Episode 18: Acknowledging and Honouring the Emotional Labour of Decolonization with Dr. Sarah Hunt
Sarah Hunt / Tłaliłila’ogwa, a member of the Kwagu’ł (Kwakwaka’wakw) Nation from the northern part of Vancouver Island, grew up locally on the Songhees reserve in Lekwungen territories. Hunt completed her undergraduate degree at UVic, and PhD at Simon Fraser University, before moving on to serve as a professor at UBC for five years. She is a Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Political Ecology in UVic’s School of Environmental Studies, a prestigious professor position given to Canada’s best and brightest scholars. Sarah is passionate about nurturing community networks with shared orientations toward decolonization, justice and self-determination. Indigenous peoples have long advanced a deep interrelation between the governance of Indigenous lands and bodies, calling for approaches to justice that push beyond colonial framings to account for these interconnected scales of life. Building on her previous community-driven work on gender, law, and violence, Sarah’s current research focuses on fostering justice across the nested scales of lands/waters, homes and bodies via engagement of coastal peoples’ embodied knowledge and land-based cultural practice. Her writing has been published in numerous anthologies such asKeetsahnak: Our Missing and Murdered Indigenous Sisters, as well as scholarly journals including Atlantis and Cultural Geographies, and in numerous research reports, podcasts and other media. In 2014, Sarah was awarded a Governor General’s Gold Medal for her doctoral dissertation and was the 2017 recipient of the Glenda Laws Award for Social Justice from the American Association of Geographers in recognition of her social justice contributions.
"We need breaks, we need downtime, and we need time for ourselves, especially when we're doing difficult work."
Dr. Sarah Hunt
Waving, Not Drowning
Rebecca Gagan: Hi everyone. I’m Rebecca Gagan, and this is Waving, Not Drowning, a UVic Bounce podcast. Today’s episode is being recorded on the unceded and unsurrendered territories of the Wsáneć and Lekwungen peoples.
In today’s episode of Waving, Not Drowning, I talk with Dr. Sarah Hunt, a member of the Kwakwaka’wakw nation from the Northern part of Vancouver Island, who grew up locally on the Songhees reserve in Lekwungen territories. Sarah completed her undergraduate degree at UVic, and PhD at Simon Fraser University, before moving on to serve as a professor at UBC for five years. She is a Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Political Ecology in UVic’s School of Environmental Studies, a prestigious professor position given to Canada’s best and brightest scholars. Sarah’s research and teaching are indigenous political ecologies and indigenous and decolonial methodologies; indigenous scholars, activists, and communities have advanced a deep interrelation between the governance of indigenous lands and bodies, calling for research into questions of justice that pushes beyond colonial framings to account for these interconnected scales of life. Building on her previous work on justice, violence, gender, and self-determination, Sarah’s current research focuses on indigenous people’s understandings of justice across the nested scales of lands, waters, homes, and bodies via engagement of coastal peoples’ embodied knowledge and land-based cultural practice. In 2014, Sarah was awarded a Governor General’s gold medal for her doctoral dissertation and was the 2017 recipient of the Glenda Laws of War for Social Justice from the American Association of Geographers in recognition of her social justice contributions.
In our conversation, Sarah shares with me some of her experience of being an indigenous undergrad student here at the University of Victoria. Sarah talks about how she really struggled and really then worked to find space in which to nourish and support her whole self, and then it took time for her to learn that there actually was space at the university, that there was room for her to take the time that she needed, that she could connect with community and with elders who would support her experience here. And she talks about how it was so essential to also make space for the emotional labour and, in the first place, to really recognize the very difficult and heavy emotional labour that often attends any discussion of colonialism and indeed, colonialism in a colonial institution, and how she really learned to make space every day in her life to care for herself and care for her whole self and recognize that, that form of caring is so essential to the life of the student, and that sometimes we tend to forget how burdensome–and especially burdensome for indigenous student conversations, even with the best of intentions around decolonization can feel so heavy and require such an amount of emotional labour for students– and that even the research that students are pursuing in their studies. And certainly today, so many students are interested in pursuing advocacy work, research, and discussions into social justice issues, but that work also requires a certain amount of emotional labour that is often invisible. And for students themselves can really require a certain kind of compassion and nurturing of the self, so sometimes that might mean really asking for extensions on assignments and feeling that those extensions can be available; sometimes it means stepping back from studies, and that’s okay to do. And so, Sarah really shares this absolutely crucial reminder that students need to really– and instructors and everyone in the university community– needs to really be mindful of all of the ways in which students are engaging in their studies and that some of the ways in which they engage, really require even more care of the self, and require more support and more compassion. And in the first place, more recognition from others of the forms of emotional labour that our students and in particular, our indigenous students are doing at the university. This conversation has taught me so much. It’s one that is profoundly inspiring and thoughtful and one that we all need to hear today. I’m Rebecca Gagan, here today with Dr. Sarah Hunt, and this is Waving, Not Drowning.
