Episode 21: The Transition to University and the Shattering of Illusions with Dr. Corinne Bancroft
Corinne Bancroft is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Victoria. She earned her PhD from the University of California, Santa Barbara with a dissertation titled “A Child’s Call: Braiding Narratives in the Face of Racial Violence” which traces how American authors focus on child characters as instruments for narrating violence, and how these children’s voices call adult characters and actual readers toward a heightened sense of social responsibility. Her publications appear in Narrative, Style, and Cognitive Semiotics.
"Every day I need to check myself and think: how am I furthering [systemic racism] or how am I resisting [it]."
Dr. Corinne Bancroft
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. Corinne Bancroft, an Assistant Professor in the Department of English at the University of Victoria. Corinne earned her PhD from the University of California, Santa Barbara, with a dissertation titled “A child’s Call: Writing Narratives in the Face of Racial Violence,” which traces how American authors focus on child characters as instruments for narrating violence and how these children’s voices call adult characters and actual readers toward a heightened sense of social responsibility. Her publications appear in Narrative, Style, and Cognitive Semiotics. In our conversation, Corinne shares with me some of her experience of being an undergraduate student at Hamilton College in the United States in the early aughts. She talks about how, very early on in her undergraduate studies, she took a course that really shattered the illusions that she had about the world. This course, combined with the fact that she was bearing witness to some very troubling racism at the college around her, really moved Corinne to try to think about how she could try to start building a world in which she wanted to live.
Corinne shares how essential it was for her to really question the college systems, really question those institutions which she had come to understand and see as being deeply immeshed in racist practices and in racism, and that she came together with her friends, with her community, her classmates, to really start to do the work of advocating, of being activists to start to transform the college into a place where she wanted to study, where her friends wanted to study. And she talks about how she saw herself as an ally, but these were her friends who were experiencing this racism. This was her community, and she was grappling with, yes, having these illusions about the world shattered, but then really coped with that by setting about and trying to join with her community to change these systems. Corinne shares an experience that I think many students have, in which they take a course or engage with some kind of an extracurricular activity or get involved with activism on campus, and they have their illusions or ideas about the world shattered. And what she also shares is how powerful and how important that kind of shattering is; even if it can feel really uncomfortable and really challenging at the time, she gets at how it is this moment in which you really start to realize that. You do have a voice that can be used for change, that you can do something, and as she says, that you can start to create the world in which you want to live. I’m Rebecca Gagan here today with Dr. Corinne Bancroft, and this is Waving, Not Drowning.
Hello, Corinne. It’s so nice to have you here today.
Corinne Bancroft: Thanks, Rebecca! I’m happy to be here.
Rebecca Gagan: How have you been doing?
Corinne Bancroft: Pretty good. I’m happy that it’s springtime again.
Rebecca Gagan: Yes. I think that as is the case that as soon as the sun is shining and we feel that Spring is coming, you feel a bit more hopeful about the future, not just with the pandemic and vaccines on the way, but also just with our spirits, I think as well. So how, I can’t believe that it’s been almost a year now since we moved into this kind of lockdown and pivot to online learning; how have you found the year?
Corinne Bancroft: Yeah, you’re talking to me on a sunny day, so I want to say it’s been great, but this is probably the hardest year ever of my entire life of teaching and being in the world. So it was really tough, and I think it was tough for everybody.
Rebecca Gagan: Yeah.
Corinne Bancroft: There were points in which I thought I was going insane. But if I did, I don’t know it yet.
Rebecca Gagan: Well, I think, just hearing you say that it was one of the hardest years, not just for teaching, but just a really tough year to get through general, that I think we there’s been so much, at least for me, a kind of feeling of running on adrenaline or this kind of mode and that’s pushing you through it. That in some ways you don’t even know, necessarily how you’ve coped or that it’s very much day-to-day, and as you say, the sun shining makes a big difference. Has there been something that has been supportive for you this year?
