Harmony: Unity In Multiplicity

Harry Callahan, Detroit, 1943.
Harry Callahan, Detroit, 1943.

Since the conception of the institution in the 1960’s, Capilano has embodied values of “inclusion, comprehensiveness and academic excellence”, principles that have operated on a do-it-yourself way of thinking (Kilian, Schermbrucker , 12). The globally affiliated university I experience now emerged from a community college that was, at the time, assembled to serve its local. I believe we are products of our history, and Capilano has a complex and interwoven past with regards to its sense of community and its distinction from other post-secondary institutions. The collective vision of education at the university as a “public good more than a private benefit” resulted in the cooperative construction of courses and intimate classroom numbers (Kilian, Schermbrucker, 9). Capilano has worked hard to poses purpose in its instruction by its structure, rather than allow an idled consumption of education, which is easily found in large universities. Specialization is what makes Capilano unique from big universities and attracts a multitude of students with a unified purpose: to learn.

I asked students at the university about their sense of community on campus, and most replied with hesitation. This frequently stemmed from the platitude of Capilano being a commuter campus, a place where students are constantly moving from one place to another. Others suggested that the campus doesn’t offer spaces where University students prefer to hang out and I can agree to this, but I find something unifying about these statements. I think that the commuter campus is one of Capilano’s greatest qualities; it provides autonomy and flexibility to its students. Very few students at Cap can say that they are not participating in a number of other activities outside of their education, whether this is work or extra-circulars. The engagement with society outside of campus adds to a student’s experience that can be shared with one another and build a more complex understanding of society. I have engaged with a number of students at Capilano that have worked in unimaginably different fields. The results of these networks have influenced a great deal of what I know about their subjects and inspired decisions that have arguably changed my life. Further, this repetitive notion of “commuter campus” also exemplifies a collective identity that students are conscious of and share with one another. The perseverance of numerous areas of interest highlights the individuality of each student and emphasizes the choice they made when deciding to attend Capilano University.

Though individuality is precious, commonality fortifies relationships and harnesses novelty for a common good. Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz was a German scholar that lived in the newly formed nationalized Europe in the late 1600’s. He was educated in philosophy and math primarily, but also wrote a considerable amount about the moral politics of autonomy. Leibniz’s famous quote; “Harmony is, in fact, unity in multiplicity”, is what inspired me to study the Capilano student identity. He regarded the structure of a composite state as one of an ideal nation, a place that protects the individuality of local traditions and legal structure but brings them together under a single monarch. I view Capilano as a ‘composite university’ since it incorporates unique backgrounds and identities to create a harmonious state. At the core of Leibniz’s philosophy, a composite state must stand for cooperation and tolerance amongst citizens while rulers help minister a common purpose. At Capilano, student success is the common goal, recognized among faculty, staff and student body. “The coursework was structured and articulated to take individuals where they needed or wanted to go next, but only with their shared commitment.” (Kilian, Schermbrucker, 192). Capilano students have the freedom to pursue a wide range of areas of study, with very little limiting their ability to “explore” other disciplines. It is believed that “an education should be and intellectual adventure”, where students are encouraged to be creative and feel comfortable discussing issues or sharing opinions (Kilian, Schermbrucker, 9). The University also offers unique programs in the province while sustaining the lowest tuition fees (Globe and Mail, 2015) I think that Capilano is like a small-scale composite state- a place where students have the license to discover their abilities and excavate their individuality while retaining the University identity.

I decided to interview three Capilano students, all of different generations and educational backgrounds. The first was my aunt; she graduated from Capilano in 2011 with a Medical Office Assistant Certificate. The second was my mother; she went to Cap in 1990 for her certificate in the Legal Secretary Program. Lastly, I interviewed a friend of mine that is in her first year at Capilano, a student of the Liberal Studies Program. There was not a single corresponding academic course amongst my subjects, but they were connected by their personal appeal to Capilano, and that was due to accommodation. In the 90’s, my mother was a single mom living in North Vancouver with a 10-month-year-old and wanted a post-graduate education. She described how difficult it was for her to find a college that could accommodate her busy life, since commuting across the city was out of the question. She told me that Capilano offered an evening program with flexible days, so she could easily find child-care for a couple nights a week.