Hi Sarah! I’m so I’m happy that you are able to join me here today for this conversation.
Sarah Hunt: [Greets in Indigenous Language] Thank you for having me. I’ll just start by introducing myself in my Kwak’waka name. So, my name is Ttalitila’ogwa, and I’m Kwagu’t from the Kwakwaka’wakw people on the Northern part of the island and also Tlingit from what’s now known as Alaska, and I’m very happy to be here today.
Rebecca Gagan: Well, thank you, Sarah. How have you been doing it? It’s almost been a year now since our world’s changed; how have you been doing through all of this?
Sarah Hunt: Yeah, it’s been a challenging time. So I moved back to the island almost a year ago, so I moved during the pandemic. Yeah, for me, I feel that It’s been a lot of my work and kind of community work, my work with my family, my teaching is about gathering together, so it’s been an adjustment to be unable to do those things, but it’s definitely caused me to pay more attention to other sets of relationships that I have, so going to the water everyday kind of practices for thinking about connecting with the place where I live and grounding myself in that instead of the gatherings that we wouldn’t normally would have with friends and family. Yeah, it’s been a challenging time, but it’s also been a good time just to adjust, I guess, how I go about those daily things that keep me going.
Rebecca Gagan: And to have a chance to reassess and think about what is nourishing in your life. And I think as you say, this very massive change in how we live our lives has meant that there’s, I think for so many of us, that we’ve had– perhaps even if we didn’t want it– we’ve had time maybe to think about those routines and how we want to live our lives and so many people have felt within the absence of being able to gather, that being able to spend time in nature has been restorative, and it sounds like it’s been that way for you as well.
Sarah Hunt: Yeah, I think for me, maybe I have a particular relationship with this place because, being indigenous to the island and growing up here, a lot of my research and my community work is very local– is kind of located on the coast here. And so, you know, thinking about the knowledge that lives within kind of the lands and waters is very important for me, in my research but also just how I think about myself in the world. And so, to me, that’s a comfort that, you know, we don’t need to go out there to some sort of pristine place to build those relationships. We can just turn our attention to the land beneath our feet, thinking about where we are. And for me, I feel very lucky to be able to be back on the island and in these familiar places that I can just go down the street to the beach and think about, yeah, just really feel the inherent, I think, connection that helps to sustain me here, so yeah, I’m grateful for that.
Rebecca Gagan: Yes. I think we are very lucky to live where we do and to be able to, as you say, have– it still surprises me when I think about just having the ocean really about– I can’t walk there, but about, you know, a seven-minute drive away from me and how fortunate we are. So, Sarah, you know that UVic Bounce is an initiative that’s really trying to encourage conversations between faculty and students around– and de-stigmatize conversations about the challenge and difficulty so that students feel supported and that it’s easier for them to ask for and reach out for help without shame. I’m so pleased that you’re here today to talk with me, and I’m hoping that you can share a little bit about your own experience as a student– whether it’s in undergrad or grad or anything that you might want to share.
