Graduate students with a hankering to change the world have plenty of opportunities to do so at Adler University in Vancouver. That’s because this school has a practicum program in social justice that is embedded in all of its master’s degrees in counselling psychology and organizational psychology.
Adler University’s manager of community action and engagement, Meghan Robinson, told the Straight by phone that each student spends 200 hours of their education in this program. It unfolds over a minimum of six months and the school has 150 community partners across Metro Vancouver. In total, they have been engaged in about 150,000 hours of community service with organizations involved in a wide array of activities.
“It’s a social-justice army that I’m trying to create,” Robinson quipped.
Community partners include the First Nations Health Authority, Atira Women’s Society, the Cultch, Take a Hike Foundation, Forest and the Femme, Starlight Foundation, Amnesty International, and the Children’s Organ Transplant Society, among many others. The students go on unpaid practicums, often for eight to 12 hours per week, that can benefit nonprofit societies and other organizations.
“I try and focus on as many as I can,” Robinson said.
Recently, the B.C. Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres came aboard. This means that graduate students from Adler University will be part of the volunteer team working on National Indigenous Peoples Day celebrations at the Vancouver Aboriginal Friendship Centre and Trout Lake on June 21. That date also happens to be Adler University’s Community Action Day, when all faculty and students will come together to promote reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.
“In my mind, social justice is creating equality between groups where equality hasn’t existed because of certain barriers, be that socioeconomic or through colonization,” Robinson said.
Adler University is keen to form partnerships with groups helping other marginalized people, including those with disabilities, as well as organizations advancing positive environmental initiatives. The university is named after Austrian medical doctor and psychotherapist Alfred Adler, an early supporter of feminism in psychology. According to Robinson, Adler advanced the idea that if the community is strong, a person will be likely to enjoy better mental health. Hence the school’s emphasis on creating and developing the community in a positive way.
Students are placed in their practicums in two cohorts, according to Robinson. A larger group of 70 to 100 is matched with organizations in September. Another 30 to 50 are paired with community partners in January.
This year’s emphasis on National Indigenous Peoples Day appeals to Robinson, who has long held a keen interest in the intersection of environmentalism and Aboriginal rights. For her master’s degree, she travelled to New Zealand, where she worked with Maori organizations and communities on outdoor education and sustainability.
Maori elders, including one of her mentors, will be in Vancouver from June 17 to 28 and will participate in National Indigenous Peoples Day along with students and faculty at the university.
“That’s part of Adler’s quest to Indigenize and make a difference in the community,” Robinson said.
She revealed that one of the school’s goals is to strengthen its connections with community partners to help them achieve more positive outcomes in the future.
“I’m creating an online platform that will allow organizations to chat with one another and pass on ideas,” Robinson said. “I’m of the opinion that if we create a social-justice think tank—and there are people out in the community doing incredible things—potentially, we can come up with even more ideas to make a difference and have a bigger impact as a larger group.”