Course Exam—HSRV/WGST 421

Advocacy from the Margins

HSRV 421/WGST 421 (Advocacy from the Margins) is a three-credit course that introduces students to the meaning, history, tools, group processes, and strategies associated with advocacy for women and other marginalized groups who face injustice around the world.  This course stresses the importance of advocacy group processes as well as advocacy strategies and tools.  It also encourages students to begin advocating with those who are on the margins and faced with injustice.

Students should note that this course has WGST 200 (Feminist Research and Women’s Lives) and WGST 266 (Thinking from Women’s Lives – An Introduction to Women’s Studies), or equivalents as its prerequisites.  Also, this course is a cross-listed course, meaning that it is listed under two different disciplines (HSRV 421/WGST 421).  It is not available for challenge credit.

Advocacy from the Margins is made up of four parts (Foundations of Feminist Advocacy, Advocacy Issues and Strategies, The Tools of Advocacy, and Looking Ahead), broken into twelve units with one assignment (three short essays) weighing fifteen percent, a second assignment (a critique of an advocacy strategy) weighing thirty percent, a third assignment (a plan for advocacy) worth thirty-five percent), and the fourth assignment (begin to advocate) weighing twenty percent.  There are no mid-term or final examinations for this course.  For students to receive credit for this course all four assignments must be completed and students must achieve a minimum grade of fifty percent or better on each assignment.

Dr. Alexa DeGagne has been working at Athabasca University since September 2015 as an Assistant Professor in Women’s and Gender Studies.  She has been the coordinator for HSRV 421/WGST 421 since 2015 and she tutored the course from 2015-2018.  Alongside these courses, she coordinates SOCI 345/WGST 345 (Women and Work in Canada), WGST 401 (Contemporary Feminist Theory), WGST 460 (Famous Feminists and Their Times: Global History of Feminism), and she tutors SOCI 345 (Women and Work in Canada).

She provides an introduction, stating, “Social justice drives my work as a teacher, researcher and community member.  I see the university as a public institution that should serve the community and foster social justice through the sharing of research and knowledge, and the empowerment of students.”

Dr. DeGagne continues, “Focus areas of research and teaching: LGBTQ social movements; queer theory; social movement theory; activism and political resistance; gender, sexuality and politics; equity and social justice; and police and criminalization.  I have published and forthcoming works on LGBTQ politics, specifically on same-sex marriage activism in California; the history of LGBTQ politics in Alberta; LGBTQ refugees in the Canadian refugee system; homonationalism and the Canadian criminal justice system; the uses of anger as a tool in LGBTQ activism; and the politics of police in LGBTQ communities.”

She concludes, “My political activism is based in my Edmonton queer community where I have worked with several social justice projects as a community organizer and agitator, public educator, columnist, and queer arts festival co-chair.  I am currently a producer and host of GayWire News Radio on CJSR 88.5FM.”

When asked to explain HSRV 421/WGST 421 to someone who has not yet taken it, she explains “WGST/HSRV 421 are exciting courses because students not only learn about the history of feminist and anti-oppression advocacy and activism in Canada but they also get the opportunity to participate in advocacy initiatives of their choice.  Students learn about important moments in feminist advocacy in Canada including the Abortion Caravan, anti-domestic violence advocacy, and Indigenous women’s rights advocacy.  Students are exposed to many examples of advocacy and tools for engaging in feminist and anti-oppression work.”

Dr. DeGagne provides some insight into the structure of the courses, explaining “The course is structured to respect and incorporate students’ experiences with marginalization and oppression, and their advocacy and activist work.  Course learning materials and assignments encourage students to pull from and share their insights, to trust their knowledge, and to challenge commonly held assumptions and the status quo.  For WGST/HSRV 421, students are asked to initiate and participate in an advocacy action relating to an issue for which they are passionate.  The course’s first two assignments focus on the history of feminist advocacy in Canada, and help students build a ‘tool kit’ of their own advocacy tools and strategies.  The course’s remaining two assignments encourage students to engage in their own advocacy initiative.  In the third assignment, students plan their advocacy initiative and in the fourth assignment, they engage in the advocacy.  Students have held political rallies, organized art exhibits, petitioned politicians, and held teach-ins, each of which has amplified the voices of marginalized members of their communities.”

As for what type of work ethic students will have to have to be successful in this course, Dr. DeGagne believes that it is similar to other courses offered at Athabasca University, explaining “As with most Athabasca University courses, there is a certain amount of self-motivation that is needed.  This course offers many opportunities to check-in and discuss the course materials and assignments with the tutor.  Students succeed when they discuss their advocacy initiatives with their tutors, who help them develop an advocacy plan and project that is manageable, exciting and impactful.”

She provides some advice for students who are currently enrolled or who are thinking of enrolling into the course, stating “It may seem intimidating to engage in an advocacy initiative but it will not take any more time or effort than a traditional research paper, and students who have taken the course often state that they really enjoyed and learned from the experience of doing a hands-on project.”

Dr. DeGagne would recommend this course to “anyone that is passionate about an issue that is affecting marginalized people in their communities.  From homelessness to transgender rights to sex education, students have been able to take a deep dive into an issue that is important to them.”

She concludes with describing what she believes students will take away from these courses, stating “Whether students have been working on an advocacy issue for years or are interested in engaging in advocacy for the first time, I hope that most students leave the course feeling emboldened to get involved in new advocacy projects in their communities.  I am continually humbled and motivated by students’ commitment to advocating for issues that are important to them.  This is a fantastic course to teach!”

Whether HSRV 421/WGST 421 are degree or program requirements of yours, these courses will have you learning about strategies associated with advocacy for women and other marginalized groups who globally face injustice!