Sarah Hunt: Thank you. Yeah. Yeah. I think those are really important conversations, and I wish that there had been more opportunities to talk about these things when I was a student, for sure. So, yeah, I did my undergrad at UVic and also my master’s degree. I took breaks between my undergrad and my master’s, and then again a break between my master’s and my doctorate. And so, I think, you know, for me, when I was thinking about these questions, I really went back to my experiences as an undergraduate student. So I started at UVic when I was 17. I was fresh out of high school and already really engaged with social justice issues, so I had my first rally that I skipped school for was in grade nine, and I ended up speaking at it. I was very involved in kind of anti-racism work and anti-violence work, and just a lot of issues of concern in the community that I grew up in here. I grew up on the Songhees reserve here, and so from– I think, that shaped my experience as an undergrad, that I was already very interested in, what I would say is like, asking difficult questions. So that in the classes that I chose and the assignments that I did, I often was diving right into things that really mattered in a very material way, and I think that’s true for a lot of indigenous students and other students for whom university is a way to– we already come in with a sense of what matters. Like I already knew that I was already speaking out and quite vocal about social wrongs, and that’s great that I had an opportunity to do that. But probably about three years in, where I started to focus more specifically on gender-based violence in my research as an undergrad, and that’s ultimately–I’m still doing that work many years later. But, as a 19-year-old, that was quite intensive and having those conversations in classes–I was committed to doing that work, and for me, it’s only worthwhile– and I still feel this way– it’s really only worthwhile to– you know, academic work is hard, and there’s a lot of long hours. It’s a big commitment, and it’s meaningful. Like I’m not going to do– I wasn’t there to do work that wasn’t meaningful to me, so I was invested in seeing that through, but I really–I was balancing multiple jobs, and I did summer school one year, so I’d done a full course load, summer school, continuing on, and I just really started to struggle. I was going to the water every day, just waiting for something to happen. I don’t know. I started to feel like I didn’t know where to turn; I was having a really hard time, just functioning, like going to classes; I was crying a lot and didn’t really feel like I could have– I didn’t have people really who understood. Like I didn’t have an easy way of talking about that.
I think, especially because these are difficult-to-talk-about issues, and that’s why I felt a commitment to do work on them, but I was just really steeped in reading, writing, talking, thinking about colonization and about these really challenging topics. So I was– yeah, I was really struggling, and I turned to eventually– there was a couple of professors who I felt– I’d had a relationship like I’d known them from when I started basically and were very supportive, and I felt I could go when I was feeling vulnerable that I trusted them, and I’m incredibly grateful that I did that. And I feel like that’s really shaped now my role as a teacher, and working with students, in that I just sort went and said, “I don’t know if I can do this. I don’t know if I can finish this degree. I don’t know what to do. Like I’m at a loss, I’m falling behind. I can’t catch up.” And I think that’s common. You know, we need breaks, and we need downtime, and we need time for ourselves, especially when we’re doing work on difficult issues, but really all of us do. Like we can’t just expect ourselves to work and do full-time classes and never have a break. There’s kind of just the annual grind, I think of it, of– there’s these annual cycles, and so if we don’t work in time for rest, or for having time-out from the constant deadlines and stuff, it’s too challenging, so yeah. So I feel very lucky that I turned to a professor who kind of put things in perspective and said to me that– which was the first time I was very– I had a hard time asking for extensions, and I had a hard time saying that I was struggling or, asking for, yeah, a bit of extra time or deferring or something like that. I didn’t even know that was possible, actually. I didn’t know you could defer a class. I didn’t realize that, and so she just said that deadlines, in some ways, are arbitrary. The university system– there’s nothing about inherent to like April 5th that says, “if you’re not done by this day of the world, poof, everything is hopeless.” Just let’s think about an extension. Can you finish in the summer? Can you– and just really put things in perspective, and also, I didn’t know about how university systems work, and I think for those of us who are the first in our families to go on to post-secondary, we don’t know that you can– what are the behind the scenes mechanisms of university expectations that are there for students.
So, yeah, she really supported me to– I took an extra term. I felt I had to put a lot of pressure on myself. I was always like very upset if I didn’t get A’s, so I was always very upset if I wasn’t at the top of the class kind of thing, and really just that I was putting a lot of pressure on myself and had high expectations, and she helped me to find a way to, I guess, work within the tools that were available within the university– I still finished; I just took a bit more time, so that was one part that was helping to explain the mechanisms that the university has in place if you’re struggling, but at the same time, she also referred me to work with an elder, and I didn’t, at the time, have– I had gone to counselling when I was a teenager in high school, and my early years, I had struggled with an eating disorder, and so I had gone to a counsellor, but I didn’t connect with counsellors that were available at the time. I tried going to some of the counsellors on campus. There wasn’t a good match at the time. I just didn’t find it; I didn’t find it helpful, and so she connected me with an elder who had a group with youth that was meeting, and she just invited me to come along. And that really gave me a place, like a kind of sense of community, to go on a regular basis to have some kind of culturally informed support. And she kind of guided me with different kind of cultural practices that I could use for my own wellness, that I could do at home, that I felt really seen for the first time, that those were not things that were available to me in high school or growing up. I didn’t really think of– I didn’t even know that there were specific wellness practices or thinking about that within a cultural perspective as an indigenous person. And so, yeah, that really, for me those two things of having some knowledge about how the university– and this is– now as an instructor, I always make sure the beginning of term, and to be very clear about– and reminding students there are– we all have things that come up, that it’s natural and normal for things to come up through the term and through our degrees; that there are mechanisms within the universities to support you, but also to work with you like to work with whatever comes up so that you can be supported to finish in the way that is going to suit whatever comes up.