For health reasons, my aunt could not go through university life in Ontario for long; I have found this to be a reoccurring event among recent first-year university students. While the world is becoming ‘smaller’ and better connected, there have been more social pressures to move away to big universities and “start your adult life” after high school ends. There is this assumption that everyone is ready to handle the social and intellectual leap that comes with moving to a new city and furthering their education. I have heard these points discussed at the foreground of debates regarding the appeal of larger universities; since the institutions harbor such a large number of students, it is difficult for them to adjust to individual needs. Instead, my aunt moved back to Vancouver, and found Capilano was offering a similar program to which she attended in Ontario, that was flexible with her new work schedule and granted a short commute, so she was able to live at home comfortably.
My friend, who is studying here now, is exploring her first year at Capilano by taking courses in a variety of disciplines; the variability allows her to work full-time concurrently. “Cap’s teachers from the very start were concerned about teaching skills that would teach everyone, from single mothers returning to work, to adult basic education students” (Kilian and Schermbrucker, 17). Since there is a sizable difference between the familiarity of high school and university, my friend has expressed her gratitude for the flexibility she has to explore disciplines she has no experience in and that she doesn’t have to give up her job to pursue the classes. Although she claims she does not have a real sense of community at Capilano, she can name nearly every student in her Japanese class by their first name and most of her professors recognize her and say “Hello!” when seen on campus.

The famous psychologist, Jean Piaget, is known best for his studies in child development and education. His theory of constructivism is what brought me to the importance of individuality as the center of Capilano’s student experience. A key performance indicator published last year of the university showed that 95% of the student body felt that their classroom instruction was good to very good (Globe and Mail, 2015). This is an outstanding statistic, one that reveals the excellent reception students have to their classroom structure. Contrary to the big university model, the small classroom structure is one of the most reputable features of Cap. Constructivism focuses on the epistemological position of experience and interaction, based on an individual’s knowledge. Piaget regarded students as a body of individual learners, rather than a uniform group. He believed that true understanding was developed by adaptation and construction, not rigid instruction. (Carey Zaitchik and Bascandziev, 38) “Education, for most people, means trying to lead… to resemble the typical adult of his society … but for me… education means making creators… You have to make inventors, innovators—not conformists” (Bringuier, 132). Since there isn’t a severe separation between students and faculty on campus, there is an encouragement to establish a mutual, respectful and inclusive environment. Most students experience a reciprocal first-name-basis relationship with their professors at Cap, like my friend, enabling opportunity for authentic connection with their field of study for both parties. Capilano is known for its assembly of faculty members of extremely high quality, combine with very small class sizes, enabled a superior education received by the student body (Kilian and Schermbrucker, 9)

Outside of the Capilano campus, I interviewed two former classmates who have transferred to UBC to complete their degrees about university student life. Although they had been looking forward to the big university student lifestyle, they have both found the expansion to have a “larger than human-scale” feeling. Capilano’s small classroom sizes and familiar faculty set a principle for personal experience in a student’s education- whether they are rushing off after class or not. This intimate tactic to one’s education is absent in the big university scene; student bodies become a homogenized swarm and students can get lost among their peers. Piaget had emphasizes the importance of creating meaning by weaving personal ideas and local experiences but encouraging this concept can become impossible in a setting where a student’s ideas are one among hundreds. The students I spoke with expressed the overwhelming pressure for crowd conformity and docility, experienced in classrooms and conversations with fellow classmates due to staggering class-sizes and anonymity.

