We Don’t Ask Why It Shines
Air Date: November 23, 2020
#12 We Don’t Ask Why It Shines
Nov. 23, 2020
0:00 Souvankham Thammavongsa, English instructor and 2020 Giller winner
- How to Pronounce Knife
- Souvankham Thammavongsa Wins the 2020 Scotiabank Giller Prize
- A photo of Thammavongsa in the vintage dress she wore for the virtual ceremony
14:56 Matthew Wyman-McCarthy, Research Facilitator
25:33 Azka Choudhary & Paige Grant, Alumni, Concurrent Education
Thank you to Serena Austin, One Market Research Assistant, Melissa Weaver for graphics, and Nicole Morgan for campus promotion. Music by Scott Holmes.
Bruce Gillespie 0:02
Welcome to One Market keeping the Laurier Brantford community connected. I’m Bruce Gillespie. This week we are delighted to share a conversation with Giller Prize winning author Souvankham Thammavongsa, who teaches Creative Writing here at Laurier Brantford. Then, we hear about some of the challenges researchers have faced because of the pandemic, and check in with two student researchers who produced a report about racism on campus. All that and more coming up on this episode of One Market.
Our first guest is Souvankham Thammavongsa, who was awarded the Scotiabank Giller Prize on November 10th for her collection of short stories, How to Pronounce Knife, published by McClelland and Stewart. Souvankham also teaches Creative Writing for the English program here at Laurier Brantford and she kindly made some time for us during a blitz of national media attention just a couple of days after her win was announced. Here’s our conversation. Hi, Souvankham, and thanks for joining us today on One Market.
Souvankham Thammavongsa 1:05
Hi Bruce, thanks so much for having me on your show.
Bruce Gillespie 1:08
Well, anytime we can get a Giller Prize winner on our show,we are thrilled, thank you.
Souvankham Thammavongsa 1:14
Well, anytime that I could talk to someone because they’re interested in what I’ve written is a thrill for me.
Bruce Gillespie 1:23
So, it was so much fun to watch the Giller ceremony this year, because it was, obviously, like everything else today, so different than usual. The Giller ceremony is usually very red carpet, very, sort of, glitzy. And this year, people were at home watching live videos. And it was really charming, like I thought the effect was actually really nice. It was really fun to watch you, sort of, in your kitchen waiting to hear the results, and then running down your hallway to the front door to actually accept the prize. I think the only thing I missed about the traditional ceremony was, like, a red carpet shot of your dress because it looked beautiful.
Souvankham Thammavongsa 1:57
Actually, they had a virtual red carpet on their blog. So, before the broadcast we were asked to take photos of ourselves as we would have been dressed on the red carpet. And then, so they did that on their blog. I had sent three photos in, so you can see the dress there.
Bruce Gillespie 2:16
Souvankham Thammavongsa 2:17
Yeah, it’s a vintage dress.
Bruce Gillespie 2:19
It was gorgeous looking. So, I’m glad to hear that, I will definitely go and take a look. What was it like? I mean, what was it like to win an award when you’re sitting at home in your kitchen with your friends? Like, what was what was the night like?
Souvankham Thammavongsa 2:32
Well, I am a person who likes to be alone. And in fact, in the Between the Pages interview, which happens a week before the ceremony, we had been asked how we were going to celebrate that night. And I had said, “Well, I want to be alone,” you know, a person can be a family by themselves, a person can be loved by themselves. You know, some of the most difficult and meaningful moments, you celebrate them by yourself. And I just didn’t see a reason as to why I needed to be around other people. I’m very happy just to celebrate by myself. And to keep things low key, you know, in a writer’s life, it is not glamorous, you know, the the rejection, the years of rejection letters, the hope for reviews. I mean, what the Giller Prize did is, I want people to see that that’s not something that happens every day. It’s not something that happens in a writer’s lifetime. Prizes are not an automatic, even for good books. On a different night, on a different day, it might have been someone else’s name that was called that night. And you know, I would have been perfectly fine with it. But, it happened to be mine. And you know, there’s what you hope, what you wish, and what you want. And often in life, they never arrive at the same time. And that night, it just so happened than it did. And I was just kind of a little shocked and just trying to keep it together.
Bruce Gillespie 4:30
I assume it probably does take a little time to, sort of, process everything, especially when it’s happening in this weird virtual kind of way. I was really thrilled to see that your book won because I loved it. And also, because although short story collections sometimes do win the Giller, that’s not, sort of, the usual course of events. So, I thought that was even more exciting.
