Guiding Circles training brings Aboriginal perspective to York staff

The challenges Aboriginal students face in their educational and career pursuits was the subject of a recent workshop offered at York University by the Aboriginal Human Resource Council.

Representatives from York’s Career Centre, Osgoode Hall Law School Career Services, Schulich School of Business Career Development Centre, Counselling & Disabilities Services, Student Community & Leadership Development and the Office of Student Conflict Resolution participated in the workshop titled, “Guiding Circles: an Aboriginal guide to finding career paths”.

The workshop was held March 30 and 31 at York’s Keele campus. “With student development training such as Guiding Circles, we are creating important connections between colleagues that transcend departments and Faculties not just in terms of support for Aboriginal students, but in fostering a broader student-focused environment and culture of collaboration,” said Jennifer Bramer, director of the Career Centre.

 York's new Centre for Aboriginal Student Services
 Above: York’s new Centre for Aboriginal Student Services

The Guiding Circles workshop is one of several initiatives aimed at providing members of the York community with resources to better support Aboriginal students, such as the new Centre for Aboriginal Student Services and the Career Centre’s resource page for Aboriginal students.

“It’s great that York recognizes the importance for non-Aboriginals to get educated and trained about the issues that face Aboriginal learners. It’s not enough to have a couple of counsellors, a few knowledgeable professors or a resource room,” said Marty Williams, senior policy analyst in the Office of the Vice-President Students.

“These students need allies all across the campus, in student services of all kinds and in faculty offices of all kinds. To be effective, you have to know the particular challenges these students are dealing with,” said Williams. “You have to take the time and educate yourself.  We’ve come a long way in the last few years, but we have a much longer way to go.”

The workshop offered tremendous value to those who attended said Susan Pogue, a career counsellor in York’s Career Centre. “The Guiding Circles training provided key insights to assist with enhancing career counselling services. It presented a holistic approach to support Aboriginal students in exploring and discovering meaningful careers,” said Pogue.

“In particular, the ‘My Career Circle’ exercise addressed the importance of considering family and community as potential career influences,” she said. “This approach aligns well with the Career Centre’s Making Career Decisions Model, which explores students’ self-identified desires, abilities, temperament and assets as it relates to their career exploration.”

While the intent of the workshop was to bring together representatives from units across campus to explore ways in which to increase support for Aboriginal students, those who attended said that many of the concepts could be applied to their work with all York students.

Ross McMillan, assistant director of Student Community in the Centre for Student Community & Leadership Development (SCLD), appreciated the insights offered by the workshop. “The Circle processes and exercises are directly applicable to many of the sessions we have for student leaders on campus, including the numerous peer programs that SCLD coordinates,” he said.

His sentiments were echoed by Jeanne Rector, a job search adviser working in the Career Centre. “I was excited to see how well the Guiding Circles concepts can be applied to all students,” said Rector. “Traditional Aboriginal ideas such as the medicine wheel reminded us of the importance of living a life where minds, bodies, emotions and spirit are in balance. The emphasis on really listening to a student’s story and the idea of engaging students where they are engaged in life were wonderful refreshers on the importance of being student-centred in our work.”

The Career Centre worked closely with the Office of the Vice-President Students, the Centre for Aboriginal Student Services and the Aboriginal Human Resource Council to make this training possible.