Wilfrid Laurier offers new New York state exchange opportunity for Indigenous students

Three students from Wilfrid Laurier University and three from Syracuse University will trade places for a the Winter 2019 semester and work toward the creation of an Indigenous-informed curriculum guide while fulfilling undergraduate degree requirements.

Students in exchange program to develop online curriculum modules

Indigenous students at Wilfrid Laurier University will be able to apply to an exchange program with Syracuse University, in which they will help develop Indigenous-informed curriculum modules. (CBC)

Wilfrid Laurier University is partnering with Syracuse University in New York state in an exchange program for Indigenous students.

During the Winter 2019 semester, three students from each university will be trading academic places.

Like a traditional exchange program, the students will benefit from new surroundings and meeting new people while fulfilling degree requirements, only instead of going individually the students will be in a team of three. They will also have the opportunity to create a module for a new Indigenous-informed curriculum guide.

The program is called Indigenous Mobility and Curriculum Across Borders.

"When you get out of your own environment and get to see other things, it wakes you up in a way. It makes you think of things differently," said Jean Becker, who is Inuk from Labrador and the senior advisor of Indigenous initiatives at Wilfrid  Laurier, which has campuses in Waterloo and Brantford, Ont.

The exchange will also allow students to have input into the curriculum, she said.

"We know clearly with Indigenous students that they really are interested in certain types of curriculum; there are things they want to know and it's not always that easy for them to get the actual courses that address the things they're interested in."

Jean Becker is the senior adviser of Indigenous initiatives at Wilfrid Laurier. (Wilfrid Laurier University)

While the students will trade places between Wilfrid Laurier and Syracuse University, two other New York state universities — State University of New York [SUNY] at Buffalo and Cornell University — have also been involved in the curriculum development.

Lucy Luccisano, an associate professor at Wilfrid Laurier, co-founded the program with Kevin Spooner, another associate professor at the university.

"The two of us are essentially the program support people, so we were the ones who first arrived at the idea of doing some sort of mobility grant," said Spooner.

Spooner and Luccisano put together a proposal for funding and submitted it to 100,000 Strong in the Americas, a fund in the U.S. that fosters university partnerships to increase the number of exchange programs available to students.

Students accepted into the program must already be attending either Wilfrid Laurier or Syracuse and in their senior year of studies. They will be expected to pay tuition to both universities for the semester, but the 100,000 Strong in the Americas will provide stipends to the students to take care of other costs like travel..

The development of the curriculum modules will incorporate the students' perspectives, to see how curriculums can be changed or updated to be more inclusive of Indigenous students.

"It's this chance to work with a community based partner and with a faculty mentor to think about some aspect of the university curriculum that could be indigenized," said Spooner.


Rhiannon Johnson is an Anishinaabe journalist from Hiawatha First Nation based in Toronto. She has been with CBC since 2017 focusing on Indigenous life and experiences.