fast feminism · feminist win · hope · politics

Because It’s 2015

Photo credit: cc//Rt. Hon. R.B. Bennett, Prime Minister of Canada, surrounded by members of the Cabinet (1931), Library and Archives Canada

Inuit girls throat singing, and giggling, at the swearing in.

A cabinet “family photo” with fifteen women in it. And people of all kinds of races and ethnicities. And people with disabilities. And gay people.

A First Nations woman as Minister of Justice and Attorney General.

The reinstatement of the Minister of Science position, and the assignment of that position to a woman. With a PhD.

A female Minister of the Environment and Climate Change.

A Minister of the Status of Women who was, until her election last month, the head of Thunder Bay’s largest homeless shelter.

The reinstatement of the long-form census, and of the ability to collect data that will allow us to accurately count vulnerable women and girls, conduct gender-based analysis of programs and policies, and evaluate the impact of programs and policies on the status of women.

A promise to immediately launch a national public inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada.

A female Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs who has publicly committed to the principle of “nothing about us without us,” and who has indicated that consultations with First Nations, Métis and Inuit people about the inquiry will begin immediately.

collaboration · DIY · faster feminism · feminist win

Faster Feminism Spotlight: Talking to GUTS Canadian Feminist Magazine Co-Founder Cynthia Spring

Have you had the pleasure of discovering what, in my humble opinion, is currently Canada’s best feminist magazine? Yes, friends, I am talking about GUTS: A Canadian Feminist Magazine, which lives online and was started by two women in Edmonton, Alberta. (Yes, Edmonton, recently voted the worst city to live in if you are a woman. It is also a city in which women fight back using creative and effective tactics.) 

I first discovered GUTS when Cynthia posted the first issue on social media. I was thrilled. What was this new, sharp, sassy, and unapologetic periodical? How did the founders and writers–many of whom I had the pleasure of knowing when they were students in Halifax–find the time, energy, and creative and financial resources to get the thing going? How do they keep publishing cutting edge conversations, issue after issue? 

I decided that rather than speculate alone (whilst feeling pleasantly envious that I hadn’t come up with the idea myself, to be honest) I would contact co-founder Cynthia Spring and see if she’d be willing to talk with me. Lucky for us, she was. Here is how our conversation has started to unfold:

Erin: Tell our readers a bit about yourselfwhat is your field of study? When did you first encounter feminism? When did you first self-identify as a feminist?

Cynthia: I studied literature during my MA, and while feminist theory and practice wasnt a major focus in my research, many of the seminars I took touched on gender and queer theory, sexual politics, and feminist histories. In my own academic writing, I was drawn to literature that focused on girls and womens and mothers interior and domestic lives, not just those stories that were so accessible and familiar, but the ones that could capture the mutability of the self, the instability of gender, the gap between how women are supposed to be (i.e., caring, beautiful, good, generous, happy, etc.) and how they sometimes really feel (underappreciated, overworked, unhappy, ugly, etc.).

It wasnt until I participated in a Marxist feminist reading group in the summer of 2012, however, that I really started to think about how this ideal of womanhood and motherhoodmanifested in our contemporary society as the woman who has it all in terms of her career, her family, her economic independence, and her social lifewas so important to our economy, to neoliberal capitalism. When we aspire to the myth of the good woman, we actually help to conceal all the intersecting forms of injustices and oppression that women, trans, and queer people continue to face every day, and whos exploitation underlies the foundations of other peoples success both in the workforce and at home. This changed a lot for me. Although Ive identified as a feminist since my older sister first taught me to play Ani Difrancos Both Hands on the guitar, my understanding of this identity became so much more complicated when we started talking about how expansive and messy feminism really is.  

Erin: How did you get involved with GUTS?

