Episode 20: Finding Your Voice and Elevating the Voices of Others with Dr. Bruce Ravelli
Dr. Bruce Ravelli is a Teaching Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Victoria. He is an award-winning teacher who loves teaching. He teaches many of the department’s Introduction to Sociology courses (his passion) as well as a fourth-year seminar course delivered using a community-engaged learning (CEL) model. The course requires students to leave the comfort of the classroom and work with local non-profit agencies to complete a project the agency would not otherwise be able to do. Bruce has published articles and book chapters on Canadian culture, cross-national value differences, students’ anonymous evaluation of teaching and student experiences in CEL. Bruce has edited several readers, online resources, and is co-author of several textbooks for Introductory Sociology. Bruce also developed and maintains a website promoting sociology.
"Probably the most intimidating intellectual exercise I've ever tried to do over the last 5-10 years is to really think about my advantage that I never earned."
Dr. Bruce Ravelli
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. Bruce Ravelli, a Teaching Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Victoria. Bruce is an award-winning teacher who loves teaching. He teaches many of the department’s introduction to sociology courses, his passion, as well as a fourth-year seminar course delivered using a community-engaged learning model. The course requires students to leave the comfort of the classroom and work with local non-profit agencies to complete a project the agency would not otherwise be able to do. Bruce has published articles and book chapters on Canadian culture, cross-national value differences, students’ anonymous evaluation of teaching and student experiences in CEL. Bruce has edited several readers, online resources, and he’s co-author of several textbooks for introductory sociology. He has also developed and maintains a website promoting sociology. When I asked Bruce if he might be willing to participate in this podcast, he generously agreed to do, but he also said that he wasn’t sure if he was the best person for me to interview because he did not experience the same kinds of challenges and difficulties that so many other students experience as they go through their university study.
Bruce was very upfront about his own privilege, and he really was cautious about sharing his story with me for that reason. We went back and forth, and I felt that it was actually really important for Bruce to share his experience of privilege as a student. And in the process, Bruce talks a lot about how he was able to really find his voice as a student, and then as a teacher, really use his voice to elevate the voices of others. This is such an important conversation because Bruce really gets at the importance of not only finding your own voice as a student, but also how to be an ally as a student, also as a professor, of course, and how really to champion the experiences and the voices of others. Bruce talks about the crucial work that he, as a white male settler, must do every day to think critically about his own position, his own privilege, and what that means when he engages with students, and what does it mean for students. While this conversation with Bruce Ravelli was recorded earlier this year, it strikes me that there is no more urgent time than today to have this discussion about privilege in education. UVic Bounce is a faculty-led initiative; this means that it’s focused on what faculty can do to transform our community into one that is more compassionate and more supportive through the sharing of stories of challenge and difficulty. This means that we must also grapple with the truth that what happened to those children, the loveless and inhumane treatment that they experienced at residential schools, was at the hands of teachers. As educators, we must work tirelessly to transform our classrooms so that when a student walks through the door and takes a seat, they feel in the very core of their being that they are respected and that they are beloved. I’m Rebecca Gagan, here today with Dr. Bruce Ravelli, and this is Waving, Not Drowning. Hi Bruce. Thanks so much for being here today.
Bruce Ravelli: My pleasure.
Rebecca Gagan: How have you been doing these past months?
Bruce Ravelli: As we’ve talked about before, I’ve been on sabbatical since September. I guess what I’m struggling with is you don’t appreciate what you have until it’s gone. And while I’m happy that I didn’t have to do a lot of online teaching because I teach the intro courses, I didn’t realize how much I’d missed just going in and out of the department, running into colleagues in the hall, talking to students before and after class, that social interaction. I’m certainly privileged to be able to work from home, to have a year where I can think and do work on my own, but I think my challenge has been to get that social stimulation, conversation, things that you don’t expect are going to be important until they’re gone, so I mean, that’s what I’m struggling with. Now, I try to get out. I try to do bike riding and all that sort of stuff, but I’m resistant to do a lot of the gym activities I had before, simply because I don’t want to be that guy that puts themselves and their families at risk. You know, I’m telling myself I’m going to be great and going to the gym as soon as I got the vaccine, but hope for the best, plan for the worst.
