lenses. These learning spaces must also be conducive to encouraging new methods of teaching and receiving knowledge.

The actions of our postering project were not as successful as they could have been, and here I suggest that to improve the effectiveness of the postering, rather than putting posters up we could have initiated a discussion with students, asking them about the spaces within the university we found problematic and what their opinions were regarding these spaces. This method may have been more affective in retrieving responses from the student body in their opinions of these spaces. This kind of verbal documentation could have also sparked further conversation in some cases, to create more room for discussion between my peers and myself.

Ideally, seeing the education system emancipate itself from corporate influence with the elimination of advertisements in these student spaces could aid in the rejection of conventional neoliberal development. Dismantling systems that encourage the production of certain types of knowledge and certain types of learners is the first step in representing each student as an actor of change themselves, rather than sophisticated replicas. We also must focus on rebranding the influence of patriarchy within the University structure to dismantle the essentialized notions of men and women and the issues of safety on campus. To address these concerns, the university must enforce a much more efficient way of monitoring facilities and responding to emergency calls. The protection of women and men from sexual assault and harassment on campus needs to be taken more seriously and implemented within the teachings and spending of the university. By changing the curriculum to make mandatory feminist based sexual education and sexual health course a part of undergraduate degree requirements, I believe many students would be much more educated in matters of gender and racial equality. Encouraging students to look at sexuality and our “uncommon commonalities” with a much more enlightened mindset could reduce discrimination and assault. I believe it was also aid to challenge the gentrification of women through focusing on commonalities between people to resist the oppression of neoliberal agendas.

This postering project was an interesting way to begin thinking critically about spaces within public and private institutions, and how not only people, but also spaces are affected by ideological norms. Our action plan sought for a collective movement to expel capital markets from the classroom and establish learning environments that are not oppressive for students.

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