Community project showcase: Summer KAMP in Vancouver

So many of you know that back in Summer 2017, I was facilitating an awesome program in Vancouver. I brought an awesome colleague and program leader from Sariling Gawa Hawaii, and a youth leader from Toronto. My capacity building work was supported/funded by the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation through the RECODE at Ryerson program.

I’ll be sure to update you on all the details, including where the project is at now… but in the meantime…you can learn more about this awesome inititative in Vancouver by visiting

Photo by Mark J.L. Orayan

being filipinx diasporic & feminist – musing during my comps

Inspired by recent events in my own personal life and in the lives of those close to me in the Filipinx diasporic community in Tkaronto-Toronto, I share this beautiful quotation from Sara Ahmed, queer feminist of colour and bad ass inspiration for my work.
“There is no guarantee that in struggling for justice we ourselves will be just. We have to hesitate, to temper the strength of our tendencies with doubt; to waver when we are sure, or even because we are sure. A feminist movement that proceeds with too much confidence has cost us too much already… If a feminist tendency is what we work for, that tendency does not give us stable ground.” (2017, p. 6-7).
Thinking about our feminist stance and ethical behaviours: our code of conduct for working in the community, the ethical demands we place on our work and the work of our peers (and of course, our enemies). Invokes so many of the conversations I’ve had with my closest scholar friend, fiercy bruha Fritz Pino. Our conversations for over the past three years all come back down with this.
As we find the right words to describe our frustrations, we are build our feminist walls. These words are our bricks. Watch as we are building our feminist wall… in fact, we are building a feminist world!
Ahmed, Sara (2017). LIving a Feminist Life. Durham: Duke University Press.

Reviving the Filipino Elderly Wellbeing Project

They say enthusiasm and positive energy are contagious. Especially in the case of the Filipino Elderly Wellbeing Project, I would definitely agree.

Little did I know a casual chat over coffee with Frank would move into some community mobilizing in a short matters of days.

Some of you may know that some of my work and research is with Filipino skilled workers and Filipino youth. After hearing about some of the community-based research happening on Filipino elderlies/seniors through Frank, I was happy to get involved in reviving the Filipino Elderly Wellbeing (FEW) Project. Who would have known it would’ve led to an impromptu deputation at a Town Hall meeting, then at Toronto’s City Hall?

Much has happened since my deputation. On January 19, 2016, Frank Villanueva, Fritz Pino and I hosted a community meeting to revive the project. The slides of our presentation can be found here.
Excited to share more details with you soon!

2016-01-19 16.51.09 2016-01-19 19.29.12 2016-01-19 16.50.50 FEW project revival - small

September starts & the turning of leaves: orientation with the incoming MPC cohort

I love September because it invokes all the excitement and anxiety related to going ‘back to school.’ For Orientation Week this year (2015), I spoke at both OISE and Ryerson about transitions.

For this post, I’m sharing the script for my talk to this year’s incoming Master of Professional Communication students at Ryerson University (Class of 2016). As I just finished my research paper for this very program, I was feeding off both my elation and exhaustion!

Shout outs to my supervisor, Dr. Charles H. Davis (RTA/FCAD) and Graduate Program Director, Dr. Wendy Freeman (ProCom/FCAD), I mention them a couple times in this piece.

Not too long ago, I was sitting right where you are now, on the other side of this boardroom table. I was half-asleep, awkwardly frozen from the air conditioning, exhausted from the summertime work hustle, and frankly frightened about putting my career on hold to start the program. Professional communication? I remember thinking, like what does that even really mean?

Yet, despite the worry and nervousness, I knew why I wanted to take this program. Of course, little voices in my head had me second-guessing this choice at various points in the year, but now, in retrospect, I have to say choosing Ryerson and choosing the MPC program were two of the best decisions of my life.

In August, when we did our round-the-table introductions, it was very clear that our class was a diverse bunch, each of us unique in our life contexts, mixed academic and professional paths and plans, and like yours, we had a colourful assortment of research interests. Fast-forward twelve months, it’s incredible to recognize our transformations and soon, celebrate our achievements. I’m equally excited for what comes for you.