Cynthia: My co-founder, Nadine Adelaar and I were talking about starting a magazine pretty much as soon as we finished our MAs in Edmonton. We wanted to keep thinking about some of the feminist ideas and writing we had encountered in school and elsewhere, but we wanted to do so in a more accessible, creative, and effective way. For us, feminism is about pointing out the everyday injustices folks experience and talking about ways to change those oppressive and alienating social relations we are so accustomed to. The work that we were producing in the academy didnt always leave room for ideas that are informed by personal experiences, and we were inspired by feminists who were talking about theory in the context of real political struggles. All that said, weve never wanted to do away with the theory and ideas that come out of the academy. We want to hold theory and practice together, and I guess thats part of our ongoing project.

Erin: How did GUTS move from idea to actuality?

Cynthia: During the winter after we finished our MAs, Nadine and I were both looking for full time work and had some time on our hands. So we decided to go for it. We started learning how to build a website, which took a number of months for us to do without any web development experience (Nadine took to this much more quickly and creatively than I did, and is now actually a web master!). We spoke with writers who were trying to get their work published. We had Jonathan Dyck, our art guy, make a logo. We had a pre-launch party with Edmonton art collective Lart. And then we did a call for submissions. The first issue featured writers and academics we already knew, people who wanted to share their experience or their ideas and were willing to do so without compensation. We decided to keep the content online and free for everyone to access, we worked on it during our spare time once we got jobs, and we were able to start producing a magazine without any financial support.

Erin: What are some of the challenges the editors of GUTS face?

Cynthia: I think our biggest,  most persistent challenge is that while we want to invest the time and energy that is necessary to broaden our publishing program, expand our audience, and improve our community engagement, we are quite limited because we have to divide our time between GUTS and our real paying jobs.

Erin: How do you balance academic work and the work of running an online feminist publication?

Cynthia: The short answer: I quit the academy! But I do still work full time in production at a small academic publisher, so there is a lot of work to balance. Involving more people who want to help with editing and promoting the magazine has made it possible for us to share our workloads while increasing the amount of content we can publish on the site. Having more people editing and acquiring content also means that we have more ideas circulating and more opportunities to work with new writers and artists, and thats really motivating.

Erin: We speak a lot on this blog of the tensions between vocation and remunerationdoing the work because you believe in it, and trying to keep afloat. How does GUTS function? How do you manage innovation and avoid burnout?

Cynthia: I think this conversation is so incredibly important! None of the editors at GUTS are paid for what we are doing. We are all driven to work this hard for free because its what we love and we believe it is important. And yet, so much of the feminist research and theory and activism we talk about in the magazine is very critical of this type of work. Were aware that its a bit of a contradiction to be a feminist project that survives on the unwaged labour of a group of precariously employed women who can afford to take this risk because of certain privileges. And while paying our editors and contributors fairly for their work might not be possible right now, its definitely a dream we are always looking towards. We recently started to pay writers and artists contributing to the magazine a small amount of money for their work with the funds we raised at parties.  Its not much, but we feel its an important step towards paying people for their work and attracting new contributors and collaborators. We have other plans to generate more funds, but its a learning process for us. Id love to talk more about this with you (and the H&E community!) 

Erin: What are, for you, some of the most pressing issues for feminists in Canada?

Cynthia: We have so many issues we need to deal with! Our conservative government has really done some damage in recent years. Some of the issues I find most frustrating and urgent right now include: accessible and affordable childcare models, adequate social supports and services (shelters, healthcare, affordable housing, counselling) available to women and trans people who need them, legislation that ensures sex workers rights, raising awareness about and preventing violence and sexual assault against women and trans people, inquiries into missing and murdered Indigenous women, raising the minimum wage, reproductive justice, support for independent feminist research, the list goes on.

Cynthia Spring edits and writes for GUTS magazine and is the acting production assistant at Canadian Scholars’ Press and Women’s Press. 

feminist win · popular culture · reflection

Year-end reckoning

This year, I made a point to read more widely. I promised myself there would be things that I would not teach, research, or use in any other way than to reclaim my love of reading that spurred my many degrees in reading closely in the first place. Although the beginning of December does not count or feel like the end of the year necessarily–and definitely not when piles of marking haunt you from the edges of your desk–I would like to issue an invitation to think back on the texts–literary and otherwise–that moved us in some ways this year. It’s not a top 3 (or 10 or 100) for me, because I am not a big fan of rankings and hierarchies, but it can be for you. What’s more, an eclectic bunch of things have ignited my imagination, dread, or hope this year, of the apple, orange, and kumquat varieties, so comparisons would not work for me, but they might for you. I’ll go first, if you promise to add one or two things in the comments.