Corinne Bancroft: Yeah. The thing that made the biggest difference in my life, aside from Meagan, whom I live with, is my dog Dumbledore. I think that if I didn’t have him, there might not be any reason to wake up in the morning sometimes, but he makes the reason to wake up, and he makes me go for a walk every day. And after I do anything, like after we finished the Zoom call, he’s going to say, “Okay, time to go outside and play.” He punched away to the day with joy. So I’m very grateful that we had this dog going into this cause I think it would be really hard for both of us, working as hard as we can and then coming back into the common area, and it’s like being so exhausted. It’s hard to build up each other, and so since we have this dog that thinks this is the best thing that has ever happened to him, is that both his people are home, and it makes us feel a little bit better about it too.
Rebecca Gagan: Oh, that is so true, Corinne! Our dog, Audrey–so we got her the month before the pandemic really hit, and I had left her alone at that point, I think only for maybe like an hour, less than an hour, at a time. And then she has never been alone.
Corinne Bancroft: Yeah! So she probably doesn’t even know how to be alone yet!
Rebecca Gagan: Oh, no, she doesn’t! And so I think whenever we’re back in the classroom face to face, I really don’t know what will happen. I’ll probably have to bring her with me because she’s so used to her humans, and it’s like, oh, for Audrey, this is like the best time. She’s known nothing different, but as you say, yes, she like Dumbledore; she gets me out because it’s like rain or shine. Nope. We’re going out for a walk.
Corinne Bancroft: Yeah. Yeah. I don’t know if you could hear him right now. He’s chewing on his bone. Whenever I Zoom, he sits right underneath me and chews on his bones.
Rebecca Gagan: It’s nice to have that teaching companion right there. Yes. Audrey is here in every class, and she’s usually either sleeping or, yes, chewing on something. So that’s the soundtrack to my classes is talking in the background and often chasing the cats. But yes, I’ve said before that she feels a little bit like having, although I did not know this would be her role, but a bit of a therapy dog. And the joy that she has brought and the comfort this year has been really nice—the connection with our furry friends.
Corinne Bancroft: Yeah.
Rebecca Gagan: Quite important.
Corinne Bancroft: Yeah. And I really miss hugging people. I like to hug humans. And so I didn’t realize how much I’d missed that. Probably if I saw you in the hallway, I would give you a hug, but there’s only one other person here to hug, and that’s not really enough. So Dumbledore gets a lot of attention now, and he loves it.
Rebecca Gagan: Yes. Yes. Same with Audrey. So many belly rubs, and they say she’s living the life right now. So, Corinne, I’ve asked you here today in part because I wanted to talk with you about your own experience as a student, as this podcast is about really sharing as a community our stories of challenge and difficulty as students so that it becomes more possible for students to share their own stories, without shame, and to reach out for the help and support that they need, knowing that their community understands in many ways what they have been through. I’d love to hear a bit about your own experience as a student.
Corinne Bancroft: Yeah. So I’m from the states, and I grew up in Arizona, and then I went to college in upstate New York at a place called Hamilton college, which is named after, or it was founded by Alexander Hamilton, whom Lin-Manuel Miranda plays now. But this was before that. You know, before Hamilton got famous again, it was; he was just one of those obscure founding fathers. But anyway, I went there because in Arizona, I love going to school, and I really wanted to go to a great university. And this is like Hamilton is like a want-to-be Ivy league. And it was really the thing to go away because in Arizona, they have big state schools, and it was the thing to go to a small liberal arts school in the Northeast. So I went there, and I think that was one of the most. I would say that aside from COVID, that was one of the most challenging periods of my life.
Not for any reason, except I was just like shocked that I was; I would describe it as culture shock to go to a place like that. It was almost like going back in time. It felt like to the 1950s or sixties, the way that I imagine that time period would be because it turned out to be a pretty racist place, and I’m white. So I didn’t experience that personally, but I guess I was kind of naive growing up, but in Arizona, I was surrounded by people who were different than me. It was very common in Arizona–There’s a lot of Latino people in Arizona. So it wasn’t, that’s just the way that I grew up, and I thought that was normal, and they probably thought I was weird for thinking that, I don’t know, but it was just the normal. And then I went to Hamilton, and people were segregated at Hamilton, like self-segregated at Hamilton. It was the weirdest thing. And I didn’t really think much of it until my freshmen–until the second semester of my freshman year, I was taking a class called performing politics where I was put in a group with other students who were supposed to do some action at Hamilton to make a difference. And they brought up to me that it was segregated. And I said, “what are you talking about? I don’t really know what you mean by this?” Cause it’s not like there are no signs that say no kids of colour here. Whites only, there was nothing like that, but they said, “oh, go into the dining hall and see if you could see any people of colour in there.”
