When I was a young woman living in Calgary, I became very active with a Tenants’ Association there. At that time in Calgary (1970’s), landlords were converting their apartments to condominiums and forcing long-time tenants to either buy or move out. The rental market was tight and the situation was putting terrible pressure on people as they struggled to find an affordable, decent place to live. The issues were controversial and relatively high profile.
Several years after the Tenants’ Association had been spearheading the expose of and fight back against unfair renting practices, a graduate student from the University joined the group to help out. He was a nice fellow and certainly did his share of the grunt work in the Association. After one year he left the group. We were all surprised to see him go but later learned the reason why. His research was done! Our Tenants’ Association had been the topic of his Masters thesis and now he was finished with us. Twenty-five years later, I am still left with such a bad taste in my mouth when I think of this situation. While he definitely contributed to the organization, I cannot help but feel that we were so used by him!
In my own research project, the ethical issues around participant consent initially escaped me! Since my research project “simply” involved trying out a new classroom strategy, I did not, at first, grasp the significance of the consent issue. After all, practitioners try out new techniques, materials, and strategies with our students all the time. They do not ask for students’ or institutional permission to do this. In addition, my college does not require me to go before an Ethics Committee in order to get approval to do research. When I learned this, I thought, “lucky me.”
At a face-to-face meeting, RIPP team members discussed the issue of student or participant consent. I listened to my colleagues and their ethical responses to the issue. When I returned home, I met with an executive member of our Faculty Association and a light finally went on. The memory of my experience in Calgary years before leapt into my mind. And yet, I was about to do the same thing to my students that had been done to the Tenants’ Association. How could I not have seen this?