The Oxford Dictionary defines the term “belonging” as “the feeling of being comfortable and happy in a particular situation or with a particular group of people.” Lately, I have been thinking a lot about this concept and how it relates to the School of Continuing Studies (SCS). Many typically think of continuing education and life-long learning as a means to an end; you learn in order to upskill, reskill, get a new job, earn a promotion or pursue a personal passion and interest. But we also learn to create for ourselves and others a place in this world, a sense of belonging through community building. It is for this reason that I am personally excited for the new academic year to start.
Whether you are a newcomer to Canada, a career shifter switching from one professional path to another, a career advancer moving on to a new rung on the career ladder, or you are transitioning to a new chapter in your personal life, you come to SCS as a learner to expand your horizons. Becoming more comfortable with new knowledge, ideas, skills and people contributes to a greater sense of belonging. For those of us who teach and work here, we too seek to feel comfortable, to grow, and to belong. We come together around a common mission: to advance and mobilize our combined knowledge and curiosity not only for our own growth, but for the betterment of society at large.
For example, the School has partnered with the Quebec government to make our Certificate in Computers and Information Technology and Certificate in Applied Cybersecurity – a brand new online program – available for full-time study and thus eligible for scholarship funding under the auspices of the Formation PRATIC program. This will help individuals who are unemployed return to the workforce – another form of belonging. We also continue to offer courses and programs designed to address the critical needs of our community and to ensure that no one is left behind – for example through data science and machine learning, legal translation, or through language acquisition in French or English.
I am also excited to launch our Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) working group this fall. This group will be working through sub-committees and volunteers to foster a stronger culture of belonging for all. The focus of our EDI initiative is not only to attract individuals from the full spectrum of diverse identities and beliefs, but also to ensure that everyone is able to actively contribute, to be valued, and to thrive within our community. Our Indigenous Relations Initiative, empowered by a new strategic plan, continues to work with partners from many different communities, including Inuit, Cree, Mohawk, and Métis, to ensure progress on the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action, as well as access to the full range of socio-economic opportunities. These efforts address core aspects of belonging to a community and to society.
We also have been working hard to make sure that everyone feels physically comfortable. We have updated and renovated some classrooms and office spaces. Protective measures are in place all throughout our building and campus – from hand sanitizers to masks and plexiglass where appropriate.
Each and every one of you has worked hard to maintain a life, personally and professionally, and to support your families, friends, neighbours, and employers during these long months of separation, isolation, fear, sickness, and loss. We still wake up every day to the challenges of COVID-19 and must adjust to a “new normal.” But I hope that you will also take a moment to acknowledge your successes and how far you have come. Thanks to all your collective efforts, we are a stronger community now. I cannot tell you how much I appreciate that thought alone and how much I look forward to seeing many of you in person again. It is a great feeling to belong somewhere, and I hope that you will find SCS and McGill that place for you as we start a new academic year together.