Ruth Ozeki‘s A Tale for the Time Being has devastated me, making it difficult, at times, to come back to it, while also compelling me to go on by inferring that life cannot possibly be so bleak, and then reaching even more dismal abysses. Like many contemporary texts, Ozeki’s muses on how neoliberalism dismantles humans’ responsibility towards one another and towards other life forms, including the environment more generally. (You see, you can take the literary scholar out of the classroom, but you can’t… oh, you know how it goes.) Ozeki’s style, and the novel’s nested structure does not allow the reader to give up, however, and I kept returning to the trauma scene, only to be confronted afresh with more unrelenting realities. The novel’s ending, although attempting some sort of reprieve, manages to undercut itself by narrating a hopeful dénouement, only to throw the optimism into doubt. The same kind of device appears in Lionel Shriver’s Big Brother, but I’ve only just finished this novel, and I need some more time to mull a deeper comparison over.

This one I will definitely not teach, as it’s nowhere near my area, but it has become an aspirational model for me: Paula Byrne’s The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things. First, it’s the traditional feminist methodology. Byrne unearths documents, events, and actual things that recuperate a picture of Jane Austen as an assured, knowledgeable, and intentionally astute commentator of her time. Byrne talks back to the official biography released by her family after Austen’s death, which paints a period- and gender-appropriate picture of the writer as a humble and modest recluse, who merely stumbled upon writing as a pastime. Being an Austen amateur, and nowhere near scholar, I cannot assess Byrne’s suggestion that, for a long period of time, Austen scholarship took that family-released biography for granted. However, my amateurism lands me at my second reason for loving this book: its success in making literary scholarship accessible, nay, enjoyable to the general public. Arguably, biographies have always been the most marketable type of literary scholarship, but this book does so much more work in illustrating the connections between historical events, Austen’s life, the politics of her time, and her novels by openly doing close readings for example, that I would put it up there as a great model of public feminist cultural studies.

Finally, my life circumstances have made it logistically difficult to go out much, but this past weekend I went to see and listen to one of my favourite singers, Basia Bulat. Live! In person! (both me and her!). If I’m not much of an Austenite, than I’m even less of a music critic, so I will spare you my inane squeals of joy, and offer you one of her songs in closing.

What’s your year-end reckoning?

boast post · feminist win

Feminist Flaunt: Celebrating Heather’s Triumph

Dear Friends,

Allow me to invite you to celebrate our Editrix Emerita’s, Heather Zwicker’s, triumph in being named a 3M National Teaching Fellow, the highest undergraduate teaching accolade in Canada. While I haven’t been Heather’s undergraduate student, I will vouch for her pedagogical prowess and dedication, as former supervisee. All I can say for the 3Ms is that this decision has validated them in my and many of Heather’s former and present students’ eyes!

Congratulations, Heather!

faster feminism · feminist win

I Need Feminism Because…

This past week something wonderful happened at McGill University; suddenly, everyone was talking about feminism. And they were saying good things!

A group of students started a  “Who Needs Feminism” tumblr page. Members of the McGill community submit photographs of themselves holding up pieces of paper that say “I need feminism because… [finish sentence].”

The “Who Needs Feminism” campaign was started by a group of sixteen Duke University students in a Women’s Studies class. The campaign is designed to combat the negative connotations associated with the word “feminism” and to spark a discussion about why we all need it through asking people to define it for themselves.

So, why do I need feminism?

