Meet KPU: Janice Morris

Morris shares her gratitude to KPU and her future plans with KDocsFF

Janice Morris, Festival Director of KDocsFF, Advisory Board Member of Mise-en-Scene, and Instructor at KPU. (Submitted)

Janice Morris has been teaching at KPU since 2006. She is the Founder and Festival Director of KDocsFF, Kwantlen’s Documentary Film Festival. She also sits on the editorial board of Mise-en-scene: The Journal of Film and Visual Narration. She is from Vancouver, and has a passion for travel, film, and dogs. She tries as much as possible to incorporate those passions into her teaching.

Why did you join the KPU community?

I always wanted to teach, that’s all I ever wanted to do. KPU grew out of historically what was a community college model, which meant community-based colleges that were smaller, with smaller classes. Because of that, I get more interaction with students, which I wouldn’t have if I were teaching at a research institution.

I just wouldn’t have that opportunity because I would have fewer students, fewer classes, and the mandated research will take up so much of my time. Teaching becomes secondary in a research institution. The cynical view is that you teach basically to earn your salary but all they really care about is your research, whereas at a teaching university it is often the opposite. I also have the benefit to pursue my own research, but without the pressure I’d have at a research institution.

So, something like KDocs which is a scholarly pursuit, I don’t think would have ever happened at a research institution. The freedom to be teaching at a university like Kwantlen is a blessing. I was just lucky I started working there and then I became a regular employee in 2009, which was like the happiest day of my life because it is an incredibly tight job market, and there are many people with better credentials and qualifications than I have who never even got an interview.

What is your favorite story of your time at KPU?

Back in 2013, KDocs hosted Margaret Atwood on campus. We showed a film that was based on a book she had written, and she was our special guest. It took a lot of planning to get her here. Before the event started, like an hour before, it was just me and her sitting in a backroom across from the conference centre. We just sat there for an hour just talking, and she was giving me advice on how to pack a suitcase because she travels so much. It always stood out in my mind. It is kind of funny, you know, being in the room with arguably Canada’s most famous author and having her give me packing advice.

In terms of something to do with students, I had a student come back to visit me after five years. He had been a student of mine, and he was relatively new to Canada, relatively new to learning English. He was very talkative in class. He was interested in politics and global issues. He had won a major award at Harvard University, where he had been participating as a student at a Model United Nations.

KPU used to have a Model United Nation on campus that he started while he was a student here. Every year they had a huge gathering of all the Model UNs somewhere in the world. So they had one at Harvard, and he came back and had won the prestigious award of being like the top participant. He came to my classroom to thank me because he felt that was where his interest in politics and international relations started. He felt my class contributed to his entire time at university, and what he ended up pursuing and what his life has become now. That was very special to me because he was such a special guy, he really struggled to learn English and even just to come to Canada from the Middle East.

What is something you’d like to say to people new to the community?

It is great to be very focused on your studies, that is admirable. However, find some way to get involved outside of class. Find some way to meet other people, you don’t necessarily have to get involved in something that is almost like another job.

Join a club, get to know other people especially when you are going to a school like Kwantlen where a lot of people walk in the front door, they go to class and walk out the door. Find some extracurricular opportunity, or even a fun activity, a club. It doesn’t have to have any pressure or deadlines attached to it. Find a way to get involved, it really makes your university experience so much more richer.

What are you working on right now?

Right now, my major focus is the 2021 film festival for KDocs in March. In many ways KDocs is a bigger job than my real job, but it’s incredibly rewarding. One exciting thing that is on the horizon is with a colleague of mine, Greg Chan — who is a director in KDocs and runs our community outreach program — is creating an institute for documentary activism in KDocs. We hope to have this established within the university for documentary activism, which would include not only film festivals and community outreach, but also research and scholarship in the area of documentary activism, which is a fairly new area of scholarship. As far as we know there is no institute like that in the world, and we hope to be one of the first.

In addition to that, I am working on a lot of professional development, working around online learning and teaching, and working at becoming much more proficient at creating online learning experiences for my students. So I’ve been investigating new platforms, new software, learning some new tools, and learning how to maximize all of that so I can create a proper online learning experience for my students.

What is something you would want people to know about you?

When I was a little girl, and people asked me “what do you want to be when you grow up?” I always used to say that I would like to be like Barbara Walters. She was a famous reporter and journalist, and was very well known for her interviews with world leaders and celebrities.

So when I was a kid, I used to watch her and say that is who I want to be. I did not realise how hard it would be to become a journalist and a reporter. How she had decades of experience, and had worked her way up at a time when there weren’t women in her field, and how she was sabotaged for most of her career by men. She was a trailblazer.

Now I realise what I really wanted to do was to talk to people. For me teaching is the opposite, it is about listening. The longer I teach the more I realise it is about talking less and listening more. I really believe it is the foundation of everything, and if there is any positive change that has come through our world, it comes through education.