Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Bridging the Gap: A Celebration of Women's and Gender Studies and the Public Lecture

As a student keenly interested in the intersection between indigenous peoples and gender studies, I want to take this moment to rejoice in the 25th anniversary of the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies. A celebration that reaffirms the department’s existence as a safe haven for many social justice-oriented students and researchers striving to understand the complexities of gender and  their societal implications. This year also marks the department’s official switch from Women’s Studies to Women’s and Gender Studies – a name change which chair Lise Gotell hopes will bring more diverse voices to the fore.

One such voice, that I was excited to see receive a spotlight, was that of Brendan Hokowhitu, dean of the Faculty of Native Studies. Hokowhitu’s ongoing research examines the social constructs of heterosexual male masculinity within Maori culture, a group of people indigenous to New Zealand. The interdisciplinary aspect of this academic work highlights the breadth and diversity prevalent within the university’s walls and the importance of programs like native studies and women and gender studies to educational enlightenment.

Photos courtesy of Across Oceania 360 and Kiwi Club of New York Inc.

Every year, WGS hosts a public lecture series. This year’s series was kicked off with Hokowhitu’s lecture entitled “Indigenous Masculinities: Patriarch or Pawn.” While I sat among close to 100 other people and absorbed Hokowhitu’s ideas and arguments, I came to realize that there are a number of lessons that we, the student community, can learn from intellectual opportunities like this one. Here are a few of the observations that have stuck with me:

We Can Bond Over Academics

As the room began to fill to its seating capacity with a refreshing mix of students, staff, faculty and public guests, Lise Gotell set the tone for the lecture by providing a brief history of the department and commenting on the dean’s academic record. The dean then approached the podium, took a drink of water and admitted that he was actually “quite nervous.” This drew a collective “awe” from the audience that was echoed by friendly laughter, establishing a communal atmosphere that allowed the audience to connect with the dean on an informal level.

Research Can Spark Pivotal Conversations

Hokowhitu’s presentation highlighted one of the most significant aspects of the lecture series: the creation of a public dialogue. Following his talk, the floor was open for questions, all of which were incredibly articulate and inquisitive and explored topics like queer masculinity, cultural appropriation and the tourist industry. The ability to spark a debate among the audience members involving the implications of scholarly work not only brings the discourse to a more relatable level but it also welcomes the opinions of diverse individuals not always seen within an academic context.

We’re Surrounded by Opportunity

Especially intriguing was the opportunity to discover in-person what type of research is being conducted on the U of A campus – a learning experience that sometimes gets overlooked as we become increasingly busy with our course work and other commitments. As students we should not take for granted the fact that these types of events can actually be quite thought-provoking. These opportunities can also provide us with a glimpse into what graduate research can look like. 

Throughout the entirety of the talk I couldn’t help but wonder what type of research I could conduct within both the fields of native studies and gender studies if given the chance. It encouraged me to inwardly reflect on my immediate and long-term academic goals, fuelling my desire to learn in general and build on my intellectual capacities by strengthening my research skills in hopes that I can develop a legitimate academic topic in order to pursue a research project in the near future.

As you can see this public lecture was both informative and inspirational. I encourage you to check out this list of events occurring within the WGS department and to keep your eyes and ears open for other related opportunities within your faculty or program, because, who knows, you may just discover a new academic passion!


About the Author

Hey! My name’s Billy – a second year arts student still scavenging through the course catalog for that perfect major. I’ve recently developed a passion for journalism, professional writing and communications and hope to grow along with the team at YouAlberta. If I’m not engrossed in the latest episode of Big Brother you’ll probably find me being too emotionally invested in The Amazing Race or laughing at inappropriate jokes on the Internet.

When not feeding my reality TV addiction or scurrying to finish my latest assigned reading, I’ll be searching our campus for the most intriguing stories about diversity, academic success and the quirks that make our university the gem that it is. As a student communicator I hope to foster a stronger sense of community and belonging by sharing sentimental and inclusive stories to tap into the shared sense of pride we all uphold – I hope you join me!


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