Why do you need feminism?

canada · feminist win · global academy

IRL: The Beauty of Real Time

I suspect that you, like me, spend an immense amount of your day on the internet, in front of the computer, or otherwise interfacing with people and paces that are necessary in your work and life. Goodness knows, I certainly do. If I were to log the hours I spend on my computer, on my phone, or on my iPad communicating with friends, family, and collaborators …. Well, it would be a staggering number. While I am grateful for the multi-modal platforms available to me, I do find myself yearning for some face-to-face time (rather than, say FaceTime).

 This weekend I have had the rare opportunity to spend In Real Life time with collaborators and friends. I’ve been in Banff at the Women’s Writing inCanada and Québec Today: Alliances/ Transgressions/ Betrayals. I’ve been hanging out with Margrit and Heather and a number of others who are near and dear! It’s been a whirlwind few days full of smart papers, lively round tables, and the all-important coffee breaks. For all the brilliance happening, I’m especially grateful for the moments in which new alliances are forged and old friendships are given that shot of IRL time that helps sustain them over the months that stretch between next visits.
Canada is a huge country. This is a truism remains perkily factual despite the inevitable eye-rolling that accompanies that utterance. It is in these moments when I am in a room filled with friends, colleagues, and new acquaintances that I feel the challenges of geography. How do you maintain your companionships and  collaborations across these huge spaces when the inevitability of real life creeps in? What kind of scholarly meetings are more generative for you, and how do you keep the momentum going? How do you build IRL meetings with those far-flung friends and colleagues into your life?

copper-bottomed bitch · faster feminism · feminist win · righteous feminist anger · role models

Which is worse: overt or subtle sexism?

Reader, be forewarned: I am in fighting mood today.

What has occasioned this fundmental change from last week’s fatigue to today’s bellicosity? Well, some things that have made me angry, and others that have buoyed me to fight back. First, I received some disappointing professional news. Nothing new there, at first sight, as I’ve been receiving all kinds of disappointments on the job market. What was special about this specific piece was the obvious gendering of the two responses it comprised. One was generous, engaged, and constructive; the other one was resistant, belligerent, and angered. I do not mean to be reductionist, but trust me when I say it was obvious. They have made me reconsider my place within academia: is it worth pushing that rock uphill during application season, only to have it tumble down again and again? And how many times can I bear to listen to the adage “it’s not you, it’s the job market?”

What these responses have also made me rethink was all the other interactions I’ve had throughout my academic career from the point of view of sexism. You know, all the small delays, all the excuses, all the talking over and the talking down to; in other words, all the subtle sexism that the humanities are rife with, for all their declarative adoption of feminism. In my previous career, at least, sexism was out in the open. And so were my weapons. I’ve had to withstand and fight sexual harassment, but I was in full Buffy mode. But how do you fight the very subtle, insidious sexism of academia?

Needless to say, I was feeling hopeless and ready to say goodbye to my beloved academia. Because for all the statements about “women and minorities are encouraged to apply,” when it comes down to choosing between a male candidate and a female one with kids, the actual choice might not really live up to the declared ideals, in spite of everyone’s best intentions. S-u-b-t-l-e. Unexamined. Buried.  Engrained. Sexism.

But then, this video, which I’m sure you’ve seen by now, started making the internet rounds:
Now, I know Julia Gillard has a vexed relationship with feminism. But it’s this video that’s put me in fighting mood. Because when women’s rights are openly trampled on everywhere, who even cares about subtle sexism, right? So, here’s a powerful woman calling a sexist’s bullshit in the Australian Parliament, and making the internet rounds faster than a new bug in a daycare full of babies. I think we need a model or two like that, coming up in the open and leaving their gloves somewhere else, because I’m tired of being nice to people smart enough to cover their sexism and bury it deep enough for a full forensic team to overlook.