My advice may not be revolutionary, but I’ve had quite a remarkable year. Each of you will carve your own path, each one equally extraordinary in its own right.

My first point of advice: Be open to change.

I’m a planner. I strategize for a living & I had a neat plan for my year in the MPC program. I had plans to continue my work in technology innovations in education, but that prospective supervisor – Wendy – was going on sabbatical, unbeknown to me. The seemingly amazing internship I lined up over the summer had a long, long list of tasks I already knew how to do. And a couple months into the program, my research interests were changing, shifting – morphing in unpredictable ways.

While it’s nice to have plans and expectations, I think the best learning and experiences emerge when you’re receptive to new opportunities, new ideas, thinking and doing outside the box. Ryerson is an interesting place for this. Be receptive and responsive to the opportunities that will surely come your way.

Point 2. Find your peeps.

I’m sure you’re all off to a great start, getting to know your fellow students. That social component is so key. Yet, word from the wise (and this is my second Master’s) – graduate study can be awfully isolating and lonely. In a few months, you will become fully immersed, almost obsessed in a particular topic. Soon your knowledge of this topic will exceed that of your attentive peers – and perhaps even your supervisor. Find organizations, groups, and people who share your interests – having conversations with them, receiving their mentorship and guidance, and leveraging their networks and expertise will accelerate your own learning.

So whether it’s tech start ups, classic communication, entrepreneurship, advocacy for a particular cause, whatever the case may be – find people whose ideas and practices resonate with you. You will find you won’t have to go through this year-long academic journey alone. Go to conferences, attend events, not with the goal of obtaining the most business cards or writing copious amounts of notes, but to meet new colleagues for your promising career. These relationships can really “make” your career. Spend the time cultivating a new community.

Point 3. Related to the last point… In time, your path, perspective, and position in the program will become increasingly clear. Own your truth, and pursue your goals with no apologies. It can become increasingly stressful to see what your fellow classmates are doing. Be your own yardstick.

Some of you will have clear goals for the workplace. If that’s the case, go after that wholeheartedly. Some of you want to explore, need more experience, or desire something different. That’s completely alright.

When my peers started to apply, interview then secure awesome new positions, I started to think, ‘Oh gosh, I should be doing that.’ But my supervisor, and Wendy for that matter, were very keen to remind me of my goals and plans. It’s really easy to be overwhelmed, get off-track, and lose sight of what you wanted to do. Surround yourself with people who will keep you in check, push you when you need motivation, direct you when you need guidance, and support you when you need help.

Lastly, the big picture piece of advice.

Run, don’t walk, but remember to smell the roses.

Someone once described the MPC program as a sprint, not a marathon. It’s tough, it’s quick, it goes by in a blur. The first few weeks of September will be your warm-up period – after that, it’s off to the races.

Smelling the roses, to me, is all about self-care. It’s a busy year and it’s easy to lose yourself in the work, stress out, and feel grossly ill-equipped and overwhelmed.

Give yourself the latitude to learn. You are here to build your expertise. Own what you know and own what you don’t know. It’s OK to not know. That’s why you’re here to learn, develop, and grow.

Despite the constant reminders that the MPC is a sprint, a hustle, a hectic year… you will have some spare time. Carve time out to yourself, to do things that make you happy. Make time for things and activities you love. For some of you, that will be breaking a sweat in the gym, going to the spa or mall, going to the awesome new brew pub, or taking sweet, sweet naps.

Despite your desire to live a balanced lifestyle, you will likely have some long nights. You might feel a little tired. Borderline exhausted. Maybe even completely spent. Recognize when you’re overextended, and find a way to pause. Remember to reset and recharge – it needs to happen more than once a term. I am a ball of energy, I’m naturally high strung, and it takes an army of close friends and mentors to keep my work and my personal life in balance and in check.

All that being said . . . the introspection and reflection will come in twelve months. Just a few weeks ago, I probably would not have been able to write these same speech. As a close friend of mine always says about graduate study, it’s all about process.

By the end of the program, you’ll look back to everything you’ve accomplished; that moment of achievement and recognition will be yours to savour. Good luck!

Best of luck, MPC Class of 2016! 