Souvankham Thammavongsa 4:48
Of course. You know, the short story is often thought to be less because it’s small, but my opinion on that is that a short story can give you everything that a novel can, but it doesn’t take up your time in that way. I don’t view it as a thing that’s less than a novel. I think it’s just as powerful.
Bruce Gillespie 5:20
And this is what I love about your short stories is that they feel so, so fully formed. And even if you’re reading about a character for 20, or 30 pages, your characters feel like completely real people. And you can sort of imagine the entire lives they’ve had because the writing, and the writing is gorgeous, but it’s so perfectly honed, there’s no extra word, there’s no extra phrase. And to me, this is the mark of a good poet, which of course, you’ve written for poetry books before this one. So, I just, the language is so beautiful. But, it did make me wonder, as someone who writes neither poetry nor short stories, when you set out to write something, do you, sort of, do you think of the medium first? Or, do you, sort of, start with a poem and realize you want more space for it? Or, you start with a short story and realize you want to hone it down to something shorter and more poem-like, how does that work?
Souvankham Thammavongsa 6:11
I know that maybe some listeners would probably want something profound. But, to be honest, I just do what I want. If I want it to be a poem, it’s gonna be a poem, if I want it to be a short story. It’s not, I mean, to me, I don’t find that choice to be all that complicated. It’s just whatever I want to do. But, the care certainly, you’re right. There’s, I think it has to do with style, you know, there’s, anybody can write anybody can put words together and express something, even a sentence like, “I’m sad.” That, you know, that is writing, it’s communicating something. But, to write it in a way such that the reader feels that sentence is something entirely different. One of the lovely things I’ve been able to see is that readers responses, like for example, in the short story, Picking Worms, a lot of people haven’t picked worms before or worked in that kind of job. But, when they read it, they weap as if their whole life they’ve picked worms, and they’ve been passed up for this position that they coveted. There are readers who have never in a single day had a taste of fermented fish sauce, which is, you know, something very common to laotian food, and they weep at the thought of never having it again, even though they have no idea what that is. But, they miss it, and they’re nostalgic. And I think it’s because it’s the language, they forget who they are, where they are. And they are so absorbed, and pulled into the story that they forget that what I’ve written, it’s made up, it’s fiction. And for me, that is the real joy when people want so desperately to know, is it real, because it feels so real to them. And for me, I don’t want to take away that magic for them. Because I’ve made this thing. Whether or not it’s the truth, or comes from a real life experience. For me, the real joy is that they believe it. You know, when we see a beautiful sunrise, we don’t ask why it shines. We just enjoy it, right?
Bruce Gillespie 8:53
Yeah, that’s so true. And I think the amount of work you put into it certainly comes out because again, it’s the end result is so moving and affecting, but just so beautifully polished, to my mind.
It is writing that takes a big risk, because it is, the sentences are very clear and simple. And there’s an ease to the language. And so, but, what I do is, I conceal how technical I am. And a lot of times the ease and the simplicity is taken for being simple. If people understand the story, and you know, there’s nothing that feels pyrotechnic, or too dramatic, or it doesn’t show off its skill. And as a writer, you are working very technically, but you run the risk of a reader not understanding that that ease and simplicity that you’ve made is really difficult to create.
Absolutely. Some of what I teach is literary journalism, literary nonfiction. So, I always have this discussion with students that, you know, what may look like an effortless, very easy kind of writing is, as you say exactly, often not. It takes a lot of time, and effort, and thinking to actually hone it down to something so spare that can still be so emotive and affecting.
I think that you have to make people feel I mean, oftentimes, the event itself is so dramatic, but you can’t, I don’t think a writer should lean on an event, they actually have to write and make the person feel the event. For example, you know, I talk, I mean, I talk all the time about how my parents built a raft made of bamboo to get to a refugee camp, you know, that’s a fact. But, how do I get a reader, or listener, or someone’s attention and make them feel how difficult that is? And just, how do you give that moment to a reader to make them understand and feel that moment. And that is my project, to get a reader to feel what I write.
We are so lucky at Laurier Brantford because clearly, you’re so thoughtful about this, and have so much great experience, and you’re able to share with our students because you’re teaching some of our creative writing classes. Have you been able to see your students since you won the award?
