A different kind of teacher for a day

It’s not every day that university students get to learn about poverty, inequality, and the role technology can play in society from a homeless man.

But Danse Crowkiller, who has lived over half of his days and nights homeless, seemed like a perfect guest speaker to Catherine Douglas, who teaches an economics class on poverty and inequality.

“I found him very insightful,” said one of Douglas’ economics students, Catherine Aragon, after listening to Crowkiller describe why he chose to reject government financial assistance.

After months of being coaxed into applying for social assistance, Danse finally agreed to try it out only to be put in an $850 apartment infested with bedbugs. The pressure to depend on a system some First Nations people view as an extension of colonialism is a theme that comes up in the final version of Danse’s documentary, The Purpose of Life is Rice … Wink.

Danse Crowkiller on his usual spot on Commercial Drive. Photo by Laura Bucci Handmade

Douglas wanted to offer Crowkiller, a Native carver, financial support in return for visiting her class. UBC Mix, which financially and logistically facilitates interdisciplinary mixing, stepped up to help her accomplish this and also encouraged the opportunity for Crowkiller’s words and insights to impact a wider audience.

Douglas opened up her class to students from applied science, partnering with Carla Paterson’s course on technology and development. The pair are already brainstorming ways they can mix their classes together in the future with the help of UBC Mix.

The audience, made up of students from different academic disciplines, spent most of the hour asking Crowkiller questions.

“What do you want to change the most in your life?” one student asked.

“I never said I did,” Crowkiller replied without a pause.

“You’re happy?” the student responded.

“I am happy. I like carving,” said Crowkiller who earns most of his money through wood carving, “but an apartment would be nice.”

Douglas’ economic class was developed with a Community Service Learning component, which integrates classroom theory with hands on action within a community. Students are partnered up with community organizations and learn about societal problems and solutions from people experiencing these issues firsthand. Community Service Learning initiatives, where students are engaged in community action, hold a wealth of potential for future UBC mix partnerships.

Exploring new classroom experiences, such as having Crowkiller speak from personal experience about poverty – an issue that some students only learn about through statistics – is important for giving students a personal connection to what they are learning about and how they want to affect the world.