And so I went into the dining hall, and it was this like building that would look like Hogwarts. It was like all these tables and high ceilings, and there could be like candles floating in the sky, like at Hogwarts. And they were right. There was no; it was all white in there. And I thought, where is everybody? And it turns out that the place where you get your food, there was like a sun porch on the other side of that. And all the students of colour would eat over there.
Rebecca Gagan: Oh, wow.
Corinne Bancroft: And I thought why this is not the way that I thought the world was, but of course, it’s the way the world is. And we know that now, just coming out of high school, I didn’t know that. And so it was just, that was like so shocking. And I, in my naive sense, was now friends with these people. So I said we could definitely do something about this. And so, we decided to start an organization that we called the Social Justice Initiative. Cause we thought like maybe Hamilton is just a little backwards. It’s in the middle of nowhere, and maybe they just haven’t caught on yet, but the world doesn’t need to feel like this. So we started this organization, and some of my friends and I went to the Dean of Faculty and said, “could we go to the faculty meeting and say that we’re starting this organization to try to solve this problem that we see at Hamilton?”
And he said, “there’s no mechanism for students to speak at a faculty meeting.” And we’re like, all we want to do is say like an announcement, like we’re starting this and we want professors who are interested to help us because we believe that professors are smart and want them to invest in this change that we want to see in the world. And he said, “no, there’s no way to do that, but you can meet with me, and I’ll say what you want me to say for you.” And so we thought, okay, that’s kinda weird, but we’ll go try that. And so we met with him, and it was me, another white guy, and my friend, Robin, who’s a black woman and my friend, Stephanie, who’s Latina. And so the Dean would meet with us, and Robin would say something, and he would not listen to her. She’d say something about the segregation existing at Hamilton, and he’d look at me, the white girl, to clarify what she said. And I thought this is, and I, I was like, which sounds like this is me realizing what white privilege is, that I thought that, of course, I can go into Hamilton. This is what we do. This is what I want to do. I want to learn how to read and write. I want to go to this thing, like a nice school, but I didn’t ever consider that it would be a different experience in the same place for people of colour. And then just to have it be so blatant that the Dean of the faculty wouldn’t listen to her. It was like we’re in the 1900s again; I’m like, this is crazy!
And so then we started doing more outside of the institution actions. And so we started–and so that time we took over the faculty meeting like we organized a bunch of kids, or a bunch of other students to like line the hallways with signs that said we are silenced, and we had tape over our mouths or something like that. And so we weren’t like–there’s a rule at Hamilton because there was a lot of activism around the divestment movement, that you’re not allowed to block walkways or anything. So you’re not allowed to actually have a sit-in. That’s like against the rules. So we lined the hallways, and the professors had to walk through this hallway of humans that were staring them down, but not talking, with signs that say we are silenced, please help us. And then eventually we did get to speak at the faculty meeting, and because the Dean was wrong, he had lied to us. One of the professors there said, “I move that we call on the students and ask while they’re why they’re here.” And the Dean says, “no, we can’t do that.” And the professor said, “actually, in the faculty handbook, the chair of the meeting can call in whoever he wants.”