No, I haven’t. But, they’ve been sending me emails congratulating me. They are really amazing students. What I love about them is that they’re, you know, I thought, you know, being online that students would perhaps just record it and watch, you know, watch the class in their own time. I have 31 students, and when the class begins at seven o’clock, 31 students are there. And three hours later, 31 students are still there. And in fact, some of them continue their own, you know, little workshop, outside of class. And that just amazes me that there’s such a hunger for, to share, to write, and to continue, and they certainly inspire me. I’ve been, yeah, I’ve just been very, you know, I don’t tell my students what to do. And I tell them, “This is the one in class where, you know, you’re the writer, we look at what you write, and there’s no expert, but you’re never wrong,” unless you’re offensive, you know, racist, then. But, the writing is what we look at, this class does not run if you don’t bring anything to share. But, you know, the students, they show up, and they stay there. And I think that’s a mark of really terrific writers.
Absolutely. And I would say also, probably a mark of a really dedicated teacher as well, especially if you can get them that committed to from seven till 10pm at night. I mean, that’s,
I mean, I’ve asked them, you know, cuz I’ve had to go to the washroom during the three hours, and we don’t take breaks. And, you know, I had asked them, “Should we take a break?” Because they are so attentive, and they said, “Oh, no, that’s okay.” But, you know, three hours is a long time. And so, I do know, ask them to take a 10 minute break. It’s funny, they don’t ask me, you know, like, in a classroom setting, often students ask you for a break. And these students don’t ask for a break. And I’ve also got them at the stage in their writing, where they’re not self conscious, you know, they don’t, they’re not at the stage where they’re, like, “Is this good?” And they don’t pick on themselves. I think, I mean, just to watch their joy. You know, I don’t as a teacher, or just as an observer, I don’t want to take away that joy that they have. That’s something that a writer carries throughout their life, and it’s the thing that sustains them.
That’s a lovely way to think about it. Souvankham, congratulations once again, and thank you for joining us today.
Thank you for having me on the show.
If you would also like to see some photos of Souvankham’s lovely, gorgeous vintage dress, we have a link on our website. Our next guest is Matthew Wyman-McCarthy, Laurier Brantford’s research facilitator. Here, he gives us an overview of how the funding landscape for researchers has changed during the course of the pandemic. So, I think the natural first place to start is for you to explain what your job is. Clearly, professors and instructors who work with you know what your job is, but I feel like your job title is sort of vague enough that maybe staff and students might not know what to do.
Matthew Wyman-McCarthy 15:23
Yeah, no, that’s a fair question. I have to explain to my family what I do with the title so vague. So it’s,
Bruce Gillespie 15:29
Oh, so you’ve got experience? That’s great.
Matthew Wyman-McCarthy 15:31
I do. It’s a very fair question. So, I’m a research facilitator with the Office of Research Services on the Brantford campus. And I do a number of different things to support faculty members in conducting research. The most significant, or at least what takes up most of my time, is helping them get funding for their research. Not all research projects require money, but many of them do, to go overseas, to look at archives, to conduct interviews, to attend conferences, and in particular, to hire students as research assistants to collect and analyze data. And so, in Canada, the federal government, in particular provides a lot of funding for research. But, as you and a number of faculty members know, it’s a very competitive application process. And these applications tend to be quite long and complex. And so, a lot of my job involves helping faculty take their research ideas, and translating them or framing them away in a way that will really resonate with funding bodies. And so, that means, brainstorming ideas and going back and forth, I do a lot of editing and giving feedback. Sometimes I write sections of applications, but it’s all focused on helping researchers get the resources and the funds they need to carry out their projects. And it’s been really fun listening to this podcast, because a number of those projects have come up in previous episodes. That’s been kind of cool.
Bruce Gillespie 17:05
And it’s a really important job. And again, I think sometimes people must think, “Oh, you’re the research grant guy, he writes, you know, he writes applications for lazy profs.” But, it’s not that at all, Matt always makes us do our own work. But I think, for folks who haven’t gone through the process yet, as as you’ve mentioned, the applications are so laborious. And even applications for very similar kinds of grants from the same body can be so different, that it’s really helpful to have someone with your expertise to, sort of, look at these from, sort of, remove and say, “This is what this question actually means. This is the best way to answer it. Do you have more information about this and less about that?” It’s really, it’s a lot of editing expertise and understanding what that audience of funding jurors wants to see.
Matthew Wyman-McCarthy 17:50
Yeah, it absolutely is. Sometimes I think these things are so long and complex, just because when you have such a high bar, it means the people applying for these really have to put a lot of blood and sweat into them. That way you’re not, you know, these funding bodies don’t get tens of thousands of applicants, they only get thousands of applicants. It’s kind of like, you know, a professor who on the syllabus, when they go through it on the first day will highlight all the really hard assignments, in hopes the students might drop the class. Not that that would ever happen at Laurier Brantford.
Bruce Gillespie 18:25
I’ve never done that.