Rebecca Gagan: Yeah. I think that what you’re getting at is something that we’re all really struggling with. Those small day-to-day social interactions are actually so nourishing and energizing. And as you say, you don’t realize how vital they are to your wellbeing until they’re gone. And as you say, too, you make the best-laid plans of, “okay I’ll get out, or I’ll go to the gym, or I’ll do these things,” but every single activity is fraught with, at least from my perspective, concern, as you say, and worry about bringing harm to others or to your family, so it makes it hard. So, have you found anything, Bruce, that has been sort of sustaining or helpful to you these past months?
Bruce Ravelli: I think sometimes, I’m, you know– I have a challenge with motivation, obviously, when I don’t have classes to deliver, the day is on my own. So, challenge yourself with motivation and all that. I think the thing that works for me, or that I’m trying to spend more time on, is to give myself credit that everybody’s going through this– that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, that hopefully we come together as a larger community have gone through the pandemic together, understand what it challenged all of us on, and to be more receptive in the future. I think as we’ve seen, students struggle with that online learning environment, where they don’t have the face-to-face interaction and all that. I think the timing of the pandemic for post-secondary was beautifully staged, in that, I think students are going to want to return to the classroom. I think they’re going to recognize that there’s no better learning environment than when you see an expert in the field who is passionate about what they do in front of you, telling them what they’ve learned, and the experiences that they’ve shared, that instantaneous response from teacher to student, you cannot duplicate online. I know many students struggle by going into classes, and there’s lots of things we need to recognize and provide alternatives for them, but the beauty of a fantastically delivered lecture, I believe, will stand the test of time. And I think students are going to crave that interaction with teachers moving forward, so I look forward to coming back to the classroom with colleagues and students that remember what it used to be like before and crave that interaction.
Rebecca Gagan: Absolutely Bruce. And just as we’re talking about things we’ve taken for granted, I think that face-to-face engagement in the classroom that we perhaps over the years just took for granted a little bit, the power of being together physically in a room and the energy that creates and the excitement. And as an instructor, there’s just nothing better than that feeling of watching all of the faces and not the black boxes with names on them– the, you know, the actual energy that gets created in the room is something that, as you say, Zoom cannot replicate. And that, yeah.
Bruce Ravelli: As you say that, Rebecca, we’ve got to realize that we’re only responsible for a part of the university experience, meaning, a lecture is great and doing assignments are challenging, and they certainly train certain skills, but how much learning occurs walking to the lecture, living in res, going for a beer or a coffee with the person you just met that sits next to you, how much of that collection of that year do you learn simply because we force you to come to university and experience those different things at UVic, so we’ve got to remember that part of that learning, part of that growing experience occurs too in front of the classroom as well and outside of our classroom and it’s equally as valuable and often more rewarding long-term when you think about what that experience meant to you. It’s hard to remember a lecture, but you remember meeting your new best friend in first year.
Rebecca Gagan: I firmly believe that so much learning takes place outside of the classroom, and looking back on my own undergrad, I guess I have to confess that. I can’t remember a single lecture, no matter how fantastic those lectures might’ve been. I do certainly remember teacher– you know, professors who were very influential to me, but what I remember are the experiences of being at university. Yeah. Like residence, as you say, walking to and from class. I’ll say the parties, all of those things that are part of the experience of growing and learning at university. So, I think we’ll all be, as you say, just eager to come back together again when we can.
Bruce Ravelli: And I would reinforce– I mentioned this to many students and friends and family, every learning experience we have, every powerful interaction we have, is built on personal relationships. If you think about the best teachers, the best lectures, it’s because of some relationship that was formed, even if you’ve never talked to that teacher, you build a relationship with them because they speak to what your experience has been, but also where do you choose to go for dinner? Where do you return to that restaurant because the server was really excellent– made you feel good about themselves, complimented you on whatever? Where do you do your shopping? Where do you buy your clothes? All of those things are built on personal relationships, and we can’t diminish the power of those relationships on a university campus.
Rebecca Gagan: You’re so right, Bruce. And I think we’ve all really been thinking a lot about how it is that we build those relationships, but also how important it is to be in relation with others face-to-face and not over a technology. Yeah, I think that everyone who’s listening to this is probably just really eager to return to UVic campus. And as some of the other guests that I’ve spoken with have said, there’s a sense that we will come roaring back and just readier than we’ve ever been to really embrace that university experience.