And so we did get called on, and we were able to say, “oh, we’re starting this thing.” And so then we did some stuff around that, but it was just–that’s when I became politicized, I think. And that was not. It was on the one hand, and it was really hard because I lost some of my friends that way that thought, “this isn’t really our issue, Corinne. Like we could do some other stuff, join the Greek life or, join the outing club or do stuff like that.” But I thought, or, it just kind it just kind felt wrong to be not wrong, but it just felt not authentic to be doing that sort of stuff when you was so apparent; once you see this, it’s hard to unsee it. And then I felt like I needed to do something about it. And so that’s kinda what I did during university. And it was just like, again and again, like shocked at the behaviour of my peers and the things that they would do. So one of the other things that happened is–well, in addition to just like blatant racist stuff, like tagging people’s cards, cars with bad words, and that stuff happens all over the place like just here. There was some antisemitic stuff, and racist stuff put like on trees and Royal Roads, so it’s just, it just happens all over. And we, as students, thought this is ridiculous. We need to do something about it. So we were organizing, but the other big instance was there was a fraternity that organized a party called Mexican Night, which now we’d recognize just having a party of about an ethnicity it’s wrong. But at the time, they thought, oh yeah, that’s okay. But on their invitations to the party, they did it like you had to be, and they invited you to dress like an illegal immigrant on the invitations. And so it was a wall they had on there, the border wall with a pinata and people climbing out of the pinata, and we thought this is not appropriate. So then that was another opportunity to have a big action. We asked the Dean to cancel that party, which I guess is part of cancel culture now, but you refuse to cancel the party. And so what we did is we had an alternative event that people could go to. And then eventually, the fraternity decided that they’re no longer going to have that party anymore. So, it was just a series of students needing to organize to get the university to change because the university wouldn’t do it on it, and so we had to take it in our own hands.
Rebecca Gagan: And it sounds, Corinne, if we’re talking about a kind of transition to university that part of–or such a significant part of your transition, as you say, was moving out of necessity into activism and that, as you said, there was this kind of shock of being in an institution being at Hamilton, where you’re confronted in a way that you had never been before, perhaps with those forms of injustice. And that your transition was then figuring out, sort of grappling with that and figuring out what to do and then mobilizing that you could deal with it by, as you say, you couldn’t un-see that you couldn’t un-know what you were experiencing there and that you had to do something to start to create this change at the institution.
Corinne Bancroft: Yeah. Yeah. And it was really like it was a big growth experience for me as a person because I was raised to know that racism is wrong, but to understand it as an individual act of prejudice; And since I was friends with black people, I couldn’t be racist. But then, to see the way that the institution itself structured segregation made me see that racism is not my individual actions but a system in which I’m a part of in which I benefit from. And so, in order to live in a world like that, I needed to change pretty much every—It’s still like a constant thing that every day I need to check myself and think like, how am I furthering this? Or how am I resisting this? And so the way that that kind of became clear to me is in the same class, it was called performing politics where we had to do an action. But we did some like statistical analysis, not really statistical analysis, but as undergrads, we were like analyzing the university, and the majority of students of colour came in through two scholarship programs.
One was called the Higher Education Opportunity Program, and one was called the Posse Program, and so if the majority of students or that are as an international student. And so it’s the majority of students of colour are coming in through a program that is already–like that for the Higher Education Opportunity Program, they’d have to come over the summer and take courses so that way they were prepared to succeed at Hamilton, which is already positioning them in a different way than then the other students, the white students’ majority, coming in just because they got accepted, which these students also got accepted, but it was presumed from the beginning that they would need extra help.
And so just to see that happened, and that was why they ended up eating on the sun patio is because they were there for a month over the summer together. And so they already knew each other, they already had formed friendships, and the same thing was true with the Posse Program; they met each other all ahead of time–like the whole point of the Posse Program was it was a leadership program, and so they didn’t need to have any extra classes, but they were selected because they were good strong leaders already in wherever they went to school. But, they came as a posse, as a group, they already knew each other; they had already gone through like team-building experiences with each other, and so they already met each other where the majority of white students went through a pre-orientation program called Adirondack Adventure. And at the time, an Adirondack Adventure was open to everybody, but if you had already spent half of your summer at Hamilton taking classes, you don’t want to spend another week there right before school started; you wanted to go home and say goodbye to your family.