Matthew Wyman-McCarthy 18:26
No, no, exaclty. But, it’s been known to happen elsewhere. I think one of the things that you hit on, everyone benefits from talking out their ideas with someone. When I taught university in a previous life, one of the things I’d always ask my students to do, I’d say, “Talk to your housemate, talk to your sibling, talk to your parents say, ‘here’s my idea.’ And have them ask questions. ‘Well, why is that important?’ ‘Well, you know, what do you think you’ll find'” And sometimes, just by talking it out and articulating it aloud that leads to a lot of interesting, diverse thoughts that someone wouldn’t have just writing it down on paper. And so, writing grants, much like writing essays, much like any type of writing, really benefits from being a collaborative process.
Bruce Gillespie 19:14
It must be really interesting to be in your chair and actually get to talk with the broad range of researchers of our campus that you do, and hear about all sorts of really different unique projects from, in many cases, their earliest stages.
Matthew Wyman-McCarthy 19:28
Yeah, no, that’s definitely the coolest thing about the job. You know, in the morning, you could be talking about, you know, a project on the higher education system in Ghana. And then, in the afternoon, it’s on, you know, community based research, how do we help individuals experiencing homelessness in Brantford for instance. And so, no two days are ever alike. And it’s that breadth and diversity of topics that really excites me
Bruce Gillespie 20:01
So, how has your work changed since the pandemic?
Matthew Wyman-McCarthy 20:04
Yeah, the short answer is at the moment not all that much. The volume of applications is about the same as it is in a typical year.
Bruce Gillespie 20:16
Matthew Wyman-McCarthy 20:16
Yeah, no, I was kind of surprised at that. I mean, for some people pivoting to online teaching, added family responsibilities at home and things like that have taken away time that would otherwise be devoted to research. For other people who aren’t able to go overseas to do research or who have, I guess, who have experienced barriers in conducting in person research due to COVID, now is, kind of, the ideal time to think about what the next project is, and how do I get funding for it. And so, on the whole, it’s been a wash, and statistics we have Canada wide, that’s been about true for most researchers in the social sciences and the humanities.
Bruce Gillespie 21:04
Fascinating, I would never have guessed that. But, also because I’ve seen, or I feel like I’ve seen some reporting about how because women are bearing a lot of the burden of the pandemic, of people being home all the time ,and working, and children at home, as sort of, who, because women end up being primary caregivers, in many cases, that their applications would have been down.
Matthew Wyman-McCarthy 21:24
Yeah, yeah. I mean, that’s, kind of, what I thought initially, as well. But, it turns out, I think, after the first few months of the pandemic, once people kind of settled into a new normal, things have leveled off a bit. But, yeah, no, I was surprised at that as well.
Bruce Gillespie 21:46
I presume we’ve seen lots of changes in terms of how granting bodies are actually working with folks who have existing research grants, in terms of providing extensions to grants that otherwise would have ended probably sometime this year.
Matthew Wyman-McCarthy 21:58
Yeah, so most funding bodies recognized, you know, there have been severe interruptions. So, they’ll, you know, if you received however much funding for a three year project, they say, “Well, we’ll give you an extra year or so.” And probably the, you know, if we think of the past six months how the funding landscape has has changed. This is me taking your question in a bit of a different direction, Bruce. You know, the initial focus right when the pandemic hit, a lot of funding bodies were making money available for biomedical research, you know, to understand the science of this virus, how it gets transmitted, how we can mitigate it. Taking first steps towards developing a vaccine, which didn’t affect many people on the Brantford campus, because as you know, we don’t do much biomedical research. As the pandemic continued into the summer though, we started seeing opportunities for projects that really looked at the social impacts of COVID. And that’s where a lot of Brantford based researchers got involved. So, I worked on applications on how has COVID changed how police do their job? How has COVID changed how victims of domestic violence are supported? How can these individuals get the resources and support they need in an environment where service delivery is remote? And I certainly think over the next few years, as the pandemic recedes, there’ll be more and more projects assessing how different organizations and sectors did in responding to the pandemic, and then possibly helping them make plans to deal with future pandemics. And so, you know, in a way in the world of research, the pandemic and its impacts, that’s, kind of, just getting started, I think.
Bruce Gillespie 23:52
That’s so interesting to think about, sort of, the future footprint, or trail of where all this leads. But, you’re right, I mean, and I remember seeing through emails from the Office of Research Services that shift from, you know, those immediate biomedical needs to more so long term impact. And I was actually surprised, maybe unfairly, about how quickly some of these funding bodies were actually able to get some of these funds available to people, I guess. I mean, it seemed like a really quick turnaround. They seem very, very responsive.