Photo by Steven Depolo via Flickr

Supporting school transitions – some thoughts before September

As a student and teacher, I’m sensitive to the ways we transition and socialize students into K-12, postsecondary, and postgrad education. Heck, perhaps that’s why I’m so keen to cultivate connections and communities for support, mentorship, and friendship. Most recently, I’ve recognized how important it is to REALLY support my former students and mentees during their current learning curves, whether it’s choosing prospective schools, starting a new program, figuring out funding and finances, changing majors or programs, or choosing between multiple options and opportunities.

I’ve been on both sides of it. I’ve called friends and family for emergency phone calls to support that moment I open an email or letter holding seemingly unbearable news. I’ve also had to listen in and participate in the communal shrieking [I can’t even mimic this sound haha!], shouting [No, I told YOU so! AHHH!], or slamming [“You didn’t get it? Well, they don’t know what they’re missing!”]. Navigating school and scholarship application rigmarole or working to finesse the rhetoric in grant applications, I’ve met with professors late into the evening, emailing back-and-forth over the weekends to finalize proposals (and sometimes they’re last minute!). I recently had to do the same thing with my former Grade 12 students, writing several letters of recommendation while on a 6-week travel stint for data collection and conferences AND writing my own applications. Now I know how it feels when I ask faculty for last minute recommendation requests! Oh gosh, and do you recall your first few events . . .where  you find yourself in the same room with your academic or professional role models and don’t know how to deal? I’ve been there numerous times myself and when it’s for my students or friends, I’ve encouraged them to say hello and shake hands.

This year, being on both the supported and supportive ends, the experience has been quite rewarding. During the last few weeks of my program at Ryerson, I’m making the time to see off my former students and mentees for yet another September. I love this time of year.

Of course. . . this was originally just supposed to be a sharing of a NYTimes article, but it seems like I had a lot to say…

I wanted to share this article from the New York Times: readers submitted helpful and honest tips to incoming college/university students:

“Plain and simple: Don’t be afraid to ask for help! Seriously, life happens to all of us. Professors are people. T. A.s are people. They understand that “the struggle is real,” and sometimes you just need a helping hand. And whenever you’re feeling alone or overwhelmed, just remember that all the other freshmen are in the same boat. You are not alone.”

Read the article: NYTimes: Readers share back-to-school tips for incoming freshmen.

Photo by Jessica Lucia via Flicker.

sleepless nights & the stress of scholarship

It’s 5 am & I just finished reading “Being ‘Lazy’ and Slowing Down: Toward decolonizing time, our body, and pedagogy.”

In a culture of performativity, rapid communication, and mobility, slowing down seems to be the antithesis of what needs to happen in the academy. Slowing down, or decolonizing time, is about reconnecting to our embodied selves and nurturing ‘depth’ in our work for equity and social justice in the academy, and about improving our quality of life and work… slowing down is about embodying alternative personhoods in the learning environment, remaining mindful of how a dominant concept of time has hijacked our every day lives. Unfortunately, while our minds are zipping, and our bodies are dragging behind trying to keep at pace, we are losing our spirit, and soon are left to ponder about our spirits when we are lying inour hospital or death beds. (Shahjahan, 2014, p. 12)

Zooming out, slowing down & going back to sleep.


Shahjahan, R. A. (2014). Being ‘Lazy’ and Slowing Down: Toward decolonizing time, our body, and pedagogy. Educational Philosophy and Theory, (ahead-of-print), 1-14. Read it here on

safe spaces on campus: reflecting on recent events & media coverage of Ryerson’s Racialised Students’ Collective

I was a little shocked when this story broke on Friday via the Ryersonian, “White students barred from funded RSU student group event.”

Talk about a sensational title.

Two students were barred from covering an event for racialized students. Okay.

“It felt really bad… kind of embarrassing,” Knope said. “If their goal in these meetings was to end racialization then it needs to be something everybody is involved in. If some people are causing the problems, they need to know. Grouping yourself off… is not going to accomplish anything.”

I remember sitting at my desk on Saturday, struck dumb in front of my computer. Earlier this week, I was at a powerful talk with Dr. Kathy Absolon from Wilfred Laurier, on how we bring the [racialized] self into the academy. What I mean by powerful — I was in tears when I asked her to reflect on her experiences after-the-fact, as I’m dealing with what feels like a painful negotiation of research and service to my community, while navigating a space so colonial & engaging in practices that feel so neoliberal and counter to my values and beliefs.