So, thinking about university experience and your time as an undergrad and as a grad student, Bruce, we– you know that you’re invited here because you, really, teach and reach so many first-year students with your sociology classes, and because I’m eager to have a conversation with you about your own experiences of difficulty and challenge as a student, as a way of supporting students who are listening. And one of the things you said to me when I invited you to do this interview, and I was so struck by it was that you responded, of course, so generously and said, you’d be happy to do the interview, that it was an important initiative, but you did respond by saying that you wondered if you were the right person for this interview, that in your own undergrad experience, as a white cis male who had his undergrad paid for, you didn’t experience some of the same challenges that we’ve been talking about on this podcast and so we’ve been talking about that and I’ve been reflecting on the importance of what you are saying here, that it is absolutely the case that it’s important to acknowledge that there is privilege in that position, and that means that you don’t have to experience some of the difficulties or challenges that other students might have faced at that time. But then you also said, Bruce, that eventually, when you made the transition to graduate school, you weren’t sailing through and some of that caught up with you, so I was just hoping today that you could say more about what you’ve already shared with me about your sense of your own privilege.
Bruce Ravelli: You know, thanks for prompting me on making me think and reflect about my own journey through school. You know, I’ll free-wheel through this discussion, and we’ll have to see how it plays out. I’ll think chronologically about my own move from high school onto to college and beyond. I grew up in Dawson Creek, had a great family; parents loved me… no problem, middle-class– everything was great. I Had some challenges in high school when a coach– you know who you are, Jerry– just didn’t take a real liking to me, and I got involved in something in a sports trip– not harmful. I was kicked out of school, and I really thought at that time, I wasn’t going to go back. I was given a five-day suspension, and I thought, this is it. I can work on the farm. I don’t need to go back to school, the old place, et cetera. As luck would have it, a teacher that I had in grade three was now the high school counsellor, and she came to my house and talked to me. There was two of us that were kicked off the team and kicked out of school at the same time, myself and my best friend in the world, Marie, who– single parent– not as socially endowed as I was. That counsellor came to me and talked me through it, saying, “Bruce, if you don’t graduate, your whole life has changed.
You may not think you want to go to school, et cetera.” She came out, reached to me, and I’m like, okay. After five days, I went back to school. My friend, he never went back. He’s still my best friend in life. He never went back into school, and it took him probably five, six years after that to get his GED– you know, his grade 12 equivalency. And I just thought about that experience over my lifetime, thinking how that one decision for that counsellor to reach out to me and not that other person changed our lives, and he’s doing very well, but he had to work harder than me. I chose to go back in, and so that experience for me really represented and reflected another advantage. She chose to come to me. I don’t know why. And not him. I don’t know why, but I have to be conscious about the environment that we were in. I was advantaged, I was white, all that. He didn’t have those. So, great. That was a formative kind of thing for me. I go off to college just because I wanted to leave my hometown and went to Kelowna. Kelowna’s fantastic. I remember being there in Fall trips. Loved it– had a great time; first and second year of college was wonderful. Came to UVic in third year because I wanted to go for at least three years cause my brother went two years, and I wanted to beat my older brother, so that was good coming to UVic. I had no idea what I was going to be– might be a lawyer.
And I think back about that now, and I didn’t have the challenges that other students have. My family did support my education. I had to work over the summers to help pay, but I didn’t have problems with that. I didn’t have any learning disabilities that I had to work harder and struggle, or anything. And I think about that period of my undergrad, I was very good at telling my teachers what I knew they wanted to hear, but I didn’t understand what I wanted to say. And that’s a big difference. That undergrad experience is very good; you learn to say what you’re taught to say, which is good and valuable. I do the undergrad degree, I’m successful. I’m going to travel with that very friend Marie, and we’re going to go take a year or six months and travel Europe, and then somebody in the department said, “Hey, have you thought of graduate school?” I never thought of a graduate school. And the professor is like, “it only costs $50 to apply. you might as well throw your name in.” I thought, “what the hell? Through my name?” And got accepted. And then I didn’t go on my trip with. I went to graduate school, and then I plugged away, and I went right after undergrad, and I’ve been in school my entire life at that point. And again, I was telling them everything they wanted to hear. And I do tell my intro students that there was an experience when I was finishing off my master’s degree, but again, didn’t go very well, but became a real decision point for me where I think I had a transition where I started to understand not just the game, but I understood that you can only go so far in your education if you’re saying what you know, they want to hear– that the purpose of education, the purpose of graduate and undergraduate training, is for you to find your own voice and your own confidence. And I don’t think we stress that enough. What teachers look for, what professor looks for, in students, is a student’s growing confidence and command of the discipline, and that isn’t a passive thing. That’s an active thing. So, in my master’s, I think in the final year– and this is after six years at the university– I think a switch went on in my head where I started to understand that it isn’t just knowing the theories. It isn’t just about regurgitating– it’s massaging and understanding what you’ve learned, about reflecting on it, about personalizing about it, about going beyond what you’ve been taught.
