A place where everyone can flourish

One of the things I love most about being the President of Sheridan is the opportunity I’m afforded to celebrate our learning community locally, nationally and internationally.  My role as ‘cheerleader’ had me in Los Angeles twice last month: first to watch our amazing students win an Annie Award for their short film, The Fox & the Pigeon; and, the second to celebrate Sheridan alumni and Academy Award nominee, Dean DeBlois.  In both instances, I had the chance to mix and mingle with warm, generous and highly successful people … often in very fancy places. 

In between events (and to fuel myself with Vitamin D), I spent time walking around the city.  Recognizing the toll that travelling was having on my physical and mental health, I also tacked on a vacation day to do a longer urban hike up to the Griffith Observatory and around Santa Monica.  The weather was beautiful and it was lovely to be outside without the clothing and footwear necessities of winter.  

It was, however, impossible to traverse the Greater Los Angeles area without being shocked and saddened by the evidence of excessive income disparity.  Simply: the evidence of extreme poverty, housing and food insecurity, mental illness and addictions was overwhelming.  And all too often, it was immediately proximate to the trappings of wealth and power.  

One afternoon, for example, I left my hotel with the intention of walking 20 minutes east and back.  After ten minutes on a street flanked by swanky hotels and high-end stores, however, I was suddenly surrounded by vacant lots, burned out buildings, and large groups of people who were obviously struggling.  Similarly, on route to the Observatory, I passed massive houses being tended to by gardeners before navigating an underpass that was home to a large tent city.  It was shocking and left me both sad and angry. 

In 2018, the Public Policy Institute of California reported that 24% of people in Los Angeles live in poverty.   At the other end of the spectrum, California is home to more billionaires than any other state in the US; according to Forbes Magazine, L.A. was home to 27 in 2018, who – together – have a combined net worth of $123B. 

This is not a phenomenon unique to Los Angeles, California, or the United States.  Organizations like the United Way, the Broadbent Institute and the University of Toronto have all reported on income inequality in the City of Toronto.  Similar research focused on Brampton and Mississauga affirms that the gap between the rich and poor is growing, particularly and most grievously for racialized and Indigenous people.

There are many antidotes to this including progressive social policy, raising the minimum wage, and an overhauled approach to housing.  Equally important, however, is an investment in post-secondary education to boost employability and increase personal earning power.   The keys to making this work, of course, are unfettered access and programming purposefully designed to foster success for all learners. 

Investing in academic institutions like Sheridan drives other social benefits too.  Consider the impact, for example, of the select research projects below on the communities we serve: 

  • “The Community Ideas Factory” was funded by SSHRC and led by Profs. Michael McNamara (Creativity) and Sara Cumming (Sociology) from the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences.  In partnership with the Oakville Community Foundation, the project – which is now completed — leveraged “Sheridan’s research and creativity expertise, its creative spaces, and its creativity resources in supporting the Foundation’s efforts to implement a participatory decision-making approach with a view towards the creation of new, fundable projects that align with and advance work on key Vital Signs issues”.  Housing affordability and food security were two specific areas of focus.  For more information, see:  http://alchemy.sheridancollege.ca/2018/04/26/fhass-and-the-community-ideas-factory/
  • Redesigning Lives: How Space Impacts Residents in Affordable Housing Initiatives” is an ongoing project funded by a SSHRC Explore Grant and led by Shannon Pirie (Faculty of Applied Science & Technology) and Bethany Osborne (Faculty of Applied Health & Community Studies).  The project employs an interdisciplinary approach to examine physical design and how it intersects with the social determinants of health.
  • The Faculty of Animation, Arts and Design is involved in an ongoing, curriculum-based program wherein students participate in a design and manufacturing project for shelters. Led by Profs. Peter Fleming and Laura Kukkee, students in the Furniture and Ceramics programs collaborated with staff and prior residents of the North York Women’s Shelter and LGA Architectural Partners in 2019 to help create a built environment that conveys respect and dignity.
  • Through EDGE, Sheridan is part of the Brant/Halton/Peel Regional Partnership. This consortium of six Community Foundations and Sheridan will allocate funding from the federal Investment Readiness Program to charities, non-profits, co-operatives, hybrid social enterprises, and mission-focused for-profits to help catalyze community-led solutions to persistent social and environmental challenges and to connect social and cultural change to economic development. For more information about this project, please see:  https://www.sheridancollege.ca/news-and-events/news/federal-investment-readiness-program

There is equally compelling work being done at one of our partner institutions, Ryerson University, through its City Building Institute;  I was particularly impressed by their work on affordable housing and climate.  You can also check out The City Institute at York University, or the School of Cities at the University of Toronto. 

There’s an old quote I often cite that describes the purpose of a university as, “the cultivation and care of the community’s highest aspirations and ideals” (Veblen, 1918).  To me, this underscores the value and importance of our work as educators and leaders in the post-secondary system.  It’s also consistent with the tenets of our Sheridan 2024 strategic plan, which re-commits us to be radically engaged with the people and communities we serve.  My experience in Los Angeles compelled me to reflect on my personal and professional obligations as an educator, advocate, and change agent.  I hope you’ll join me in doing more to ensure society is a place where everyone can flourish.