And I think for me, that was really also necessary because I continued to–I did an undergrad honours thesis that was looking at issues of violence and colonization, and I don’t think that the nature of doing that work is the same as other kinds of work, that is not about social issues, is not about colonization. That was very personal for me. It was also very relevant to my life and ongoing issues that are happening in the– my family and the world around me. And so, it’s a lot to process, and that’s a lot as a student with a full course load and a job and all that stuff to also ensure that– yeah, I don’t think I could have done it without some sort of support processes in place, but for me, that really helped; those two things really helped me to finish. Like I don’t think I would have– I don’t know if I would have finished my undergrad without that, and I’m really grateful that I had those relationships with professors before I got to that point where I knew that I could trust them and reach out and ask for something.
Rebecca Gagan: Sarah, thank you for sharing your experiences. I actually didn’t know that you were an undergrad here at UVic. I find that just talking to faculty across campus, so many have started at UVic and then left and then perhaps return, so coming back to the island and returning back here. One of the things that I just wanted you to say a bit more about, Sarah, is your experience of studying material that, as you say, was your passion, that you were working in a particular way. And so I’m committed and dedicated to this work, and that it had to feel meaningful to you. And it sounds like that’s still, obviously, your guiding thread in the work you’re doing now. But that was difficult for you and difficult at a time when perhaps resources on campus hadn’t fully or maybe we’re only just starting to think about trauma and trauma-informed pedagogy and what it would mean for a student to be fully engaged in that work and finding it It’s just really hard going in terms of the kinds of feelings and emotions that were generated by that. And so I’m just wondering if you can say a bit more about that and what, what helped in terms of really getting through that piece?
Sarah Hunt: Yeah, I think as there’s so many things, but as an Indigenous person at a university, in whatever role, I think, there are particular– in addition to the focus of my actual research and the kinds of things I wrote about and was interested in– just the nature of being at the university and things have changed in the last 25 years. It’s been a while since my undergrad, but that, you know, I was also in classes that I was, for example, reading about my great great grandparents, and I had professors who would ask me how to pronounce Indigenous languages or, there are just all kinds of experiences in classes. I didn’t really have a place to process that, and it wasn’t recognized– there was no class that was at a distance from my life– like everything felt very close and relevant, and so being in the university, just being there– where also, for me as an indigenous person, always sort of being aware of and critiquing the way that, kind of colonial disciplines, or like institutions have, take up Indigenous lives, our knowledge as people, our stories, and that’s very– that’s that has a– there’s a kind of emotional work there. It’s not just an intellectual work, right? There’s some things we’re processing that I don’t think is recognized very often, and that is changed. So that now, I think there’s more explicit, and it’s not just that there’s more explicit conversations about things like colonization or indigenous knowledge, indigenous people, it’s that it’s mandated. So we have– we’re thinking about reconciliation. We’re thinking about the United Nations declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples and, and the university’s role in that, so there’s a lot of even in disciplines that historically don’t talk about Indigenous people, there’s more attempts to do that.