So that was majority white. And so that’s what structural racism is, the way that Hamilton–I don’t know–brought the students in, predisposed us to hang out with students that looked like us and did the same activities as us. And so that’s just one example, but also, if you come in and on scholarship, many of my friends said that they were reluctant to do some of the more edgy actions that we were doing because they felt like it was their privilege to be there or their gift, and I just said, no, it’s my this is what we need to unpack and just destroy that belief that I somehow have a right, a bigger right to act out at Hamilton, which was true. This is kind a tangent, but like the Greek life is always acting out. They’re always breaking things, and that’s built into the structure of Hamilton to clean up their messes. So this idea that white students can get away with certain things where the kids on scholarship can’t is another example of that. So it was just learning all these things, and it was nice that I did have a lot of professors that this is what they were teaching about in their classes, structural racism, white supremacy, and stuff like that. So it was good in the sense that I could see it happening in the world and then understand that academia is trying to apprehend it in an intellectual way. So that was nice, but it’s still, I don’t think it was worth it to–But, the actual experience that students face cause I don’t think they had a good time at Hamilton, either. Some of them I think did, but I don’t think for the most part.
Rebecca Gagan: Yeah. I think too, Corinne, what you’re getting at is that you were in a position which you acknowledge is a privileged position to be able to critique and challenge the education and in a certain way that you were receiving, like to challenge the institution and to critique it. So, I think that what’s very striking about what you’re saying is that, on the one hand, you recognize that privilege and also a kind–what you felt was clearly our responsibility to mobilize, to be active in fighting the various forms of injustice and racism that were, systemic and institutional there. And also, I think what I’m hearing is that you were saying, is that it was also important for you as a student and for your transition to university, but for your own education, for your own growth, to be able to question–how many students go through four years or five years of an undergraduate education, and they aren’t given, either through classes or through a kind of encouragement, the opportunity to question their own education, the means and ends of their own education and assistance that really administered that education. And so it’s something that I’ve certainly long felt is very important for students to be able to really critique and interrogate, like the place where they get–where they have come to learn. And it sounds like you, you were able to do that, but also felt that was essential to your own development as a student to not only–so yes you acted, but you also were I think it sounds to me you were very involved in a deep reflection on the conditions of your own education and how those were probably different from other students. And what was–why were you there? What were you doing there? And so, I think students in many ways, come to university, and there could be a lot of reasons why they find themselves there, but there can be a way of moving them through a degree, an entire degree without asking that question, what am I doing here?
Corinne Bancroft: Right, yeah, yeah. I think that’s so important. And for me, I just kept going back to that class called performing politics; it was taught by, it was co-taught by a professor in theatre named Carol Bellini Sharp, and a professor in comparative literature named Nancy Rabinowitz; and that class changed my life. If I didn’t take that class, I would have not ever known any of this stuff. And partially, it was because those professors love to push you to ask those questions, not why am I here in the world? What is wrong with the place that I’m in? How can I make it better? How can I change that? But also, they started reading stuff–like we started with Antigone.
Rebecca Gagan: Wow.
Corinne Bancroft: So, we were reading the stuff that I thought we would read at college. But then we’d read other stuff too, like Brecht, it was such a fun class. It was from like Ancient Greece, yeah, Ancient Greece until the present moment we were reading all this theatre, and saying,” what is the relationship between this play that was written thousands of years ago and our life today?” And just thinking about that may really made me want to think about these things, but then also that group projects that they forced us to do, you know, I didn’t usually think, oh yeah, group projects; I can’t wait to do this. But then, being with students and thinking about maybe I didn’t come to Hamilton to learn. Maybe I came to Hamilton to meet and to make relationships and to learn from those relationships was, it was just a way–And I think leaving Hamilton that might’ve been the most profound thing that I learned was actually making friends with people and saying your life is different than mine. And that is there’s not, there’s a lot of rich, beautiful things about that, but then there’s also some things that need to change.
