Meet Asha Edwin:
Photo taken by Mr. Koa
Asha Edwin just graduated from the University of Guelph in June 2021 with a BA in Psychology, a second completed degree. While at U of G, she was a student leader on the Mississippi Catalyst program, an experience for students to learn about the impact of the Civil Rights Movement in Canada and the US. Through this experience, she was programming activities, and providing leadership in various capacities. Now a U of G graduate, Asha is working as an Equity Consultant, supporting youth and young adults identifying as Black, girl/woman, or non-binary. Asha tells us about her experience on the Mississippi Catalyst program, what she learned and what others learned, her thoughts about the impact of experiential learning on an academic and personal journey, her biggest takeaways, and her advice to current students.
Tell us about your experience as a Student Leader on the Mississippi Catalyst program! What did the Catalyst experience involve and what was your role?
“I was a student leader on the trip, which involved preparing participants to learn about the impact of the Civil Rights Movement in Canada and the US. The trip allowed participants to examine the Black experience through critical analysis of the effects of various forms of racism, poverty, and inequality/equity on the community. During the Catalyst trip, I was responsible for program planning, facilitating activities, acting as a mentor, providing leadership at one of the four placement organizations, and acting in a supervisory role to support personal and academic learning.”
What was your biggest takeaway from that experience?
“Show up and listen, and see yourself as part of the conversation. Where that is challenging, ask questions, and rather than refute the answer, think about how you can apply your knowledge to the response or issue it raises. Ask what I can do where I am and with what I have. It’s continually reimagining what having an impact and making a difference looks like in my life and my work. Social justice work takes time, commitment, desire, and effort.”
What skills did you develop while in that role?
“Networking skills! This experience allowed me to rethink my approach to networking and how different opportunities lead to various forms of networking. And if someone says, “I’ll be here to support you, just reach out,” take them up on it and reach out! I also further developed my leadership skills. It was important for me to use the opportunity to assess how I could better support diverse groups of people with various levels of exposure, experience, knowledge, and interest.”
Have you been involved in other experiential learning opportunities? If so, what were they and what did you learn from them?
“I have not participated in other experiential learning opportunities on campus, but I believe that life presents the opportunity to have experiential learning opportunities every day. Sometimes it starts with listening, not always looking for proof, asking questions, engaging with someone you wouldn't normally engage with, reading, being out in nature. Experiences are made valuable by challenging yourself, actively noticing how you behave or act in certain situations, then assessing or evaluating that experience. So, in that way, active and continuous exploration of everyday events have been great examples of experiential learning opportunities for me.”
Have your experiential learning experiences helped inform or inspire your academic experience (or vice versa)?
“Absolutely. My experience inspired and informed my academic and personal experiences. It was significant in reminding me that a lot of the learning that contributes to our social responsibility and a sense of collectivism happens outside of the classroom. Where I integrate experiential learning with my academics, I often find greater meaning, connectivity and understanding and application of concepts. In addition, programs such as this help students feel seen and heard, and the action of doing can counter hegemonic and homogenous ways of knowing and doing.”
In your opinion, what is the importance or benefit of experiential learning opportunities such as the ones you participated in?
“Experiential learning opportunities are two-fold. The trip to the Mississippi that I participated in provided a chance to learn something beyond my personal lived experience and was foundational in helping to define how l carry out my work and approaching myself, others, and my career. The program I participated in offered a critical opportunity for students to begin looking at race in Canada and the US while assessing how vital history is within today’s context and how it is essential to one’s existence, identity, and culture. The erasure and deliberate exclusion of history are to say that something did not and no longer exists and that which gives one meaning means nothing. It begs one to question who does this benefit and why. Such questions invite students to begin thinking about themselves, others, and their collective or social responsibility. The main advantage of this experiential learning experience was the opportunity to develop a sense of responsibility through critical assessment and application to individual experience, your degree program of choice, biases, systemic racism, social injustices, etc.”
What is your advice to other students thinking about being involved in things like this?
“Be intentional, actively listen, participate, ask questions, and make connections. It is important to critically engage with the program at hand while at the same time applying the learned knowledge and “doing” as a way to notice and challenge systems of oppression in your life and work. Entering the program with an open mind and a notebook is a great place to start. Experiential learning is a great way to begin our processes of unlearning and move into spaces of active listening, participating, and doing.”
What are you up to now?
“I work as an Equity Consultant. In addition to this, I am also working on a few community initiatives that support youth and young adults who identify as Black, girl/woman or non-binary. When I'm not working, I enjoy doing things that feed my soul, such as gardening, cooking, exercising, hanging with friends, and being out in nature!”
Is there anything else you'd like to add?
1. I believe institutions have a critical role in ensuring the availability and accessibility to programming and ensuring informed leadership. Opportunities to participate in these programs should recognize the disparities and lived experiences that might impact how students access and participate in such programming.
2. You may hear many “No”s as I did. Finally, you get a yes followed by another no. Say yes to yourself and new opportunities, even when no is what you’re used to hearing!”