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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Cohorts and coalition building for First Nations graduate students Van der Wey, Dolores


Cohorts are commonly formed in Indigenous undergraduate and graduate education programs. In this dissertation, I critique the notion that cohorts are necessarily safe spaces for First Nations female graduate students and argue that cohorts must be sites for coalition work and building bridges across differences both within the cohort and in mainstream contexts. I conducted initial and follow-up open-ended semi-structured interviews with 13 women with whom I had worked in First Nations educational contexts in some capacity in recent years, including as course instructor and coordinator of an educational leadership initiative. Semi-structured interviews allowed me to pursue topics raised by interviewees in some depth, and to ask them about topics raised earlier in their own or others' interviews. The women responded to queries about their educational experiences, thoughts on the beneficial and challenging aspects of cohort membership, views on the importance of First Nations curricula and pedagogy, experiences with voice and silencing in the academy, and highlights of their cross-cultural experiences. The research revealed that although participants felt that there were many beneficial aspects to their cohort membership, including the supportive environment, shared purpose, and shared sense of humor, a significant number of participants spoke about First Nations identity issues and the frequency and pain of being silenced within their cohorts as well as in mainstream classrooms. Cohort members and coordinators must articulate goals of membership that include building bridges between gulfs of difference, naming issues of power, and planning a course of action for attaining goals so that there will be a shared purpose for and among members. I argue that open cohorts offer the potential for attaining those goals.

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