Right after that I went and did some teaching at college, found out I loved teaching– who would have known. And I went to my first class, and I just thought, “there are people that get paid to do this. This is the best thing ever.” I decided after a few years of college teaching then I’d come back for my PhD because I knew that the writing was on the wall– that you need a PhD to teach. As I mentioned to you another time, I understood the game. I had a very good supervisor that I think trained me very well, but I remember handing him a draft of my dissertation at the time and him spending– I can’t imagine how many hours Alan spent on that draft, but it came back bludgeoned. The poor paper was hardly holding together because he had so many comments and change the phrasing here. And what is this sentence really trying to say? I looked at that, and I thought, “oh my God, after seven, eight years of university, and you’re telling me I can’t write, and I could not write because I had not learned until that point after years and years of studying, good writing is rewriting. Good writing is not to appear brilliant and to use words to intimidate your audience because truly brilliant people make difficult concepts easy to understand. And once I kind of passed that threshold, that last transition was I had to lose that strong sense of self to say, “there are things I want to say. The best way to say them are in simple, approachable terms,
so we can both start to understand the point I’m trying to make”. So, when I think about that, Rebecca– I think about that transition over the years, from the high school to the undergrad, being very good at saying what I knew they wanted to hear.
That master’s experience trying to find my own voice and then the PhD to being– that humbling experience that, you think you got it all figured out, while we never have it all figured out. And I now want to come back to that conversation we had a little bit about advantage and about positionality. That’s been probably the most intimidating intellectual exercise I’ve tried to do over the last 5 to 10 years, is to really think about my advantage that I never earned. I was born into a family that loved me and wanted me. I was born white. I had every advantage that a person can have in the system, and honest to God, slid through the system with very little trauma, very little difficulty. You have good grades, and you have not-so-good grades, but I was never challenged as an individual. I never had to look deeply at myself in the mirror about what’s going on; why are people treating me the way they do because of the way I look or the person I am– until I teach, until I start seeing students that struggle with all of these things. And I’m the person on the front of the stage, trying to save the students. You need to learn sociology from somebody that had every advantage, and now what I start to think is, what can a person that has all of the advantages that society gives them, which I have– how do I help others get opportunities that I did that I was given, and that’s that struggle about allyship, about voice, what’s my position, how can I speak to students to learn about situations that I never experienced myself– that as sociologists, we talk about inequality, we talk about racism and exclusion.
How do I communicate to students the insights that many people have that I never experienced, and what I’ve come to– you alluded to earlier when you’re saying the students enjoy some of my classes. I think I’m able to connect with students by– I hope telling them about my advantage, about being honest and sincere that I am here as a sociologist to help you understand and explore the discipline of sociology and to speak from a position of advantage, but recognizing that I have and being open for students to say after a lecture, send me a note. “Bruce, use terminology that has more of this, more of that.” And students, historically– I’ve been teaching a long time– have been really gracious with me to see me as somebody who wants to learn, wants to become a better teacher that never wants to say something to hurt someone, that they’ll say, “when you said that I felt this way” and given me the opportunity to get better and to, to improve on that. So, I think I can connect with some students, not all students, but I think this Bounce initiative is really about students, faculty, friends, family coming together about challenges and about struggles. And the struggles I have are pale in comparison to the struggles of others, but that doesn’t diminish my attempts, my discomfort, about my idea of worthiness to stand in front of a group of students as an expert when I talk about many of these topics, I don’t have firsthand knowledge of it, but I hope I can provide a space that people with those experiences can share with each other, and maybe, the group as a whole.