And that’s… there’s obviously reasons for that. And we want that. And at the same time, I don’t know that all of us, as faculty, are prepared to go– to do that in a way that recognizes the emotional and in all ways, with all parts of ourselves, like the support that’s needed, to do that in a way, that is recognizing the effects that has on people. It’s not just when we talk about– I’ve had peers– other faculty asked me about resources for having conversations if it’s explicitly about violence, for example; if it’s explicitly about– there’s a lot of people integrating work, for example, around missing and murdered women. So, of course, we know what those topics– we need to do that carefully, and we need to do that in a trauma-informed way because it could be a student’s relative that we’re talking about. We really do need to understand going in, but even when we’re not talking about that, just by talking about colonization, that’s also talking about people’s lives. It’s not a– so I think that we don’t always– or Indigenous knowledge, that thinking about, or even just recognizing, the different ways that each of us might be impacted, assuming that in any class we could be, things could be brought up that are gonna impact people. We had watched films about residential schools now without necessarily knowing that it’s going to differently impact students. That’s just– it’s going to impact me differently. So, you know, thinking about how we integrate things at the start of class; taking a break, like I often will if we’re in person, take walks in the middle of class as in pairs or something like that; doing things throughout the class that is just acknowledging the different ways we’re impacted, and that it gives us permission, you know, take a breath or feel your feet on the ground. Let’s take a moment here. Breaking up the– I guess for me, it’s an assumption that knowledge is just intellectual; that we’re learning these facts; we’re learning these histories; we’re having conversations in kind of an abstracted way, instead of, you know, as I think I learned in my undergrad– and I just try to really continue to integrate that then into how I do my work now is– it’s not just it’s not also only indigenous students, it’s that really, we should all be impacted by talking about these things and if we’re really taking it seriously, so that commitment that universities have, to take on these challenging– thinking about reconciliation. It’s not just the positive aspects of that, but what are we doing then to support that work in a meaningful way so that it doesn’t impact people and they aren’t taking that on personally necessarily and internalizing it?
Yeah, so that’s sort of a big, long roundabout story, but I do think that you know, a lot of students who that I work with, even just acknowledging that if they’re struggling, that that’s normal, like that we are going to be impacted by talking about challenging and thinking through really challenging topics, regardless of what that is about. And that, although the formal kind of program that we set out for ourselves, or how we think about our deadlines and stuff like that, we can’t just assume that in there, we’re going to account for the kind of emotional or like embodied impacts that will have on us. We have to have also like a wellness plan or thinking about, at the start, what tools do I have for my wellness? And then reminding ourselves of that throughout the term or throughout your degree. You know, I like to even do– like I’ll write it down and put it on my wall, that I — reminding myself what makes me feel good. Oh yeah. Have I gone for a walk in the last five days? Am I feeding myself properly? So we might need to. You know, you have to integrate that into your study plan or your deadlines– also can have those reminders to be doing those things, that it’s not just about taking care of ourselves as a separate thing from that, but actually, it’s required to support us through what might be challenging, challenging topics, or looking at difficult things, or just the nature of constantly learning new things, like how we integrate that. Again, it’s not just separating our minds from the rest of ourselves, but those are connected, so.
Rebecca Gagan: What you’re getting at here, Sarah, is something that, to me, feels so fundamental and necessary, but also something that I think perhaps the university still has some ways to go in terms of really embracing. And that’s that what you’ve just shared is that first of all, in the classroom, an instructor should always assume that the work that is being done the reading will be more than theoretical for the students engaging that work. And secondly, we talk a lot about self-care and we, especially this year, and I know certainly with my students, I have said, “you’re studying in the pandemic. These are extraordinary times. Make sure to take care of yourselves and takes breaks and do all of those things.” But what you’ve just shared is that the work of learning and the work, the intellectual labour of being a student and, in particular, of pursuing and engaging with certain topics, certainly can be emotionally very difficult. It’s necessary to make room at all times in your degree, whether it’s a pandemic or not. There needs to be space and flexibility and grace and room to account for those times where, which as you’ve shared, could be an entire year or more of your undergrad, for example, where you need more room, you need more space to process what you are engaging, and I guess– I just think that maybe there’s a way in which we sometimes lose sight of that in that the intellectual work — and of course, yes, it can vary on what it is, but that– you know, a student should never feel that they can’t ask for what they need in terms of that space to process.
Sarah Hunt: Yeah. Yeah. I think I guess I think we should assume that we all have different needs, and we all have different levels of support. We all have different like tools that we bring with us, but that, you know, just like we get– I don’t even know if people buy books anymore, but we get books or readings, we get computers, we get– we have things that we prepare ourselves with. And so, we need to also prepare ourselves with other kinds of tools, support systems, people we can call on when we need to just vent and talk it out, places that we can visit that give us a sense of calm in our day. Yeah, thinking about that, that we need that, like we have bodies, in addition to our minds, and we have diverse needs, and so to think about how– because I do think that a lot of what I’ve seen just around, especially around health, but especially I think around mental health, is just ways that we should be looking out when trouble happens when we’re struggling.
