Innovative teaching in sociology | Mount Allison

Sociology professors at Mount Allison are known for their creative teaching methods; in fact they have won awards for these.


Understanding "sawbonna" — "I see you"

Sociology professor and critical criminologist Ardath Whynacht challenged her fourth-year seminar class with the concept of "sawbonna" - a transformative justice model that means "I see you" and signifies seeing the value in another human regardless of what they have done.

Whynacht encouraged the 20-person class to implement "sawbonna" when there were miscommunications as they were working together in their group public engagement projects.

"I really challenged them to use this idea," she says. "If there has been a harm, how do we use this to see the value in one another and use this as a step towards reparation?"

The finale to the course was visiting the minimum security Dorchester Penitentiary. Whynacht says that criminology students often visit prisons and do a tour of the facilities, but what they hoped to do with this field trip was very different.

"We were looking to take up the challenge of 'sawbonna' and have a friendly and thorough conversation with a group of men who wanted to discuss what it is like serving a long-term sentence."

Fourth-year women's and gender studies and sociology student Martha Kerr considers this field trip one of her most memorable moments at Mount Allison.

"It was amazing being given that opportunity, getting past the stereotypes of seeing these people as 'othered' and something to study, and realizing they are people," says Kerr. "They are men, they are intelligent, and they have stories to tell. And so often they are not given the opportunity to tell these stories."


Sociology on the road

Sociology professor Morgan Poteet and Andrea Terry, a professor in Fine Arts, took their students on a field trip to Halifax in the fall semester. The trip was part of the course “Race and Racialization.” Dr. Poteet argues that innovative approaches to teaching are especially important when teaching about “race.”

“We have witnessed the reduction of explicit racism over time, which has been replaced largely by covert forms of racism,” says Dr. Poteet. “It is important to learn both about the overt racism of the past, and the more covert forms of racism through which racial inequality persists.”

According to Dr. Poteet, this field trip is important because it allows students to visit important sites of systemic racism such as Africville, and to connect past and present forms of racialization. It also allows students to see how African heritage Nova Scotians and other minority groups challenge racialization and marginalization.

The field trip included visits to the Black Cultural Centre for Nova Scotia, Seaview Church and Africville Interpretive Centre, Pier 21, and the Caribbean Twist Restaurant on Gottingen Street.

Dr. Poteet and Canadian Studies professor Jenny Ellison took students from the class “Population and Society” on a similar trip to give them a different perspective on international migration, social inequality, and social injustice.

Dr. Poteet teaches various courses on migration, immigrant incorporation, and racialization. His research looks at international migrants and refugees, on ethnicity, racialization and immigrant incorporation in Canada, and on transnationalism and globalization.


That’s one terrific teacher!

First, she won Mount Allison University’s distinguished Herbert and Leota Tucker Teaching Award. Next Dr. Erin Steuter was recognized as one of the finest teachers in the Atlantic region! The sociology professor received the Association of Atlantic Universities’ (AAU) Distinguished Teacher Award. The prestigious AAU award recognizes those who exemplify teaching excellence and who contribute more generally to enhancing the quality of university teaching.

Dr. Steuter was also featured in the Globe and Mail's University Report Card. Here is some of what they had to say about her:

"For Steuter, the real value of education is when students can apply it to their own lives. That's why she gets her students out into the community. Her students have run a self-esteem program for children, either after-school or during March break. Others have created a mock non-profit organization, creating a website and pamphlets that debunk myths on homosexuality. This way, she said, students leave school with a few ideas of where a sociology degree might actually take them."


Mount Allison students lend expertise to Halifax Refugee Clinic

A Mount Allison University sociology class saw its hard work bear fruit last weekend when the Halifax Refugee Clinic opened a used clothing boutique, Section 96, in downtown Halifax.

The clinic was exploring the option of starting a social enterprise in its downtown Halifax storefront location at 1581 Grafton St. to provide a steady funding source. It also wanted to provide refugees with some Canadian work experience and create a drop-in and community advocacy centre for refugee rights.

San Patten, professor for the course Sociology of Non-Profit Organizations, decided to have her 13 students develop a business plan for the clinic as a group project for the course.

“The business plan was developed to provide the Halifax Refugee Clinic with a strategic plan for their social enterprise, including financial requirements, potential funding sources, and a proposed budget,” she says. “The students also looked at what equipment and space was required, did a market analysis, and examined human resources issues.”

Patten says the course is designed to give students an understanding of the role of social organizations in creating change. Among other things, it explores the management challenges in non-profits, their internal operations, strategic planning, relationships with the funding community, interactions with government, and the effective use of human resources.

“By doing the background work for this business plan, students had a first hand look at all these challenges,” she says. “I am really proud of their efforts and I know that the clinic was impressed by their work.”

Julie Champagne, the executive director of the Halifax Refugee Clinic, was happy with the results.

“The plan is excellent and has many ideas that were examined closely and thoroughly,” she says. “It will be very helpful to us and particularly to Laura, our co-ordinator, as she sets up the operation and applies for grants.”

The Halifax Refugee Clinic provides a diverse range of services to refugees including housing, employment, and medical and psychological support, often needed because of the physical and psychological scars inflicted from torture and other abuse. They are the only organization in Nova Scotia to offer these services to refugees.

The boutique’s name, Section 96, comes from the section in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act that defines a refugee. The act provides protection to persons who are displaced, persecuted, or in danger.


First-year sociology students combine learning with community service

Students often arrive at Mount Allison with a passion to change the world. A group of first-year students taking an introductory sociology class were given some tools to help them work towards this goal. The group spent a Saturday in a Service Learning Workshop, learning how to combine community service with the concepts they were covering in class.

“It is great to see students active in the community, engaging with social issues with a purpose toward social change,” says sociology professor Dr. Fabrizio Antonelli. “This is particularly important for an introductory sociology course where students study social problems in the classroom, which can be overwhelming. They can see that their actions in the community can help resolve some of these issues."