Rebecca Gagan: One of the things that you’ve shared here, Bruce, is that you see yourself as someone who is still learning and still growing in all of this, but I think most importantly, you’ve shared the value and necessity of reflecting, as you say, on your position. And I just… I was so struck by the story you shared of high school and how it was that the counsellor reached out to you. And then you’ve reflected on that, as you’ve said, for many years, around why you, and knowing that there were reasons why the counsellor decided to help you and not Marie. But then, it’s interesting to me because in your undergrad it was the same thing– you said that you were– you said the right things, you had the language to, really, talk with your professors and tell them what you thought that they wanted to hear, that you had those skills.
And then, the same thing happened– a professor, again, reach out to you: “why don’t you apply for grad school?” No big deal. You know, your 50 bucks, right? And there you go, and that these moments happened. And what you’ve shared is that you know they happened because of your position–positionality, who you are. And so, I think that it’s so important to be able, as you’ve done here, to reflect on why it is that there are these systemic problems that make it so difficult for some students and not for others. One of the big struggles, I’ll just say that I’ve had with Bounce is that I can’t address all– or fix all of the systemic problems that students experience, and it’s not that we are not aware of them, that I am not aware of those problems– and I think you’re talking about many of them here today– and like you, I have felt well, who am I in this privileged position to go about trying to change this conversation and to talk about these issues when, you know, I can’t speak to all of the systemic problems that students experience. And so, I carry that with me in every interaction, in every single thing that I do with this initiative, and your conversation today, Bruce has really helped me, personally, because I think what you’re getting at is that perhaps what is essential– and the work that we need to do– is in reflecting on our own positions, and then being able to do what we can to help others, as you’ve said, have opportunities to continue to learn, to be allies, to keep doing this work. But as you say, always mindful of our own positions, and that’s really what I have found so powerful about what you’ve shared today is– I think– and even for you to say that it’s something– that it’s not just that you’ve been reflecting on it this year or in this moment, or today, that you’ve been thinking about this for a long time, in terms of how do you go forward doing the very best you can to do right by your students, and to stand there on that stage. This is the labour, and it’s the good labour. That we are joined in together, as you say, as a community.
Bruce Ravelli: Yeah. I think what– thank you for saying what you said as well. I think one of the things that I have grown to appreciate is students see and rightfully feel when they approach a faculty member with an issue, with a concern, with a problem that they’re having. They come to it as a position of weakness that I should have this all figured out, and I’m sorry to take your time and all that, but I’d like those students to realize that the students that have approached me over time, that asking for help is not from a position of weakness, but it is from a position of strength because you are then allowing us to help you.
Not every teacher is going to help you the way that you want, but for a student to say, I’m struggling with this. What can you do to help invites me to become part of the solution, which is up to us to decide whether we take that invitation– I certainly do as much as I can to help students that struggle. But if we don’t hear that you’re struggling, we can’t help. And I’ve always invited students to think about giving your instructor the chance to help. If they don’t, nothing lost, but what if you invite them to become part of the solution? Now I will say there may be some of my former students that are watching this video and they will say, “Bruce, my God, you are one of the most rigid instructors I’ve ever had.” And they will tell you about my intro exams, that I have to appear in [indistinct]. “Oh my God. How can you not get an A-plus?” And I’ve reflected on that as well in being relatively rigid in grading patterns because part of our job as teachers is to ensure that we teach and treat all students equally and equitably. And I say to my students up until the point of the exam, I can become part of your solution on how to be better prepared, but after an exam is written, I have to be fair to every other student that was struggling, but never said they were. One of the things that I struggle with is, is to be flexible and to represent the beauty and the shades of gray and to help people when I can, within an incredibly structured environment we exist in at a university, where there are grades and there are percentages, and there are assignments, and there are TA’s, and there are due dates, and there is all of this structure that takes away from our ability to be flexible. So, I try to navigate that as well. And I’m successful, I think, with some students, but not all.