And that’s, for me, like this– what I shared, I really only started to seek support when I was having a really hard time, and I had gotten to a very bad place, but I didn’t really think about what I could do to stay well, and I guess that’s what I try to do that now or to be aware of that. And in my master’s and my PhD, I thought about that differently, I think. I recognized that I might need more time. I took an extra year with my master’s, for example. I just assumed that because I was also dealing with the challenging topic, and just that’s the nature of the work. And so, I guess another part of that for me was things that got me through all of that, is being in community. And I know that’s difficult right now with being online, but definitely being part of and engaged with student community, student events, as well as community events being connected with people, that had — at the time there wasn’t a lot of– there’s a small indigenous student population, but I was also at the time, starting to connect more with the queer community as a queer student, and feeling connected and making it a point in my weeks to not only go to class and then be alone doing work, that helped me to feel connected to broader communities and then especially with students or other people with shared interests, that it was another, I guess, just a way of having bit more balance in my life, which I think was also really pivotal and some of the connections I made as an undergrad, I still am connected to those people now, and getting involved in different events and stuff like that was a big part of my undergrad experience too.
Rebecca Gagan: Yeah. And I think importantly, Sarah, you’ve shared how essential it has become to think about, as you say, supporting wellness all the time and not just when it gets to a crisis point, right? So what are the supports? What can be done in day-to-day life. And as you say, those reminders of, just, it feels good to get outside or so that it becomes part of the infrastructure of your life and not something that you turn to only when there’s a crisis point. And I feel as if that is just such powerful advice, really, for students now, that they start to think about not just maybe at the tough times of the semester, but all the time, because as you’ve shared, we’re not just talking heads. And the labour that is required is also often emotional labour and that, you know, the whole self needs to be brought into the conversation and supported.
And I think as you’ve explained, so thoughtfully, there’s a way in which we can seek support when it’s a crisis and not see that actually, so often the work we’re doing just necessitates and requires that support all the time, so figuring out where it’s going to come from, who will be able to offer that support in the community. And then, it sounds to me like you had a professor who was really key for you at that time and opening up, really other avenues into your community, would that be right? That you went to one person in particular that you trusted and that kind of float into other ways of getting support?
Sarah Hunt: Yeah, I had, one in particular, in that instance. I had another professor as well that I remember going to her office and crying several times, and that was hard for me because I was someone who– I found it really, I think I said before, I found it really hard to ask for help. And I’m grateful that we had– I just felt understood or something like that. That is something right now with a lot of classes being online, that we can’t just drop in and visit each other, and I really feel that does impact our ability to check in on how we’re doing. Because I think that it’s by having those good relationships where we can just check in with each other, that then if we are needing for having a bad day, doesn’t have to be like, that we’ve gotten to a really bad point overall. But if we’re just having a bad day or some kind of something happened, and we just need someone to talk to, that if it’s a faculty member or it could be somebody else, but that you can just drop in and, and have someone to share that with. I think that’s really important, so that’s where relationship building and being a community and paying attention to who those people are that kind of get it and that you can trust, then when something does come up, or you’re having a bad time, yeah, that you can count on those people.
Rebecca Gagan: Yeah, I like what you’ve just said there about paying attention to those people who see and who understand you and are supportive, and then they become part of your community of support, really, as you say, that you can turn to and even just to have a conversation with about a bad day, as you say. And yes, that is much more difficult these days, but I really think, Sarah, that you’ve offered just so much through our conversation today around just how to really care for oneself during the experience as a student and all that is involved in being a student. And certainly, for me, you’ve really helped me to think, as well, about how faculty can also play such an important role in supporting students as they really are engaging with difficult material; and material, as you say that is part of their life and their lived experience, and how important it is to for students to be able to have those support networks and ways of engaging with their community.