Rebecca Gagan: And I think–it’s been a long time since I read it but just thinking about the connections there to reading attacks that it engages so much with questions of responsibility and what are our obligations to each them. And then you, you share, you’ve just shared, Corinne, that one of the big takeaways for you from your undergraduate education was really learning about those friendships and your obligations to the people around you at university. Which maybe isn’t the thing that you thought you were going to leave Hamilton with that I think what you’ve shared here already, Corinne, is the way in which we might go to university or post-secondary with a sense of a kind of purpose, but then we maybe don’t know the purpose until we have a chance to question it, to think about it. And to–I always tell my students on the very first day of class to spend some time thinking about why they are here and what are they doing in my class. And I know for many of them, it’s a requirement that they need to take it to fulfill a requirement. But I asked them to try to push beyond that and start thinking about that and thinking about their education. And as I say, like the means and ends of it and how it is structured so that maybe at the end of the day, they, like you, will leave with the degree, but also with so much more in terms of how they’ve done on her stand, what it means to be in relation with other people. I think you’ve really shed a lot of light on the complexities of that transition to university, which is so much more complex than just adjusting to a different way of being assessed or being away from home or any of those things you’ve really, I think shared such an important and thoughtful story here about what, not just a story, it’s your own life, about how transformative that was for you and also in shaping the work you do now.
Corinne Bancroft: Yeah. Yeah.
Rebecca Gagan: And really, your, your whole kind of career, but in ways that at that time, obviously were not entirely clear as to how that would be so transformative. So, Corrine, as you were going through all of this, what, I guess, what kind of– I don’t want to say made things easier for you, obviously that was also very difficult to be experiencing what you were at Hamilton, so what was sustaining for you? What helped in those moments that were really tough?
Corinne Bancroft: I think that the thing that–I didn’t really know if this whole thing was what you wanted me to talk about because it wasn’t, even though some things are really challenging, it wasn’t that bad because these were my best friends Like Robin and Stephanie were my best friends in college. And, you know, we organize and do these things and have some very negative experiences with the administration, but then I go hang out together and talk to each other. And I still keep in touch with Robin and consider her one of my best friends still. And so I think that just that sort of human attachment and connection is what allowed me to–what motivated me to do it in the first place, but also what made it worthwhile. And, it’s just nice to have friends and just build a community.
Rebecca Gagan: And being able, as you say, to be doing some of the really hard critical work right. And activist work, but then. At the end of the day, go and have a beer or something like that with your friend. And, as you say that it’s also community building, and it’s about deepening those connections that are at the end of the day so sustaining.
Corinne Bancroft: Yeah, and so one of the best things about college was Hamilton was a very small college. And so I could walk across and see any see a bunch of people that I knew and all of them if they didn’t have class with would want to stop and talk and have a really intellectual discussion, which is why I ended up in academia cause that was so fun to just say, “yeah, I want to work this out with you” or “I want to think this through with you,” and so I really, I missed that today.
Rebecca Gagan: And especially these days where we’re missing those connections, but I’m also hearing too that it’s something that might be useful for students is that you got involved in this work that you were very passionate about, and that was then also very nourishing in terms of the community that you built from it. And so, students, and it probably also brought you to gather with, as you say, with the community more broadly. And so, also, I think students getting involved in work that they feel really committed to and passionate about is another way in terms of building those connections. So even if at first it maybe doesn’t seem as if that will be the pathway to making friends and things like that. I think you’re just reminding students that’s really just an excellent way of making friends.
Corinne Bancroft: Yeah. Yeah. So when I was in that performing politics class, I also had another friend in that class who, one of the things that we read with Karen Finley, who is you know, she writes some very graphic things. And so, her play was dealing with rape and ways of rape that I had not yet imagined at that point in my life. And that was really horrific, and then my friend in that class, like wanting to tell me at that point that she had been raped in high school, and that was like really devastating for me, cause my high school has been trying to tell you, I was like really sheltered, and I didn’t really think about these things. Like they happen on TV, and they happen to other people, but it didn’t happen to the people that I know and loved. And then, that just like I was just, I’ve of course I tried to comfort her and witness her story in a good way, but I was really upset about that, so I went and talked to my professor afterwards, and I just fell apart in her office. And, and I was like, I don’t know. I don’t even have any idea what I said, but the point of it was like, “you just shattered all the illusions I had about the world in this class, like, how could you have done this to me? What do I do from here? Where do I go from here?” And she said, you know, “first of all, get involved with therapy because you currently have some issues,” which I did. And I think that is very effective. But then the second thing was, “just joined something Corinne, just join an organization, join the women’s center, join the environmental action club or whatever, like just join anything. And if that’s not the right thing, it doesn’t matter. You can stop and join a different thing.”
