P.O.W.E.R. – A Reflective Framework for Students-as-Partners Practices and Processes

The students-as-partners literature inspires us to work authentically with students in post-secondary practices ranging from research to programming design to curriculum design as partners rather than subjects or token representatives on a committee. However, to engage in students-as-partners practices we must be ever mindful of power, because too often, sites and practices of power are underestimated or completely overlooked. With this in mind, our team asked: how do we adopt the students-as-partners concept in a way that is sensitive to embedded power hierarchies?

Post by Heather Smith (UNBC), Roselynn Verwoord (UBC), Yahlnaaw (UNBC), and Conan Veitch (UNBC)

The literature on students-as-partners acknowledges the role of power, but acknowledging power in our processes is only the first step. We need to begin to unpack it. To unpack power, we created and applied the P.O.W.E.R. framework. This reflective framework provides prompts for students-as-partners teams to identify the sites and sources of power in their own contexts. Each letter of the word P.O.W.E.R. comes with a set of reflective prompts.

P – Positionality – Involves individuals taking up a position within a context (i.e. the partnership) and constructing meaning from this position (Alcoff, 1988). The reflective questions related to positionality include: What subject position am I taking up? How much power do I have in this partnership, based on the position and social location that I occupy? How much power do others have in this partnership, based on their positions and social locations?

O – Openness – Involves asking questions about the purpose, goals, vision, and desires that partners have for the partnership and embracing the process of partnership in its myriad forms: messy, challenging, and exhilarating, yet also ripe with possibilities for individual and collective growth. Reflective questions related to openness include: What are my goals and intentions for participating in this partnership? What are my partners’ goals and intentions? To what extent am I open to the process of partnership? To what extent are my partners open to the process of partnership? How will I know if I and others are being open throughout the partnership?

W – Willingness – Relates to the willingness to invest time in the process and involves the concept of temporality, which can be understood as past, present, and future, as well as space, place, and one’s being. Willingness also involves individuals determining how much time they have to participate in the partnership and relationship building, and to what extent participating is a priority. Reflective questions related to willingness include: Am I/will I be an important stakeholder in this partnership? Does the partnership process/proposed partnership process attend to aspects that are important to me? Am I/will I make the time to build the relationships so essential to this process?

E – Ethnocentrism – Involves challenging the attitude that one’s own group is superior, which can take the form of partners making assumptions about each other based on labels such as faculty member, student, staff member, etc. Whether intentional or not, making assumptions about various groups (faculty, student, staff) can limit what is possible in partnerships. Reflective questions related to ethnocentrism include: Does this partnership imply that anyone who disagrees with what is proposed is wrong? Does the partnership acknowledge that there are other logical ways of looking at the same issue? Am I making assumptions about certain groups of people, based on a homogenized label such as faculty, student, or staff member?

R – Reflexivity – Involves the ability to recognize how individuals are shaped by and can shape their environment and how the self and other exist in relationships. Reflective questions related to reflexivity include: How are my interests and actions being shaped, supported, or limited by the interests and actions of others? How are my actions or inactions shaping the experience of others in the partnership?

Through our own processes of working with the framework, a multitude of insights arose. We were reminded how essential acknowledgement of our own and other’s positionality is to partnership. Openness is central to partnership, because how can you partner if you’re not open? Willingness to invest time will be fluid over the duration of a partnership for a variety of reasons, and if the partnership is to be sustainable we need to be attentive to willingness on all our parts. Reflection on ethnocentrism is particularly important in a post-secondary system that privileges western knowledges and western ways of knowing. Reflexivity is an ongoing process and one that requires feedback and action.

In conclusion, we want to note that the P.O.W.E.R. framework, created by Roselynn Verwoord and Heather Smith and applied in this case with the support of BCcampus, is now part of a book chapter under review for publication! We appreciate all the support and value the opportunity for shared learning.