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2020 Arctic Task Force on Sea Ice and … on Zoom

March 31, 2020

Group photo of Arctic Right to Sea Ice Task Force 2020
Jackson School international studies majors and their faculty instructors for Task Force 2020: Arctic Right to Sea Ice

By Nadine Fabbi, Managing Director, Canadian Studies Center, and Michelle Koutnik, Research Associate Professor and glaciologist, Earth and Space Sciences, University of Washington

This year’s Arctic Task Force was on sea ice and international policy, where undergraduate students, graduate student assistants and instructors collectively considered this global issue. The class worked together closely as a team, and also traveled abroad to Canada as part of this learning, but by the end we were all on our own at home connecting using Zoom. COVID-19 has changed our world in many unexpectedly hard ways, but in relation to our class going remote there were also some unexpectedly inspiring outcomes.

The Task Force is the capstone course for International Studies majors. It trains students to translate traditional scholarly research into policy relevant work to address current global issues. This year’s Arctic Task Force focused on ‘Sea Ice and International Policy’.

We encouraged the students to think creatively about ice – to think about ice as alive, as having memory, as constituting territory, and as a human right – and to explore ice through science, culture, history, law, and art. Importantly, the students were encouraged to incorporate the science of ice into policy reports dealing with issues in the social sciences.

We were extremely proud of how the students identified issues they felt were critical to human rights and/or to environmental justice, and how each student addressed a problem from his or her own viewpoint and way of knowing. We also asked the students to consider how we might think about policy differently – in particular how we might think about policy from an Inuit perspective and as a tool for activism.  They looked at how ice changes affect Arctic life – in particular shipping, mining, and waste – and also Arctic wildlife, they explored the relationship between permafrost and building infrastructure, Inuit legal thinking and Western law, Inuit rights and the environment, self governance and environmental change, and how art influences policy. Perhaps most innovative was that the students explored the use of art in policy in an effort to have their report reach deeper to a broader audience.

In the words of one student, “Before this experience, I felt overwhelmed about writing policy. However, I now feel like I have a grasp on how to complete this assignment but also to consider a possible career in policy after graduation.”

The highlight of the Arctic Task Force was the one-week research trip to Ottawa, Canada. There the UW students were able to meet one-on-one with Inuit colleagues studying at

Task Force 2020 Ottawa group

Task Force on Arctic Sea Ice and International Policy pose with the dancing bear sculpture in the Byward Market, Ottawa, Canada, January 2020

Nunavut Sivuniksavut, the Inuit post-secondary school in Ottawa. They were able to meet with scientists at Canadian Ice Services and senior policy analysts at Crown Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs. They visited four Embassies and attended a symposium on sea ice change at the University of Ottawa.

“The 2020 Arctic Task Force trip to Ottawa has been one of the most memorable experiences of my undergraduate career,” said one student, and that “I have always had a strong interest in being involved with matters that affect Canada, the United States, and the Canada-U.S. relationship. Being able to visit Ottawa has been an incredibly rewarding experience and one that has greatly contributed to my academic and professional ambitions.”

The trip to Ottawa also helped the students to understand how the Government of Canada effectively co-developed its most recent Arctic framework with the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and what this means to the effectiveness and success of collaborative and inclusive policy development.

Under normal circumstances the students would present their findings to an expert evaluator here at the UW. But this year was different. Due to early concerns about the spread of the Coronavirus, the UW closed down in-class meetings and the expert evaluators were asked to conduct evaluations via Zoom. Of course, we were initially disappointed. Nevertheless, we had the students conduct two practice sessions by Zoom so that by the time we got to the expert evaluation they were comfortable with both their own presentations and the new format.

Nadine Fabbi on Zoom for Arctic Task Force Day 2020

Nadine Fabbi, Managing Director of the Canadian Studies Center and Co-Instructor, Task Force 2020 on The Right of Sea Ice, joins her students on Zoom for Task Force Evaluation Day, March 13, 2020. Photo credit: Elizabeth WessellsElizabeth Wessells

When we realized we had to conduct the evaluation by Zoom we extended invitations widely and a number of colleagues joined in – the director of Arctic in Context joined us from New York, a former Canadian Consul General from our Seattle Consulate joined us from Ottawa, an artist joined in also from Ottawa, and former Arctic and FLAS Fellows were on-line. Our evaluator, Whit Fraser, author of True North Rising and former CBC reporter in northern Canada, zoomed in from Ottawa, Canada.

Each of the nine students provided a short presentation using slides and art images. Following each presentation, Whit provided a few challenging questions and encouragement, as did Professor Josh Reid with the UW Department of History. With the addition of outside guests, we felt that the evaluation had more visibility and impact than under usual circumstances – in fact, it became a wonderful community – building experience around the students’ work.

Our former Consul General in Seattle, Jeff Parker, who joined us on-line from Ottawa had this to say about the on-line process, “In the midst of the lock down and shut down of so much in Washington state including the closure of UW, this was a good example of the use of technology to facilitate communication and interaction to overcome these barriers. So, whoever made this possible – bravo!”

Nadine Fabbi is Managing Director of the Canadian Studies Center in the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies. Since 2009 she has organized and instructed five Task Force courses and Ottawa research trips on the Arctic. Michelle Koutnik is a Research Associate Professor and glaciologist with UW’s Earth and Space Sciences. They are also co-leads on the Arctic initiative with the International Policy Institute in the Jackson School.

Funding for this course and research trip to Ottawa was made possible by the International Policy Institute at the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies, University of Washington with support in part by Carnegie Corporation of New York; and by the Canadian Studies Center and Center for Global Studies at the UW Jackson School, with Title VI grant funding administered by the International and Foreign Language Education office in the Office of Postsecondary Education, U.S. Department of Education.