The other thing that’s put me in assertive mode is this wonderful conference I’m going to: Women’s Writing in Canada and Québec Today. I’m going to spend the weekend engaging with some incredibly intelligent people talking about contemporary literature written by women. I’m also going to hang out with Erin! I’m going to talk about Margaret Atwood. Can you think of a better way to fight subtle or overt sexism? [And now I’m off to… ahem… revise my paper.]

academic reorganization · day in the life · feminist win · grad school

Guest Post: Hitting the PhD Running

Morning, y’all! We have a guest post this morning from Aubrey Jean Hanson:

What I want to share with you here and now (thank you for having me!) are my experiences of shifting into the academy. That is, I’ve just begun a PhD program, and a good friend suggested that I share my experiences here. I am honoured to be writing for hook and eye. How cool is this blog?
Before I can really start, I have to acknowledge the miraculous fact that I am sitting down to write. How come I am able to carve this time out now to write, to think? First, I take seriously to heart the advice I have heard from many others that we simply have to carve out these kinds of spaces and times – to do the things that aren’t strictly necessary, but that push us a bit beyond the everyday, extend our practice, feed us in a new way, bring a new kind of satisfaction, indulge a whim. I’ve heard some very admirable people talk about the happiness that they find when they just make room for these things in their days. (Here too!) In this new life of mine, I am going to experience this kind of happiness. I am doing it every day. Otherwise, why have I shifted away from a career that has been not only my life-long goal, but a source of intense and wide-reaching fulfillment?
Second, the stars have aligned. Yes, the other things are calling me (dirty floor, errands to run, kitty litter, lists of readings, course work, kids’ toys all over bedroom, piles of laundry, dirty dishes, presents to buy for birthdays, exercising, heaps of emails, grant applications, paperwork, scholarship hunting, kids watching cartoons again instead of doing something more nourishing, like, I don’t know, learning Latin…); I certainly hear them. But the coffee has kicked in, the other things are underway, the kids are quiet, my partner is out, and somehow I am alone at a clean table with my laptop. (Have laptops done almost as much for women’s autonomy as birth control? Really, so exciting, this mobility with work.) There are many days when circumstances don’t actually conspire in this good way, but today is an exception. And now, I can begin writing.
How I come to where I am is like this. I have wanted to be a teacher since I was a little girl. I had older sibling authority, I liked helping others, and I loved school (and learning too). I was awesome at school. I wanted to follow through on that and be an awesome teacher. I went directly through. I did an awesome English degree and still wanted to teach English in high schools. Most of my honours-program comrades were going on to grad school, but I was sure, and I completed my B.Ed. as soon as I could. When I finished, I was so excited to be finally there. I was ready to jump right in. Except for a couple things – the timing was not great, given the circumstances in the job market, and the opportunity came up to jump right into a Master’s degree in Sociology and Equity Studies at OISE instead. It was super fun; I loved the challenge and the people around me. So I did that, and then I started teaching in high schools. I had an awesome job; I had some great teaching years. I had a couple of kids, had some time on mat leaves, moved provinces, and did some more teaching. Part of me thought that I was just getting started as a teacher: working towards a permanent contract (put your hands up if you have had the pleasure of moving from temporary contract to temporary contract), less than ten years into the career, and still feeling joyful and optimistic about my work. But in the dark, busy middle of last winter, I put together an application to another graduate program. I told myself I was just keeping my options open, and helping myself to feel that I had agency in the choice – that is, instead of feeling trapped or victimized by my non-permanent job situation. From where I am now, I see that I was already leaving. As soon as I filled in that application, I was out the door. (I reserve the right to keep that door open, though!)
So what is my experience of coming into this PhD program, of coming (back) into the university world, given where I’m coming from? I am tempted to jump away from this to other questions. Like how do I navigate the straightness of academic spaces, when I want them to be queer-friendly spaces? Or how do I engage with the webs of power relations at work in departments and classrooms? Or how do I avoid feeling like either an imposter or a cultural informant as a Métis woman working on issues tied to Indigenous studies? Or how do I integrate my feminism into my work in a sustainable way, and why does that end up seeming invisible sometimes? But I promised to focus on this one question today: how is it, starting a PhD?
First of all, it’s not a super big leap. I am studying education, and there are many continuities in both the intellectual terrain and emotional climate. Beyond that, though, I’ve felt a visceral kind of relief to be reading and talking about things that really matter to me with new colleagues who are as interested as I am in intellectual engagement. For instance, my classmates and I just read an essay (by Yatta Kanu and Mark Glor) that, among other things, takes on the effects of capitalist imperatives on teachers in public schooling. Like, check out this quote: “Particularly disconcerting for public education, knowledge economies impose ‘soul-less standardization’ that leaves some students behind by eroding curricula and pedagogies that build on the experience, language and cultural identity of these students, decreasing teachers’ autonomy of judgment, undermining moral vision and social commitment in schools, and derailing the very creativity, ingenuity, and flexibility that schools are supposed to cultivate.” I have wanted to bring up issues like this for years, and the staffroom at lunchtime, when everyone has a thousand things to do, just never felt like the right time. (I have also encountered several spaces that I can only describe as anti-intellectual in my years in public school teaching – and yes, there are social reasons for why that sometimes happens, and yes, I think it is tragic and discouraging that many of our young people are being taught by teachers who don’t usually have the opportunities or energy, given the constraints and burdens in the job, to really think critically and constructively about learning and teaching.)
But wait, some of you will say – you’d better not be coming into university life expecting to find freedom from socio-economic constraints, unfettered intellectual engagement, and open-minded, friendly communities everywhere you go! Haven’t you seen that video on youtube, “So you want to get a PhD in the humanities”? Don’t you know that universities are just another kettle of fish, with their own slimy, smelly parts? I think that I do, as I am in touch with the lives of some very dear friends working and studying in universities, but also, I am taking to heart the good advice that I have heard from several trusted friends (and from a post here , too), that I treat my PhD as a job: a four- or five-year, not very well-paying, but challenging and enjoyable, job. I don’t have any hard and fast expectations of what will come next. I am consciously bracketing off my future; I’m not dwelling on my future job prospects, and I am open to doing different kinds of things afterwards. This PhD is a track – I will run round the course, and then see what’s next. Maybe I’ll be stronger, more tired, more competitive, sicker of races, more unrelenting, faster, dizzier, stinkier, shinier, thirstier. Going around, I hope I won’t feel that I am running away: my teaching will always be with me – I can hardly say I’m leaving education when I clearly can’t stay out of school. But I know I won’t lose the feeling of my own feet touching down, weight straining, muscles pushing, mind fighting off unwillingness, breathing step by step, body moving under my own power.