And at that time, I had thought, wow, you know what a commitment it is to join something like, oh, I don’t know anybody there, but then I showed up, and people who are there want you to be there. So if you join anything, everybody’s gonna welcome you. Cause that’s, our whole goal is to make things better, make things different or do stuff together. And so I joined the women’s center, and that was terrific. And I joined a bunch of other stuff too. And so that, like what you just said, people want to make friends with you.
Rebecca Gagan: Yeah.
Corinne Bancroft: And so part of it is, join something that you care about and that you want to do, and then you have something to do together, but also at the end of it, if nothing else, you’re going to have some really good friends.
Rebecca Gagan: And it can feel hard, especially these days where you’re trying to join online. But I think I’ve been having conversations for this podcast with faculty from across campus and in every single conversation it comes up this issue of it’s really hard to do it, but you’ve got to try to get out the door, figuratively and literally write so that, you’re trying to get out no matter how hard that is, to reach out to others too. Whether that’s your professors or joining a club, or getting out the literal door for a walk. And I think it, this applies obviously to non-pandemic times as well, that part of figuring out who you are and why you are there at university is also about trying to push yourself beyond maybe your own comfort and that happened to you very quickly, right, Corinne, like you have shared that. Even the experience of being in that class that everything was shot, your understanding of the world was shattered. And so I find it so fascinating that your professor said the the antidote to that feeling is to chase it a bit. So push it further by going further out of your comfort zone, perhaps and joining some groups so that this will help you to better understand and contextualize your experience.
Corinne Bancroft: Yeah. Yeah. I think her point is, I don’t care if I shattered your illusions; they’re illusions in the first place. This is the real world; grow up, girl, find people to rebuild or to build the world that you want to live in. And I thought, now in hindsight, I think that’s the best thing that anybody’s ever told me is at least I can try to make the world one that I would want to live in. And hopefully, one that is nicer to others too.
Rebecca Gagan: And so going forward that you’re it, the shattering has happened, and it was a necessity, and now you go forth and work to manifest something different.
Corinne Bancroft: Yeah.
Rebecca Gagan: Yeah. And so, Corinne, I’m just wondering here as we wrap our wonderful conversation; and I’ve just found it really interesting to hear about your experience at Hamilton. And can I just ask you before we have some concluding thoughts; What year was that? If you don’t mind sharing, that you were at Hamilton?
Corinne Bancroft: I was at Hamilton from 2006 to 2010.
Rebecca Gagan: So still fairly. I mean, so we’re thinking about 14 years ago that you started there and-
Corinne Bancroft: Yeah, it was recent enough that this stuff shouldn’t have been happening, but it was before Black Lives Matter. It was like at the beginning of some of that stuff, it was before Me Too, and so a lot of that stuff was still like, was still silent. Part of what I learned is why I think I knew this going into it, but it’s important to remember, the more I gained knowledge is that as a white person, I don’t necessarily have the answers to how to make the university appropriate or make the university behave in a good way. And it might not ever be. And so when I was at Hamilton thinking like, what is the solution to these problems, I couldn’t go into a meeting and say, “I know the answer to this.” I needed to I could participate in the brainstorming and stuff, but the answer came from the students of colour, and I needed to figure out my role is to support that and to help achieve that dream and to not participate in the destruction of it. And so what we ended up doing as the Social Justice Initiative is we decided that the main thing that we wanted to do was create a cultural education center that is common at many colleges and universities, but Hamilton did not have one. And so that, that would be a place where students of colour could go, and that could organize these sort of support programs that kind of like you were just talking about. All sorts of things like cultural education training, that sort of stuff, training faculty, but also training students and that, that sort of stuff. And it took four years, but eventually, they did decide to do that based on what we did. And I think that with all that has happened in the world since then, I think that even once you create that change, that you think this is going to be the solution, it can always fall back into the conservative vision of the university.
