Reflections on the DISCs Project


DUBLIN CITY UNIVERSITY | 14 September 2020

In responding to this prompt of my experience of the DISCS project, the first image that came to mind was of a mountain top. In the Christian Bible, the gospels tell of a moment known as the transfiguration, where apostles of Jesus have an experience of the divine – Jesus united with Moses and Elijah as divinely blessed. They soon want to consolidate this experience, with Peter asking to make tents (temples) for Jesus, Moses and Elijah, but are denied this possibility and soon have to return down the mountain. The DISCS project has been full of mountain top experiences, but also of journeys back down the mountain, to embrace the challenges of applying experiences and learning regarding the role of social justice in higher education.

The DISCS project has been a tremendous, empowering and affirming experience for me as an academic interested and committed to social justice as an academic area of research, as a form of teaching and as a commitment in my life. It has offered an affirmation of the reasons why I teach research and believe in the value of higher education. It was a fantastic experience to listen and learn and dialogue with colleagues from different disciplines and universities regarding their experiences, frustrations and opportunities in applying questions of social justice to higher education. It offered the means to enter into a conversation that takes seriously the concerns of literature such as Freire and hooks, but applies them to the challenges of the Irish university context. The project was a series of encounters that affirmed the goodness breadth and diversity of those who are committed to higher education as a key pillar of social justice.

The project offered the means to reclaim permission through academic freedom to see our jobs and profession as sites of intense political contestation and opportunity to embody and model social justice values throughout each element of our engagement with the university as an institution, culture and community.

The project had significant transformative potential in revealing knowledge and experience to me that was already present among other project advocates, among the project team and among the literature and discussions which all introduced to me.

Workshop experiences with the DISCs team were invaluable. The challenge came in implementing well intentioned values of social justice to the class room and disrupted my own self-imposed status quo. Making explicit commitments to students regarding the curriculum’s diversity, regarding how we would navigate challenging topics in the classroom, and in assessment, all stretched me beyond my comfort zone and offered valuable learning and lessons learned that will continue to be adapted iteratively as part of revisiting each course annually.

Naturally, as for all of us, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic was hugely disruptive to this mid-semester. The shift to online and both synchronous and asynchronous teaching limited the opportunities to model social justice principles beyond course content and assessment. The shift to online teaching re-emphasised sites of inequality and discrimination across the world and country, whether the renewed emphasis of the Black Lives Matter movement or the hardships of direct provision in a national context. The ongoing impact of the pandemic on academic life and its potential lasting disruption of “normal” is something that continues to warrant reflection and consideration of what is ours to do as social justice actors. The DISCS project affirmed the potential of so many future relationships between justice and higher education and our shared responsibility to learn from one another, reflect on our roles and responsibilities, and to take concrete and humble steps towards sharing this journey more fully, equitably and vulnerably with students, colleagues and the wider university and social communities. It has been a great experience and challenge to take those moments of mountain top clarity down to the every day.