The Socratic dialogue model has been at the center of teaching methods for centuries. This is used when there is a cooperative asking and answering method, or a debate of sorts, enabling the evaluation of one’s own opinion and reduction of misconception (Lam, 3). This dialog between student and teacher is not primarily found in large university classrooms and is hard to roster if there is excessive pressure for the attention of one faculty member to hundred of students. The fact that Capilano has the ability to support a multiplicity of backgrounds, and bring them all into tolerably sized classrooms, offers students a diverse dialogue. Difference creates an opportunity for a mosaic of information, comparable to a mega-classroom full of students that have a hard time distinguishing themselves from one another. I will cherish the debates that were held in my Contemporary Literature course my first year at Capilano, I was encouraged to stand up for my beliefs (if I could articulate them!), and grew to recognize and respect the differences in my fellow classmates. My Capilano interviewees all had very different lives; one a mother, another newly married, and my close friend who is still trying to find her purpose here. Providing a place where all of these different experiences come together, and allow for connection and open communication, bring the possibility for broader perspectives. This can be found in all of the programs at Capilano since class sizes are relatively standard through all disciplines.

As a second year student at Capilano, I decided to take a continuing studies course at SFU over the summer, a program directed towards professionals looking to brush up in a familiar discipline. In that classroom, I was among twenty students, who were at least ten years my senior. They had graduated from top Canadian and American Universities years ago but wanted to know more about Urban Design. We introduced ourselves on the first day, and most admitted to their shyness since they had never been in such an intimate classroom since high school. Our professor was very hands-on, he ran his course following the Socratic model; he wanted opinions, oppositions, and discussion. Unfortunately, my fellow students were not used to this approach, and I spend three weeks as the sole representative from the auditorium pews. I think that the Capilano classroom structure gave me the confidence to think critically and become comfortable in the academic environment. I believe that Capilano has a sense of community; it just runs more intimately than some students may perceive at first thought. Capilano’s small classroom sizes honor multiplicity and tailor to individual needs, students have the applied learning opportunities that many do not have, and with this, connections are inevitably made with classmates and faculty members. It has been described that a sense of home can be found in a place where you feel comfortable, a sense of satisfaction with an awareness of ease, and I think Capilano is a home base for many, the commuters, the single mothers even the undecided young adult.

Works Cited

Antognazza, Maria Rosa. “What Would Leibniz Say about the Schisms in Europe Today?” Aeon, Sally Davies, 7 Dec. 2016, aeon.co/ideas/what-would-Leibniz-say-about-the-schisms-in-Europe-today.

Antognazza, Maria Rosa. Leibniz: a Very Short Introduction. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2016.

Baker, Vicki L., and Roger G. Baldwin. “A Case Study Of Liberal Arts Colleges In The 21St Century: Understanding Organizational Change And Evolution In Higher Education.” Innovative Higher Education 40.3 (2015): 247-261. ERIC. Web. 7 Dec. 2016.

Bringuier, Jean-Claude., and Jean Piaget. Conversations with Jean Piaget. Chicago: U of Chicago, 1980. Print. page 132

Carey, Susan, Deborah Zaitchik, and Igor Bascandziev. “Theories Of Development: In Dialog With Jean Piaget.” Developmental Review 38.Theories of development (2015): 36-54. ScienceDirect. Web. 7 Dec. 2016.

Globeandmail. “The Choice of Universities in British Columbia.” The Globe and Mail, Special to The Globe and Mail, 22 Oct. 2015, www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/education/canadian-university-report/british-columbia/article26898471/.

Goode, J. Paul, and David R. Stroup. “Everyday Nationalism: Constructivism For The Masses.” Social Science Quarterly 96.3 (2015): 717-739. PsycINFO. Web. 7 Dec. 2016.
Griard, Jérémie. “Leibniz’s Social Quasi-Contract.” British Journal For The History Of Philosophy 15.3 (2007): 513-533. Academic Search Complete. Web. 7 Dec. 2016.

Lam, Faith. “The Socratic Method as an Approach to Learning and Its Benefits.” Carnegie Mellon University, Carnegie Mellon University, 2011, pp. 1–50.

Leadbeater, Charles. “Nobody Is Home.” Aeon, Marina Benjamin, 7 Dec. 2016, aeon.co/essays/why-theres-no-place-like-home-for-anyone-any-more.
Schermbrucker, Bill, and Crawford Kilian, editors. The Dialogue Continues Tales from the Making of Capilano College. 2nd ed., Canada, Island Blue Printorium Bookworks, 2014.