Aubrey Jean Hanson
PhD Student

faster feminism · feminist win · good things · ideas for change

Make a Fuss: Calling All Critics

I am feeling unusually excited. Maybe it is the residual buzz from spending the last three days talking with critical and creative practitioners at Public Poetics. Maybe it is the excitement of having seen Tanya Davis, El Jones, and Ardath Whynacht on stage telling it like it is … and watching a crowd of people listen, enraptured. Maybe its the launch of the new Lemon Hound site. There are so many women doing such diverse, engaged, and important public work right now! And there are ways you can participate too. 

Today’s post comes care of the wonderful Christine Leclerc and on behalf of the Canadian Women in the Literary Arts. CWILA launched in the spring, and one of its foundational initiatives is to create a critic-in-residence position. Here’s how you can apply.

Christine writes:

This year we released the Canadian Women In the Literary Arts numbers, attracted fine folks like yourselves to our emerging organization and raised more than enough for CWILA’s first critic-in-residence. Still haven’t applied?
If you’re a female Canadian writer (poet, novelist, storyteller, scholar) who’d like to raise awareness of women’s literary and critical presence in Canadian letters, we hope you’ll submit your critic-in-residence application to by November 1, 2012.

The resident critic will work on critical essays and/or book reviews and submit them to one or more Canadian review venues (print or web). CWILA also archives the work, which will be available at following publication elsewhere, copyright permitting. If there’s time, the resident critic is encouraged to support a climate of critical responsiveness in Canadian letters with a collaborative or community-based project. The residency is virtual, so the writer is free to work from home. Please visit for full details.

To apply, please send a letter of intent to describe your project, the venue (or venues) you plan to submit to, a one-page CV and a short sample of critical work to by November 1, 2012. A $2,000 stipend will be awarded in December.

