Amy Cohen is one of several professors who will be teaching a unique new interdisciplinary program at the Salmon Arm campus of Okanagan College, Resistance and Revolution, beginning in the fall. - Image credit: Photo contributed.

What’s worked, what hasn’t?

Unique new Okanagan College program examines resistance and revolution

From a citizen opting never to purchase a particular brand of product, to groups wielding arms against a dictator, resistance and revolution come in many forms.

The Salmon Arm campus of Okanagan College plans to offer a way to delve into these topics, a way that’s unique in B.C. and rare in Canada.

The college is offering a new program, Resistance and Revolution.

“The brand-new emphasis – offered through Okanagan College’s Associate of Arts Degree – exposes students to the variety of ways that people around the world have contested and continue to contest social, political, colonial and economic orders,” states the program outline. “This interdisciplinary program focuses not only on dramatic and large-scale social movements and revolution, but also on small-scale, grassroots efforts aimed at effecting change.”

Why Salmon Arm – not generally known as a hot spot for radical ideas?

Amy Cohen is a professor in the Department of Anthropology at the Salmon Arm and Vernon campuses. The program, she explains, has been in the works for about three years and is exclusive to the Salmon Arm campus. It came about for two reasons.

First, students were asking more questions and bringing concerns from the world.

“Concerns they were seeing, like injustices in their communities, in our country or globally, and wanting to know our perspective about what they could do.”

Secondly, Cohen says, several professors in Vernon and Salmon Arm noticed that they or their colleagues were doing research or were academically interested in similar themes, so were bringing them up in their regular courses.

While Cohen, for instance, has focused for more than 10 years on forms of resistance utilized by migrant farm workers in the U.S. and Canada, a sampling of what other professors have researched includes prisoner resistance and prison reform, indigenous resistance, and resistance in the arts.

Joan Ragsdale, the college’s regional dean for the Shuswap-Revelstoke region, remarks: “It is vital to understand what leads people to dramatic efforts to foment change, and to appreciate how the drive for social justice and empowerment is harnessed.”

The timing coincides with an Oxfam International report released in January that states eight individuals own the same wealth as half the world’s population.

“I think that questions about tolerance and equality are at the forefront of people’s minds because of global events over the last year, but maybe even the last five years as well,” said Cohen.

Timing aside, she adds “it’s always important to have conversations about what it means to have a society where everybody has equal rights and equal opportunities and discrimination doesn’t exist…”

The two-year course will begin in September 2017. Graduates will obtain an Associate of Arts degree, so can go on to complete a university Bachelor of Arts.

The first year will look at the history of resistance and revolution, with the second year measuring effectiveness. The last portion will include student-led, community-based projects overseen by professors.

In other courses Cohen has led, examples of projects have included developing emergency packages for homeless people, doing programming with transition houses, offering English lessons to new immigrants.

“It will depend what the passions and interests of students are,” Cohen says, adding the projects could be a boon to the community.

“We foresee there could be a lot of important partnerships between students, the college and community groups who are already engaging in advocacy work or are working to lessen inequality in our communities.”