Wikipedia. “Composite Monarchy.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 18 Sept. 2016, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Composite_monarchy.

Wikipedia. “Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 2 Dec. 2016, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gottfried_Wilhelm_Leibniz.

We Are What We Do

As a student and researcher, I have a strong affiliating with the interpretive and scientific paradigms. My history and experiences have formed my point of view and modeled my perspective. With this being said, due to my personal circumstances, I have been conditioned to see that my opinions and interpretations are shaped according to my personal values. Recently I have been very interested in the philosophical work done by Jean-Paul Sartre. His efforts of understanding mankind focus’ a great deal in the interpretive paradigm. His position held in existentialism is known for “we are what we do” with the backbone of his theory residing in the thought that existence precedes essence. With this conclusion, it is thought that human beings do not intrinsically have an “essence” (or a way of being), but inherent value and identity from their interaction with the world. Sartre believed that this claims that man behaves by means of reason, and is subject to one’s surroundings. This same concept is also held by another philosophical celebrity of mine, Baruch Spinoza, who was punished for his controversial opinion of rationalism. Although rationalism regards reason as the primary builder of knowledge, which is used in the scientific paradigm through logic and mathematics, one could argue that interpretive reasoning incorporates a narrow form of rationalization. Through interpretive knowledge, one tests and concludes truth based on direct experience, combined with deductive reasoning from one’s past understanding. When judging a situation, or deciphering new knowledge, I find myself using both interpretive and scientific knowledge to rationalize my environment.

There are a few obvious biases like gender, race, and class that license my fine frame of knowledge. This builds my personal filter of reality. For example, since I identify as a woman, I experience the world differently than my twin brother, even though we were born on the same day, and raised in the same household. My class and race have been the backbone of rationalizing my sense of society and community, both at a local and global scale. No point of view is the same since everyone has different experiences and connections, therefore no two interpretations can be the same.

I hope that throughout this course we can dive into research that is structured with the aid of multiple paradigms. I believe that having a horizontal approach to research allows the interviewer to think liberally and expand the prospect of gaining new insight about a topic.

Consuming Reality

Peaches in Mongkok- 2015

It was fascinating to see the variety of topics chosen by my peers for our midterm mini projects on sustainability. The presentation given about media consumption really resonated with me, since it was a subject that I have a personal relationship with. Focusing on the words ‘sustainability’ and ‘consumption’, typically my mind focuses on economic or ecological forces. Thinking about the way we consume media, and how sustainable it is, in social nature, can be a great debate.

This presentation caused a lot of class discussion, which led me to really look at the way I treat social platforms as well as consume other forms of contemporary social media. From an economic perspective, the Internet and social media sites are an exploratory way of transferring currency and wealth, without a physical transaction necessary. For the first time in history we are able to make business networks and manage bank accounts from across the world, in new languages and time zones; all from the comfort of our own office. The power, time and money spent trying to access these places are now arguably obsolete. From a social perspective, with numerous networks like Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook, it’s hard to see where real human connection plays a role in such high-speed interactions. Although, it is highly effective for instant communication from virtually any location. What was formally known as “social context” or body language is now inferred with misused punctuation and automated time signals in daily conversation, Will these forms of homogenized social relationships prove to be sustainable or will a social media revolution occur to gain dynamic interactions? With something that has become such an integrated part of our culture in 2015, it’s hard to tell if it’s a sustainable resource for human connection. In an urban social model, applications and new technologies for communication, like Twitter and Facebook, can be beneficial since it can sustain a large network of people in many different social classes, as well as provide as a tool for mobilizing large groups of people.