Sarah Hunt: I just think we all have our own– I guess I would just encourage students to trust themselves. And I think for myself, I have to remind myself of that, that I do know if I pay attention, I do know what makes me feel good; I do know what I need, and that’s different than other people. I think, a lot of times I have– or it’s taken a long time to realize not to compare myself to other people, that some people can work at a much faster pace than me or some people can produce a lot of work or, comparing ourselves with others, or trying to always keep up, and I think that, that is something I had from when I was young. I put a lot of pressure on myself to do well, to not ask for support, or to not ask for extensions, like I said before, to not ask for help, and I felt like somehow that was bad. And instead, we do have– our bodies are telling us, giving us signals about what our needs are if we’re having a challenging time or just if we’re not. It’s giving us messages, “Hey, I’m doing really good today.” And so, to sort of– to trust yourself, to listen to your gut, and to think about how we can integrate, for me, it’s taken figuring out what I can integrate into my daily life that is going to give me, even if it’s in small bits, those things that I notice I do need in order to be– feel well and to feel here and grounded. And it might be just taking 10 minutes in the morning for some quiet. Time on your own, it might mean having a cup of tea every day at two o’clock to have a little break, going for a walk, or whatever it is, but I think if we can integrate that into just our days, like that it’s not just, you know, finding time in your week to go for a coffee with someone or something like that, but it’s, for me, it’s really a daily practice that I think in between my answering emails and writing papers and reading and doing research and having meetings, that we have, those touchpoints, to touch base with ourselves through our days.
That is, as I said, these small moments and that, that I think helps avoid then getting to a place where we’re not doing– we’re really not doing okay. Like for me, that helps to prevent that from happening because it’s– I’m more likely to notice if I’m getting into a pattern of, “Hey, I’m not doing so great. I better let’s– how can I make adjustments?” So, yeah, that would be my advice– is just to trust yourself and to know that it’s not just okay to take time to integrate that, but it’s actually important.
Rebecca Gagan: That it’s essential.
Sarah Hunt: Yeah.
Rebecca Gagan: And I think, too, that you’ve what you have just shared, Sarah, about that, what you need will likely be different from what someone else needs, and that’s okay. And that it’s also okay to ask for what you need. And even within the university system, you can still ask for what you need.
Sarah Hunt: Yeah. It’s also to see that as part of the work with research, for example, you know, it’s not just doing reading and taking notes and pumping out a paper and stuff, but I really try to work in time, like to integrate things, so this is something I think I developed during my master’s, which was really reading, and then I would go for walks. I noticed that walks were a way I integrated things, and it actually is part of how I process information, so it might feel like it’s taking time away from the work, but it’s actually part of the work. And I think that often the pace of things and deadlines and– there’s an overemphasis on. There can be a feeling of always being behind and being rushed, but actually if we integrate that as part of our practices of what it means to be a student, like what it means to read and write and generate new ideas, that it’s also like a much more manageable pace overall.
Rebecca Gagan: That, that is, as you say, that is part of the work of being a student is the work of giving yourself time, but having time to process what you’re writing about, what you’re thinking about to be able to take that in, and to give yourself time to work with it. That’s part of the essay writing process, for example, that time needs to be valued and recognized, right? That we are not– students are not robots. They’re humans who are studying and working and need to be able to, as you say, integrate what they’re doing; that’s all part of the learning, all of it. And so, even though the university, for example– yes, we have deadlines. We have schedules and times, and those are– keep everything running, but it’s so important for students to find within that process, within all of that, room for them to do all of the other parts of that intellectual labour, so in emotional labour– all of those other pieces that are also part of the learning and the growth of being a student. And I also think that what you’ve said, Sarah, is so helpful in terms of– that students can start thinking about and paying attention to what they need now, and that it can be something that becomes part of their, as you say, part of their day to day. I Certainly I wish I had these kinds of conversations as an undergrad, you know, really just thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and your story with me today, Sarah.
Sarah Hunt: Thank you. Wonderful to talk to you.
Rebecca Gagan: Bye for now.
Sarah Hunt: Bye.
Rebecca Gagan: In next week’s episode of Waving, Not Drowning, I talked with Dr. Jane Butterfield, an Assistant Teaching Professor in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics here at UVic. In our conversation, Jane talks about imposter syndrome; and how as a student, she often felt like an outsider or different from her peers. Jane also talks about how to establish a healthier relationship to your studies, and she very interestingly uses that metaphor of a relationship to think about how to engage with your studies in ways that are nurturing and healthy and in balance. This is such a thoughtful and illuminating conversation, and I really hope that you’ll tune in. You can keep listening to episodes of Waving, Not Drowning on Anchor FM, Spotify, or wherever you stream your podcasts. We’d love it if you would give us a like and a follow on Instagram @uvicbounce. Tune in next week for another great conversation.