The Alternative Campus Tour is based on the idea of thinking critically about different sites and aspects of the university campus; to see the campus as a microcosm of the world; and to imagine and record alternative stories and narratives about it. It is based on the principle of digging where you stand and what Inuit writer Rachel Qitsualik-Tinsley refers to as an “attentiveness of awareness at all times of what is going on around you, of conducting yourself accordingly, and of learning of what is going on.”1 To recognize “what is going on” is to explore the everyday, examine critically current and historical events, and imagine and encourage action toward building different futures.
The Alternative Campus Tour is also a land acknowledgement as defined by Anishinaabe scholar Deborah McGregor and her former student Emma Nelson. Land Acknowledgements, they write, can “provide a chance to bring awareness of surroundings into space which otherwise might not address them [and] … draw audiences into thinking about the spaces they share with others.”2 They can also teach us about the place we live, study, and work “with all the complexities of historical and ongoing colonial dispossession and violence.”3
Critical examination of the campus is important at a time when universities are alleging mounting fiscal problems and responding by increasing tuition fees; cutting costs and services; hiring part-time precarious and often racialized faculty; raising private money; scrambling for the tuition fees of local and international students; hiring consultants to both assist and monitor efforts to become more “accountable” to society; providing hard figures on student satisfaction and success rate on landing jobs after graduation; and monitoring the performance of professors with respect to teaching and research activities. Universities are in increasing competition with each other and strive hard to brand themselves and their faculties to enhance their visibility and reputation to attract students, wealthy donors and media attention.
Critics respond by lamenting the emergence of what they call the neoliberal university, a university that panders towards the demands of the market and the cries for job skills rather than retains an independent and critical voice and stance in society. Many of these critics argue that the market system is responsible for rather than a solution to the social and economic problems of our times and that the university should be in the forefront of articulating an alternative society.
A critical examination of the campus is also important at a time when there are growing concerns about who represents and who is represented on the campus. The “Black Lives Matter”, the “Idle No More”, and “Me Too” movements call attention to the lack of representation of people of colour on staff and faculty, and the failure to take into account different canons of knowledge and other types of methodologies in course curricula and research projects.
To be sure, universities are responding to the calls for change from historically marginalized and equity-deserving groups though slowly and insufficiently. But rarely are these critiques directed towards the land, and the symbols, signs, and physical features and the everyday operations of the campus itself. There is often a “blindness” associated with promoting an understanding of the immediate environments of the campus, such as critical investigations of Indigenous presences and absences; public transportation and environmental planning provisions; the naming of buildings and faculties; the selection, acceptance and placing of sculptures and statues; the provision of food, beverages, and drinking water; and the treatment of plants and animals that we encounter in our daily movements. This is the task that the Alternative Campus Tour sets out to explore. The tour takes on the taken for granted campus and challenges us to think critically about what sociologist Eviatar Zerubavel calls “the remarkable power of the unremarkable,” the stuff that we pass by in the everyday and that in subtle and subversive ways influence our thinking and actions.4
The Alternative Campus Tour asks us to explore these taken for granted surroundings, to subject them to critical scrutiny, to call for alternatives, even utopias, and perhaps also, where warranted, celebrate and be proud of them.
1 Quoted in Hudson, A., H. Igloliorte, and J.-E. Lundström, editors (2022). Oummut Oukiria! Art, Culture, and Sovereignty Across Inuit Nunaat and Sápmi: Mobilizing the Circumpolar North. Fredericton, NB: Goose Lane, 2022, p. 12.
2 McGregor, Deborah and Emma Nelson, Reconciling Relationships with the Land Through Land Acknowledgements, p. 125. In Engle, Jane, Julian Agyeman, and Tanya Chung-Tiam-Fook, editors, Sacred Civics: Building Seven Generation Cities. London and New York: Earthscan and Routledge, 2022.
3 Michelle Daigle quoted in ibid., p. 124.
4 Zerubavel, Eviatar, Taken for Granted: The Remarkable Power of the Unremarkable. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2020.