So, I think one of my takeaways is to reinforce to students that if there’s an opportunity for an instructor to help, to please ask, to realize that not every instructor will, but many will. And if they do, they can change your entire approach to education, to the university experiences and then, you become one of our success stories. And just a short aside, I had a student come to me after our midterm, and she was really struggling. She didn’t do very well, and she was obviously emotional, and she said she had been very successful in high school; how could she get this grade? And I talked to her about it and helped her with it. And that student went from– I can’t remember what grade [she got] in the midterm– but became a very successful undergraduate student, entered our honours program, and is now in law school. And I remember, and I talked to her about that experience and how she felt coming in saying, “I need help. How did I do this badly? I studied.” But I could witness her having that transition that I had as well that it’s not just about regurgitating. It’s about transcending content. And you can only transcend content after you’ve thought about it. Not thought about it the way Bruce thinks about it, but thought about it the way you think about it; and to realize that your understanding of those concepts is impressive to a teacher, but the only time you get to reflect and really understand content, is after you’ve practiced. Think of the athlete that spends a thousand hours working on that jump shot 10,000 hours on the ice to the point where they can become creative and not think about where they need to be on the court. That’s after it’s thousands of years– thousands of hours of effort that you never think about.
Well, university is thousands of hours of effort to get you to the place where you can improvise like a musician, and that’s where a student transcends one side of the desk to the other side of the desk– when they get to the other side of the desk as a graduate student, to realize that they understand that specific topic more than their instructors do, and that becomes very empowering. And when you’re at your PhD level when you’re doing your PhD exams, and you’re defending your dissertation, that’s what we look for– is, have you reached that point where you don’t need to hear good things from me? You know what you’re talking about and that confidence, I think, is another transition that a scholar goes through.
Rebecca Gagan: I think, Bruce, one piece that I think you’ve circled back to here is that you, as an undergrad, said the things that you thought your profs wanted to say, and in some ways, what you are getting at is how it is that when you were a student, there was a kind of– I don’t know if inauthenticity is the right word, but there was a way in which you were echoing back what you thought wanted to be– heard, that you weren’t really rooted in yourself, that your voice, in many ways, wasn’t your own. And what you’ve just said here about the advice and the conversation you had with your student was that it’s so important to find your own voice, that your experience at university needs to be authentically yours, that you have a voice to share, that you have ideas to share– that it’s about finding that voice and being able to express that. And I think that when saying here that students can be in relation with their professors in a particular way, by asking for help, that is also a piece of finding, as hard as it can be, but to be able to find your voice without shame and with– even the fear may be there, but that is… as you’ve said, that is not weakness; that is strength that your voice is there and you can share that and you can ask for help. And that you’ve shared, Bruce, that you didn’t come to that until later– you know, finding the voice. And it’s absolutely the case that is simply easier for some students than it is for others, so we acknowledge that as well.
But if you do– you know, find those words and ask for help, that’s also very empowering, I think; to risk something, to use your voice in that way. And it’s one of the things, as you say, that I think the face-to-face, it makes that so much easier to come and ask for help in that way, but I think you’ve brought us full circle here, in terms of thinking about your own experience as a student and what it is now that you say to students from this other perspective. So, Bruce, if you were to leave our listeners with– and you’ve already given us so many supportive words– but if you were to leave our listeners with some helpful words or words of guidance, what would that be?
Bruce Ravelli: So, let me make one comment before I hopefully [impart] some pearls of wisdom. I think, when you’re talking about that transitions that students go about that voice, it is easier to tell your teacher what they want to hear. It is easier to memorize and to regurgitate, and we’re trained to do that. That’s why I was able to slip through an undergrad by doing what I knew and what I was familiar with, but the real challenge that is far more difficult is when you start to contextualize and interrogate. What does this mean? And why does it matter? Because if you fail one of my exams, I’m the problem. Why did I ask that question? My grading was the problem, but when you start to think about your sociology your understanding of theory, it’s far more intimidating because you’ve got no one to blame but yourself. And that’s where you really start to become more creative and authentic and insightful because you’re now studying and learning, not for me, the teacher, but you, the sociologist.