So when I read this article, I felt a range of emotions. Anger and frustration yes, disappointment… but it also revitalized my passion and energy to continue the work I’m doing in anti-oppressive education, critical pedagogy, and communication activism pedagogy.

This story has been picked up by Reddit and other news outlets. Watch the video in this Global News article to see the progression in the student reporter’s perspective.

“It’s a public space and it’s funded by the school and I think that in a perfect world everybody should be let into all meetings but I haven’t been through the same issues, I can’t say I’ve been through the same issues as racialized students at our school,” she said.

As someone working & studying at Ryerson, I know we’re at this crucial time – various groups have been building momentum, space, and community for antiracism and antioppressive work. I’ve been part of various conversations and communities for faculty and staff & while that’s been amazing … when it comes down to student support and community, we have so far to go. This hits so painfully close to home.


Read this opinion piece by Ryerson student Aeman Ansari: We need to respect safe spaces

Photo via Columbia Spectator

Sharing UofT professor’s note to student re: the YorkU/UofT strike

It’s a very busy week for me… but this came across my Facebook feed this morning & I wanted to share this (and record it for future reference):

U of T professor at the Women and Gender Studies Institute explains to her students why she has moved their class off campus in solidarity with the ongoing strike:

“I want to take a moment to explain why we are holding our class off campus this week and why it is about more than physically crossing a picket line. My area of research is how people learn about social justice, inequity, democracy, participation, how they become active in the world. And what I know is that how you experience the world matters immensely in that process. How you experience moments such as the strike really does matter.

Right now, the University, like any other employer, is producing a very important piece of ideology. By ‘ideology’ I mean the message that is being communicated to students, faculty, workers, and the broader community is that business as usual can continue at the university despite the fact that a large portion of our teaching staff has had to walk off the job to protest their working conditions. That message is also meant to communicate to us the value of their work; that their work is of so little consequence that we can continue on as if their absence means nothing and is not felt in our daily reality. I know that’s not true, and probably you know that’s not true as well.

But there is something profoundly more insidious and disturbing to me in this message. That is the message that we should not be disrupted or inconvenienced by the suffering of other people, by the inequity that others must face every day. That just because they struggle with poverty and have had to go on strike to demand recognition from their employer, it should not disrupt our business. But it is a disruption, it is a huge disruption. It is a disruption to our learning, to our lives, and, very importantly, to the covenant between a school, its students, and its teachers. It is not just a disruption, it is rupture, a tearing apart. Look at what is being torn apart. Look at who is being torn apart.

I have moved our class because I prioritize your learning. I know that how you [my students] experience this will be very important in how you learn about it, and I don’t want you to have the experience that there should be no disruption. Whatever happens around you, even if it doesn’t happen to you, we should not seek to turn away from disruption. We, as teachers in this university, should not teach you that you can look away from what is happening in this world to other people; that you can just avoid it, and it has no meaning in your life beyond a bureaucratic nuisance or that what is also at stake here is your education.

When these things happen, when your teachers go on strike, when an innocent young person is shot by the police, when a woman disappears and is found in a ditch, when we drop a bomb, we should be and feel disrupted. We should reflect on that disruption; we should learn from it. This is part of how we learn to be in the world as decent human beings who have an eye to the humanity of others. We cannot go on with business as usual. So, we are here, off campus, because I prioritize learning that takes humanity and social life seriously.”


Image: Juan Monroy

New graduates & the ‘job market’: why is it about ‘me-me-ME’?

Sharing an article in the Toronto Star: University degree. Check. A job? Still searching. This is one part of a 4-part series on ‘Faces of Inequality.’

As a student at Western University, student government leader and peer mentor Adam Smith could easily be described as dynamic, engaged, and dedicated.
But eight months after graduating with a double major in sociology and criminology he’s back living in his parent’s Ajax home, trying to avoid being defined by a whole new set of adjectives.
Young. Jobless. Disposable.
“I’m frankly embarrassed that I don’t have a job already,” he says. “I feel like I’m a good worker, I have a lot to offer companies. But because I haven’t been able to connect it yet, I feel personally embarrassed.