I was shocked to learn about the vital role the palm oil industry plays on the global economic stage, as well as its national controversy in Malaysia and Indonesia. Palm oil production is the main industry in these countries, making a strict monopoly, and opportunity for exploitation. To look at this industry objectively my group drew from a number of different disciplines to compare the benefits and controversies. Economically, palm oil is superior to other plants because in tropical regions, it can be grown at any time of year. Thus, making it’s output (palm oil) accessible continuously. On the contrary, since only a hand full of companies owns the arable land in Indonesia, strategic harvest times and mass deforestation is practiced and exploited for maximum profit. With this, employees are abused and underpaid by these large faceless corporations. I had never thought about the consequences of small-scale products, and how they can have such a large impact on mass populations. To think that the first world relies on so heavily on the distribution of palm oil for most packaged products makes me start to rethink my buying power. To buy sustainably in North America is to recognize where our products are coming from and understanding our options in choosing local and ethically. Consumers have the power to change the market for the people who are suffering from the production of their goods.

The documentary “Just Eat It” integrated well into my topic of sustainable food culture and international food security. After watching this, I grew a new appreciation for the area I live in. On Commerical Drive it’s hard to find myself at a major grocery store to purchase designer produce. In Easy Van, most of the community shops for their groceries the traditional way, with small Italian supermarkets and produce stands. I was horrified to see the way major companies throw perfectly edible food in the trash, while food banks across the city are begging for donations. The fact that this film was made in Vancouver made the issue all the more real. It’s hard for me to think that we are throwing away something so necessary for survival; in a place that cannot produce it’s own food to live.

Progress

Thinking about waste and how we manage it, speaks a real truth about our culture around consumerism. Looking at the university’s garbage, and how many bodies and hours were used to sort through it, really opened my eyes to how much garbage a small portion of the population creates. It was interesting to see how much of this “garbage” wasn’t really waste; that it could be a product for recycling or reusing. Managing the ways we contribute to single-use packaging and distribution can have major effects to our waste accumulation.

For environmental work, and social progression, using integrated theory is almost mandatory. The discussion we had in class about ways of limiting waste and recycling costs was an example of this. I recently read an article about a design for the ultimate 0 waste home in Germany called Activhaus. It is currently under observation to test it’s comfort levels and it’s sustainability for personal living. Some of the core ideas for the Activhaus are based on energy consumption. In the home, any excess heat or energy used is converted into energy for other things necessary for everyday life, like power for the owner’s electric car/bike. The insulation plan and lay out of the home is satisfied by a design to keep temperatures at a comfortable and efficient level during all seasons. Designs like these are considered with cost efficiency in mind, as well as the environmental benefits of living in an eco-friendly home. Combining these things with a sleek aesthetic and simple-to-use tools for control, will make it user friendly and appealing. If even one neighborhood could be converted over to Activhaus’s, the environmental and economic impact on the areas energy grid would be revolutionary. More ideas like these are being recognized; as new designs are formed and positive information is spread to the public, on ways we can keep our planet safe.

Having traveled to China quite a bit, I really enjoyed listening to our guest speaker, Gu Xiong. His perspective on global consumption was something that I have had on my mind since he spoke. Major American brands like Coca Cola and Disney have traveled millions of miles across the world to distribute billions of aluminum cans and plastics, that are being disposed of in Asian rivers and water systems across the map. Not to mention the production of these goods for both Asian and American markets are now being mass-produced in countries like China. It’s crazy to think that the North American capitalist ideals have seeped into a country that has been so independent in social progress for hundreds of years. Looking at these issues through the eyes of a man who has lived in both countries leaves me feeling a personal connection to the ecological destruction of his nation. I was shocked to hear the story he told about the thousands of dead pigs that floated down a local river, where the public was meant to receive their fresh water from. The thought of anything even remotely close to an event like this happening in Canada is unimaginable. In other ways, while I was visiting a University in the south of China I found their means of reusing and recycling obvious and critical. The students ate all of their meals on stainless steal trays, choosing their dish of choice for breakfast lunch and dinner, with cans for compost near the exit of the cafeteria. A meal system like this seems archaic to a Canadian student, but in turn, the most sustainable choice for public meal service. It was blatantly obvious that our students produce far too much waste, and converting our system to this could be saving hundreds of bags of “garbage” from ending up in the landfill every week.