And I think that’s intimidating, but that’s rewarding. So, you know, and coming back to your question about, you know, things that I think students need to recognize, is to realize the wonderful opportunity, no matter how hard it was to get here, but the ability to take time, to learn from experts in their field, to be patient with yourself, to realize nobody should get this right out of the gate, and give yourself that four or five-year timeline of an undergraduate to not freak out about where you are today in your September midterms or your October midterms or January midterms in first year, but to realize, and to give some credit to the system that says, go with us on this journey for four to five years and focus on where you want to be at the end– not the small hurdles that you have to get through at the beginning. And I will tell you, I’m a huge fan of university, not for what we teach, but rather in allowing a group of people to take four or five years aside in largely a safe environment– to explore, to be challenged, to be inspired, to sleep in, to go for a drink, to have a coffee, but to take that time to learn more about yourself because as Rebecca and I have already said, you will forget lectures, but you will remember the experience that university provides, and I think that four or five-year period where young people are starting to explore themselves, challenge their own position in the world, to challenge some of the ideas that their parents taught them that they didn’t reflect on what they truly mean, that’s when you really start to become the person you’re going to be for the rest of your life. And in university and that young adulthood, the future is bright if you choose to take it because there is no more blame– it’s just who to the person who is the person you want to craft in the future. And that’s what we can help you do. I think, at universities, to give you that space and time to achieve that person that you want to become.
Rebecca Gagan: I think, Bruce, would I be correct in saying that one of the things you’re also getting at is the importance of being as present as you can be to the experience of university– and that means the positive and the negative? One of the things that you’ve said in reflecting on your own experience was that, yes, it was the privilege that you have that allowed you to sail through, but something else that I picked up on, which may or may not be true, feel free to, as I say, correct me, but it sounds to me like there was a way in which you weren’t fully present to it in some ways– that you were, as you say, repeating back the ideas that you thought they wanted to hear, that you sailed through and that while maybe at the time, you felt alive to that experience, it sounds like looking back, there was a way in which you were absent from it in a certain way– and I think that, what you’re suggesting here is also a way of experiencing university as I say, just being fully alive to it, which means taking in the challenges, the difficulties, as well as those really exciting and wonderful moments, but that it is your education, and that there is so much beauty and power in just feeling fully present.
Bruce Ravelli: Yep. Yes, to everything you’ve said, but if 22-year-old Bruce was watching this video of significantly older Bruce, what would I take away? And you know what? I thought I was present through that whole thing. I was having a great time. I was studying– I thought I was learning anthropology and sociology. So, I’m not– if I’m 19 years old and I’m at UVic in first year, and I’m watching this video, what is this old guy saying that resonates with you? And I would just say, your journey is going to be your journey if there’s something that you have said, Rebecca or me, that, that piques your interest, that’s fantastic, but it is your journey. But the sense of being present is to realize what you’re at UVic for? You’re here probably to get a better job to please your parents– whatever you’re going to do, but think about yourself through this process, because university is all about teaching you about you, and to be open to those ideas and to build relationships with people you would have never thought that you would have a friendship with– a teacher, a TA, another student, et cetera.
So, I wonder, Rebecca, when we provide these things from faculty members that have been teaching for 30 years or whatever– like if you’re 22, What can we say that connects with you? And I just hope that there are some moments where something that we say peaks someone’s interests or say I’ve been there too. I hadn’t experienced that. I needed to deal with, and not all university is fun, and there are shitty times, and it’s not enough to say you’re having a shitty time, but it’s going to build you into a much better person in eight years. And aren’t you lucky? Nobody wants to hear that crap. University is a pain in the ass. Nobody wants to study and write papers. However–
Rebecca Gagan: Just there– you’ve probably helped a lot of people.
Bruce Ravelli: Yeah. And we’ve worked in– I’ve worked in the real world, and where else do you get time and space to think. And that’s what university is.
Rebecca Gagan: I think Bruce, that just saying the words, “university is about learning about you, learning how to be you.” I think that those words resonate with a lot of students, and I have to say that while we might be a bunch of old folks here– well, speak for yourself, Bruce. You know, it’s; nonetheless, I really feel the power of those words, and I have to say that I wish those are words that I had heard; that learn of university is about learning about you. And also, I would add, about how to be you.
Bruce Ravelli: I agree completely.
Rebecca Gagan: So, thank you so much for talking with me today. It has just been such a pleasure, Bruce, and take good care.
Bruce Ravelli: You as well, Rebecca. Thank you.
Rebecca Gagan: Bye. In next week’s episode of Waving, Not Drowning. I talk with Dr. Corinne Bancroft, an Assistant Professor in the Department of English here at the University of Victoria. In our conversation, Corinne shares her experience of being an undergraduate student at a college in the United States, where she became very involved with activism and became an ally in order to transform the university at which she was attending and to support her peers and colleagues who were experiencing horrific racism. I really hope that you’ll tune in to this powerful episode. 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.