I don’t dismiss the plight of new grads struggling to find jobs. When we graduate, I think our focus tends to be on me ‘me-me-me.’ We must not forget that there are many people who face challenges and barriers we can only imagine. Sure, completing a university education isn’t easy… but there are many people who don’t even get that opportunity.

Musing here. Forgive me. For me, education involves our collective efforts… using our brains, hands, & hearts to work with communities to identify causes, build solutions, & speak up and out.

How do we move the university student’s focus and vision from the individual to community/society?

The teachable moment that took me out of the classroom: how 12 brilliant young women taught me about myself

In education, we often talk about teachable moments – those impromptu invaluable lessons that change our perspective. Often, we the teachers recognize, facilitate, and maximize those special and unexpected opportunities. I want to tell you about one particular teachable moment – this time, it was a huge epiphany for me, the teacher.

This past year, I worked at a very special place called the Linden School. I taught a Communications Technology elective for Grades 10-12. I facilitated this small class of 12 students like a typical university seminar, complete with Friday morning breakfasts and an emphasis on critical discussion.

I focused the year’s learning around personal branding. Grounded in the easy-to-read text by Dorie Clark, Reinventing You, the girls and I conducted focus groups. In our safe space, we talked openly about each other. We shared what we observed to be the strengths and weaknesses of our peers. I too was the subject for a focus group.

Listen here to my focus group

Direct link: Monica focus group

For most of you, some of the content requires insider knowledge to which you are not privy. Most people don’t know about the little quirks of my classroom. But if any of my former students actually listen to this, they’ll likely laugh at the jokes and may recall particular references. But I think anyone can gather that the girls allude to and directly talk about me working in spaces outside the classroom. While they said all this, I quietly took notes and listened as they independently managed the focus group.

After the focus group session, during our class debrief on the process, this was when the teachable moment happened for me.

The girls looked a little agitated and they began to ask many questions about my former work and education. After I turned off the audio recorder, my student Adriana probed some more, “So why are you here?” – here being at the school, teaching them.

It took me a moment to think of an answer that still validated my work, my investment in them, and my choice to be at the school. The girls knew about the various ‘big’ projects I was working on – much of it had to do with recommending improvements for communications, marketing and recruitment, fundraising, and technology. As much as I tried to manage the work, they noticed I was spread too thin across major – and competing – priorities, teaching being one of them.

I remember telling them how I consciously left the UK for this particular role and how I was excited to be back in the classroom. But in my heart, I knew they were recognizing something in me that I wasn’t quite yet ready to consider. What exactly, you ask? Well, that perhaps I am better suited outside the classroom.

Many of my students enjoyed the course. A few even had similar epiphanies about themselves and  noted the 2013-14 year as one of tremendous personal growth. That makes me feel fantastic.

But truly, I will forever remember the TGJ course, those students, and that particular day of my silly and serious focus group session – it sparked a shift in me and my work.

I write this now as I embark on a new journey. I’m beginning a second Master’s – this time in Professional Communication. And I owe it all to those girls. Thank you.

Main photo by Tobi Firestone via Flickr
bell hooks - teaching to transgress

bell hooks on student-teacher tensions for transformative pedagogy

Reflecting on the challenges in creating transformative, liberatory & progressive classrooms.

“Just as it may be difficult for professors to shift their paradigms, it is equally difficult for students. I have always believed that students should enjoy learning. Yet I found that there was much more tension in the diverse classroom setting where the philosophy of teaching is rooted in critical pedagogy and (in my case) in feminist critical pedagogy. The presence of tension – and at times even conflict – often meant that my students did not enjoy my classes or love me, their professor, as I secretly wanted them to do. Teaching in a traditional discipline from the perspective of critical pedagogy means that I often encounter students who make complaints like ‘I thought this was supposed to be an English class, why are we talking so much about feminism?’… In the transformed classroom there is often a much greater need to explain philosophy, strategy, intent than in the “norm” setting… I learned to respect that shifting paradigms or sharing knowledge in new ways challenges; it takes time for students to experience that challenge as positive.”

– bell hooks, teaching to transgress (41-42)