There’s so much inertia at Hamilton to continue the vision of Alexander Hamilton himself, who is historically I don’t think is the way that Lin-Manuel Miranda portrayed him or didn’t want people to think of him in that way, which is really sad. But anyway, it has all of that baggage that it’s really hard to change. But the thing that does change is the community that you create and that the university can’t control that. And you know, this kind of thing can happen with like the student marches that people were doing for the environmental walkout kind of stuff. If the students have enough bridges and commitments and relationships and friendships, the university can’t really contend with it, and so that’s the difference that students can make.
Rebecca Gagan: And that the students are the I’ve said this before; the students are the pulse of the university, they’re the ones that can make change. And I think Corinne, what you’ve really shared with us today also is that your own advocacy work at Hamilton was something that you sort of–you came into that context, you had that shattering in terms of your own understanding of your world, and then forever changed from that moment you started building community and working with your friends, as you said on various social justice issues at Hamilton. And that work gave you and gave your degree, and it sounds like, gave you meaning in the sense that, and that it was work that has now, as we’ve already talked about, shaped your whole trajectory. But that it was finding something that was very important to you and meaningful, and as you said, once, you knew it, you couldn’t, un-know it, you, weren’t going to turn your back on that and you were going to strive every day to meet your obligations to others, and to make change in the world. And I think that students sometimes feel as if–I know we’ve talked about this a little bit, but they sometimes feel as if they don’t have power in terms of shaping the direction of their career or their university degree. That they can’t question that there isn’t room to question their education and to question the university, even in those ways. And so I think that what you’re also sharing with us is that you came into a feeling of actually you could do things like you had some power to start to make change and that you didn’t have to move through your education or your degree doing what maybe the university or your own life experience up to that point had maybe expected you to do perhaps? But also, more than that, you were able to talk back to the university system in a particular way.
Corinne Bancroft: Yeah. Yeah. I think that’s a good summary of what happened to me in college? I think that what you’re saying about power is absolutely right. Everybody has power. And if you think you don’t have power, you’re actually using your power to maintain the status quo. And so you do have power as an individual to say, “I’m not going to be part of this.” If I don’t think it’s useful, or even if I’m going to be part of it, I’m going to be part of it in a questioning and resistant way. And, and we, it’s our responsibility, I think, as professors to reward that, to say that is the purpose of university is to ask the hard questions and to actually make me as a professor think things I’ve never thought before. That’s why I teach is because I want students to be able to do that to me because I feel like we, just like–one of the things that we eventually realized that Hamilton is our professors didn’t know what would solve this problem? And I don’t think we do here at UVic either. I think that it is the generation of students that are in university to say, this is the future that we see; let’s work towards it together. I think that’s always what we have to be doing is questioning that. And that, then the second thing about power is the power that you have as an individual is nothing in compared to the power that you have in a community. And that community doesn’t need to be–it might even be stronger if it is across like preconceived notions of grouping people.
Rebecca Gagan: Yeah. I love this too. This conversation about power because I really, I do think that students need to realize that they have power and power to shape their own education, and also power to question those educational structures. So you’ve given us so much to think about here, Corinne; I just am so grateful for this conversation. Thank you so much for being here
Corinne Bancroft: Thank you, Rebecca.
Rebecca Gagan: And yeah, I just really appreciate your thoughts here today. All right. Take care, Corinne.
Corinne Bancroft: Yeah, you too.
Rebecca Gagan: In next week’s episode of Waving, Not Drowning, I talk with a member of the Bounce team, Izabella Almasi. Izzy graduated this past month, and she shares in this episode some of what she has learned as an undergraduate student here at UVic and what she would like students who are maybe just starting out on their undergraduate studies to know. I really hope you’ll tune in for this amazing 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.