I absolutely love working with the e portfolios for our Liberal Studies material. I am not in any way, tech savvy, but the program is something very contemporary for showcasing our personal development as Liberal Study students. I find it has been easier for me to grasp the formatting of the site, since it is very similar to the blog site, Tumblr. It’s very useful to have this site up so I can have quick and easy access to all of the work I have submitted in the course.

Through the Eyes of the Beholder

Picnic for three- 2015

The first two presentations in this course drew out some of my first-hand experiences and ‘learning through the act of being a witness’, which are some of the most important ways of for me to interpret reality. Our first speaker, Sonny McHalsie, really made me think about the way I am connected with the earth. I have found that this connection with the environment can be found, through spirituality, or religious paths.

Sonny’s traditions were on my mind, and they brought back a memory that had been tucked away for quite a few years. While I was on my volunteer trip to France, I had the opportunity to participate in a traditional BC First Nations sweat lodge, which nation, I cannot remember, but the experience was something I would never forget. Our purification ceremony was held in a small dug out hole in the ground, with an elaborate structure on top of it, to protect the inside from receiving any light. I remember sitting inside and realizing that I had never experienced real, complete darkness before. I had never been claustrophobic, but there was something cramped about not being able to see your own body. The ceremony lasted just over an hour, but it felt like an eternity, I remember the way the drums and the songs of the man stayed in my dreams for days. I had vivid hallucinations of rivers and running horses. The heat was overwhelming but became part of my own being, which had dissipated into the darkness and into the chanting of the drums. I don’t know if I will ever be able to experience this again, but I am so thankful that I got to open myself up to the opportunity.

Exploring the French Alps as a 15-year-old girl, with complete freedom, feels like it could have been a distant dream. The memories I have of the way sunshine, rainfall, new growth, wind and wild animals impacted my day-to-day life makes me think about Sonny’s history. It made me think about how disconnected I feel with my natural surroundings here, and how city life can change the way I behave around nature. I use to feel so in tune with what I believed was a part of me. Like the way Sonny described his natural surroundings as beings; that were his equal, or rivers that had names and history, rather than just an object or a landmark. It shows the way he is sustaining his cultural beliefs with his use of language, and by just the act of sharing his stories with us. It’s interesting to recognize the fact that every culture or every religion has their own creation story, and that it is seen as a core element of the culture. Since a culture’s history is a way of understanding where we are now, it is interesting to hear about other cultures origins (especially ones that I do not know a lot about).

I loved listening to Rita Wong present her experiences with water, and open up about the importance of our connection with the hydrologic cycle. I began to think about the ways we can talk about serious topics in ways that aren’t just powerpoints and monotone speeches. The emotion she conveyed through her poetry that she read aloud made me feel more than any public speaker could. Looking at water in different perspectives is essential, but discussing it and sharing it in new ways could also be the key to interdisciplinary learning. I believe this is the first course I have taken in my life where I have been challenged to express how something has made me feel, or how your personal connection is relevant to a topic. Learning about interdisciplinary studies has developed a more complex way for me to approach real life situations.

The reality of any given opportunity or decision, whether that be with work, or school or relationships is that there are many given parts or aspects that make it a whole. Using bridge building in a professional setting has made me better equip in solving issues and understanding problems. Learning about these metaphors has helped me recognize the types of behavior I exemplify in problem-solving situations. To think in a sustainable way, I believe it takes the knowledge of many fields. I consider the idea of social sustainability of urban environments often- places like Vancouver where I live or Guangzhou where I recently visited. How do these cities operate as a social ecosystem? Does Vancouver have enough community or public spaces for children/youth to interact, for the general public to form relationships? What kind of cultural activities does either city hold for their communities and is it held in places that everyone can access? I think that the social growth of a place is just as crucial as it’s economic status or ecological footprint. I have found that reading the technical foundations of interdisciplinary studies gives me the basic framework for broader thinking, whereas the presentations have really opened my mind to aspects of my surroundings that I wouldn’t normally give a second thought to.