Camosun College’s Interdisciplinary Day of Learning Addresses Overdose Crisis

At Camosun’s recent Interdisciplinary Day of Learning (IDOL), nearly 170 attendees were asked if they or their family or friends had been affected by drugs and the overdose crisis.

“Nearly everyone in the room put up their hand,” says Lori Zehr, Camosun’s Associate Dean of Health and Human Services. “And the moderator also asked if personal stories help them understand these complex issues better, and again the response was overwhelming.”

The 2019 event was held on Sunday, March 3 in the Gibson Auditorium at Camosun’s Lansdowne campus. It was the third iteration of an annual learning symposium which brings together students from diverse disciplines to discuss topical social issues. “The idea with the interdisciplinary approach is that students gain an understanding of other disciplines’ perspectives around a complex topic,” says Zehr. “That includes respect for different roles and perspectives, collaborative leadership, team functioning, communication and conflict resolution. We bring students together with plenaries and small group work to discuss the complexities of the topic from different disciplines that utilizes best practices and theory right through to solving or action.”

Events in the previous two years focussed on homelessness and reconciliation, representing pressing issues that resonate with the broader community. Storytelling is a key component, and panellists at this year’s event described their personal experiences with substance abuse, the severity of the public health crisis and the importance of personal stories in fostering understanding and empathy. “Two individuals on our panel were former users or addicts and they told their stories of how they landed where they were and what their personal journeys were,” says Zehr. “We also had a paramedic and residence support worker speak about their lived experiences with intervention and treatment, all of which were very sensitive and impactful stories.”

This approach helps make the topic real and relatable, and encourages collaborative, holistic thinking. “The storytelling aspect is very rewarding and nuanced,” says Zehr. “It opens up a richer conversation than would have happened with just the lens of a single discipline or theoretical understanding.”
Themes that emerged from the symposium include the need for systems thinking around limited and disconnected resources. “It’s not only the lack of resources to address the overdose crisis, but it’s also a lot of issues around stigma and the fact that resources are not connected,” says Zehr. “I would say that all of our panellists spoke about their desire to move beyond a ‘band aid’ approach and towards the kind of thinking and action that is more integrated, and focussed on addressing root causes and patient-centered recovery.”

As Camosun’s new Alex & Jo Campbell Centre for Health and Wellness nears completion at Interurban campus, Zehr anticipates that it will have a huge impact in the region and hopes that it will further deepen Camosun’s interdisciplinary and applied learning work. “We’re focussed on delivering the kind of applied, experiential learning that connects students with their heart as well as their mind,” says Zehr. “I think that applied learning does allow students to take the learning from a theoretical approach and actually practice it before they have to go into the workplace, and so it readies them.”

The new building integrates purpose-built labs and collaboration spaces and for the very first time will house the majority of Camosun’s health and human services programs in one central location. “The nice thing is that everybody will be under the same roof and students from different disciplines will not only pass each other in the hallways, but actively work with each other as peers, and likely again out in the workforce as future colleagues,” says Zehr. “We also anticipate being able to host more and larger versions of these interdisciplinary learning forums like the overdose crisis symposium in the new space.”

Reflecting on the impact of the past three annual symposiums, Zehr is pleased that lessons learned continue to come up in conversations. “People talk about the interdisciplinary days for months afterwards because they set the stage for collaborative action,” says Zehr. “It’s a lot of extra work for students and faculty who volunteer their time, and I want to thank the organizers, all of whom understand that the benefits continue to grow and will eventually lead to the ideas and actions that create lasting, concrete change.”

Original article from Camosun College