We encourage applications from genderqueer writers, indigenous writers, as well as other women and/or genderqueer writers of colour.

Or, if you’d prefer to support next year’s critic-in-residence, we are pleased to accept donations of any size. Thanks for your ongoing support! We have much to be proud for such a young organization.

If you’re on Twitter, Facebook, or have a blog, please share this year’s Critic-in-Residence November 1, 2012 application deadline with as many women in Canada as you can. And if you’re with a university, please send a short email to your department, or better yet, print and post the attached poster. Thanks so much!

All my best,

For Twitter or Facebook: RT @CanWomenInLit Advance women’s presence in Cnd letters. Critic-In-Residence w/ #CWILA – deadline: Nov 1 – #canlit
faster feminism · feminist win · reflection · you're awesome

Guest Post: I’m Proud of my BA in English

Good morning everyone! We have a guest post today from Kaarina Mikalson. You might remember Kaarina from my post on the brightness of the future. I have had the great good fortune and privilege of getting to know Kaarina for the last three years. She is graduating with a humanities degree. Here’s what she has to say about that.


In just a few weeks, I will be graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in English. I will set aside my modesty for just a moment and confess that I am pretty proud of myself. Not that I am alone in my success–I have many friends who have worked harder than me to obtain their own degrees. And I certainly didn’t do it alone. I received support and encouragement from my family, friends, and, most significantly, the wonderful professors and grad students in my departments. All the same, I approach graduation day with much relief and much pride in my accomplishments.

So it is still a little galling how many people readily cast doubt on my accomplishments. First and second year students still struggling to choose their own path are always reminding me just how useless they think the liberal arts are, disparaging my choice as well as their own. Strangers and family friends impolitely question my life choices, asking the old familiar question, “And what are you going to do with that?” Recently, I took the time to explain the awesome work I do as a research assistant to a family member, only to be told, “Oh, that’s just busy work. Nobody really cares about that.” Only a few days ago, I argued with another family member, who insisted that you gain no practical skills by completing an arts degree, and all it really is is a piece of paper marking you out as mildly competent.

But if there is one thing my undergraduate degree has helped me develop, it’s confidence, and as a result I can confront these criticisms without backing down. Reflecting on the last four years, I have no regrets, and I can recognize the value in what I have done. Besides, any good liberal arts student knows that what we do have are critical thinking skills, and I can use these to see through the negative criticisms flung my way. Younger students most likely speak out of nervousness and self-doubt, and maybe what they need is an upper year student who will encourage them and support their choices. Many people have different values and priorities than me, and perhaps in blatantly questioning my life choices they are genuinely interested in hearing my ideas. Some people’s criticisms are just a projection of their own anxieties. And that comment about busy work? Well, as far as I can tell, that was just plain rude. If you can think of a good retort, let me know.

What I find most interesting about the debate surrounding university education is how focused it is on academics and career training. Many of those outside of universities easily forget that studying and teaching is not all that goes on there. A university is a community full of smaller communities. When you enrol, you have so many opportunities to learn and engage outside the classroom. I have many friends who will take a bit longer to finish their degrees because they were coordinating whole seasons of theatre, managing campus bars, fighting to lower tuition fees and reduce student debt, organizing fundraisers, founding orchestras, and working as activists for the environment, for women’s rights , for LGBTQ rights. Some even find ways to balance all these other interests and their full class loads in order to complete their degrees on time. If our degrees gives us access to these kind of opportunities, then who can say they aren’t valuable?

Of course, these kinds of communities exist outside of the university, but the university enables and supports this kind of engagement. And though we graduate and leave the classroom behind, I am certain that these students will continue to engage with these communities. I have alwas been more academically inclined, and my activities outside the classroom have been minimal. All the same, I have received tremendous opportunities, including being accepted into the digital humanities community and learning a whole new range of skills. Because of all this, I approach my graduation with hope, pride, and absolutely no doubt in the value of my degree and the institution I receive it from.

Kaarina Mikalson
Dalhousie University/University of King’s College