Meet KPU: Michael Ma

Ma is an activist scholar in the areas of social justice, ethno-racial politics, community activism, and immigrant resettlement

Michael Ma, criminology instructor at KPU and social justice activist. (Submitted)

Michael Ma, criminology instructor at KPU and social justice activist. (Submitted)

Michael C.K. Ma is a faculty member in the department of criminology at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. His work comprises areas of social justice, community advocacy, anti-racism, and harm reduction, and his most current research is in the area of drug use. 

He is a founding member of The Social Justice Centre, and a current member of the Vancouver District Labour Council. In the past, he was involved with the Toronto Chapter of the Chinese Canadian National Council and the Metro Network for Social Justice. 

His academic training is in sculpture, art history, and social and political thought, and he has masters degrees from Western Ontario and Bing University, and a PhD from York University.


When did you join the KPU community, and why?

I joined Kwantlen Polytechnic University in 2010, almost exactly 12 years ago now, and I was living in Ontario at the time. 

I was quite involved with social justice activity organizing. I was the anti-racism coordinator for a city just outside of Toronto called Peterborough, but my training was in the academy, and I’ve always wanted an academic or scholarly job.

The opportunity presented itself when there was a job search for someone exactly like me for the department of criminology, someone who had a social justice background. I applied and was hired, and that’s why I came to Vancouver. 


What is your favourite story of your time at KPU?

Ten years ago, I was teaching a course on human rights, and Emery, one of my students, was interested in social justice. He distributed pamphlets encouraging the removal of our previous food provider Sodexo because they also provide food to prisons and other institutions, like universities. As a multinational corporation, they were also known for not treating their employees the best or providing the most nutritious food. 

Emery was handing out leaflets during class time, but he’s not in the class, which was odd because he was always in class. Then another student pointed out the window and said, “Look, Emery’s on the sidewalk, and he’s being chased by campus security!”

He’s being chased by campus security because he’s handing out flyers that said, “Hey Sodexo, get out of our campus because we don’t want your ‘bad food’ and your ‘bad politics’” flyers. Then Emery ran by the classroom and said, “Listen, I can’t stay for the class because I’m being chased by campus security so I’m sorry for my absence today. I’ll see you next week,” and he ran off.

Campus security came in asking, “Did you see where this guy went?” I said, “First of all, I’m an instructor here and he is one of my students, why are you chasing him?” Apparently they had a policy that he wasn’t allowed to distribute these political pamphlets on campus, but he was arguing that he was distributing them on the sidewalk. 

The campus security started to question what I was doing, asking why Emery was in my class. I told them I taught human rights and social justice, and security seemed suspicious and interested in that. I thought this was somewhat inappropriate, because not only were they chasing my student, but they seemed to be investigating what I was doing. 

Students and young people should be involved in politics, in the public good, in social justice issues because if you’re not involved in these things as a young person you certainly won’t be when you’re older. 

That experience of surveillance and monitoring of this institution pushing back was revealed in that moment. One person speaking out does matter because campus security felt Emery was such a risk that he had to be chased off of campus. 


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

KPU is an interesting and a good institution to be in because of the smaller class sizes. I think that a lot of students might not know that if you go to Simon Fraser University or the University of British Columbia, you’d be in a class of 200 or more people, whereas our classes are capped at 35. 

I think some students might not know that and may not appreciate the value of actually having this face-to-face engagement with instructors and the benefits of that kind of close contact in education. 


What are you working on right now?

Something I’m excited about is designing games for teaching. My colleague Mike Larson and I have been working for the past year on developing games or activities that help students learn a topic or subject matter.

For example, we’ve been designing games for the introduction to criminology course that allows students to have a more physical and interactive understanding of the topic. 

We’ve created games to help students understand the invention of certain features in the police services and criminal justice system. We’ve borrowed from an existing board game called “Timeline” where we use material from the course, which allows students to sort different events or inventions on cards as a timeline.

Another game we have is about consent. Instead of just having a discussion about consent, we’re getting students to engage in a card game that might have some dice involved. And we have another game that is about hate crimes. 

We realized that instructors often use exercises. We already are involved in using games, but we don’t call them games, and they’re games that we think are very poorly designed. I think if you create more rules for engagement, if you create more graphic aids that can stimulate interaction, then that it can be useful for helping students understand the concept, the theory, or the application of what you are teaching. 


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

Something people might not know about me is that my first degree is not in social science or in criminology but in the fine art of plastic sculpting. My art background is linked somewhat to my passion or energy in creating activities that are more like games. 

That type of training in the plastic arts like printmaking, drawing, painting, and sculpting has helped me think about how to have a different method or avenue to reach students in the classroom, and really lends itself to game design.