Matthew Wyman-McCarthy 24:23
Yeah, no, I think on the whole that’s right. I mean, part of it, in Canada helps that much of the funding comes from the federal government. And so, you know, bureaucracies can be slow. But, once the decision is made, that we want to pivot in a certain way, it can come, you know, it can be done pretty quickly. I’d say it was in June that we started seeing the first applications for, kind of, research on the social impacts of COVID that started going in and that continued throughout throughout the summer.
Bruce Gillespie 25:04
So, interesting. And again, you must have a great vantage point from which to see all of these trends emerging, and where research is going and how it’s changing.
Matthew Wyman-McCarthy 25:14
Yeah, yeah, no, it’s, you know, I kind of have a pulse on a whole bunch of different things. So, it’s definitely the bird’s eye view.
Bruce Gillespie 25:21
That’s great. Matt, thank you so much for telling us about this today.
Matthew Wyman-McCarthy 25:24
Yeah, thanks, Bruce. Thanks for having me, and thanks for doing this podcast. I know a lot of people really enjoy it.
Bruce Gillespie 25:31
Our final guests are alumni Paige Grant and Azka Choudary. Today, Paige is a Master of Arts student in the Department of Social Justice Education at the University of Toronto, who works as a freelance digital artist and occasional teacher. Azka is a full-time teacher with the Peel District School Board, as well as being a Master of Education candidate in U of T’s Department of Social Justice Education. Before that, they were undergraduates at Laurier Brantford and during their time here, they were part of a team of student researchers who completed a study about racism at Laurier. The Being Raced Report provided a snapshot of the experience of Black, Indigenous, and people of color on campus, and has gone on to become a foundational part of the work that people are doing to make Laurier and more diverse, equitable and inclusive place today. To start, I asked Paige about the origins of the project.
Paige Grant 26:22
Azka, myself, and Joey, were roommates at Wilfrid Laurier University, and we are all racialized individuals who were going through our unique experiences of racism. And at the end of the day, a lot of those experiences were things that we had to disclose with each other because there’s no formal reporting process at Laurier, or most institutions, when racial violence happens to you. So, it really just came to us talking to each other, disclosing with each other, giving each other advice about what’s happening. So, that’s kind of how it started. And we went to the the DEO, which is the EDI. I don’t know the acronym of EDI, it’s equity, diversity and inclusion, I think?
Bruce Gillespie 27:23
Paige Grant 27:25
So, we went to the EDI for help, and there was different situations where they were able to come into classrooms to have conversations about racial violence that was happening. And then, we were approached as a collective to pursue this report, the Being Raced Report, to collect experiences of people of color to have conversations, and yeah, I don’t know, Azka?
Azka Choudary 27:25
Yeah, the program that we were in Concurrent Education, it was a predominantly white program. And the three of us were usually the only people of color in the classrooms that we were in. So, a lot of the work that related to equity fell on us. And it was super painful and tiring to do it by ourselves. With that said, we did work alongside Dr. Vanessa Oliver, Dr. Laura Mae Lindo, Lauren Burrows, and our peer Kate Harvey. Each of them in their own way helped us with the Being Raced Report. And although this work was tiring, and super draining, it was fun because we did it together. A lot of solace that we found with this type of work was because of the fact that Paige, Joey, and I did it together. And it was very therapeutic for us in that sense. It was definitely something that I would not want to repeat, considering how draining it was. But, I’m very happy that we did get the chance to do it together.
Bruce Gillespie 28:57
And it’s a really, it’s really eye opening, I think for lots of folks on campus. But, really useful piece of research. And I think it’s incredible and amazing that it was done by undergraduate students. I think for a lot of undergrads, they don’t get a chance to do really primary kinds of research, right? So, here’s an example when you actually looked at what was going on around you on campus, and were able to do research about how to sort of address these issues, which I think is just an amazing opportunity. Although, as you say, probably really draining and hard to do. Can you tell us about some of the major results of the research you did, the major themes you found?
Paige Grant 29:33
Yeah, so the study that we did, we interviewed or collected data from approximately 177 surveyors and interviews as a collective. So, these were folks that were across all campuses at Laurier and most of that population were students, and there was a small number of faculty and staff members, and all folks identified as racialized. The small number of staff and faculty is actually, like, a true reflection of the lack of staff and faculty that are racialized on campus. And some of the major themes that we found was a profound amount of street harassment, stereotyping, tokenism, different forms of systemic racism, racial profiling, and cultural insensitivity. And those different sections, we go into detail in the study. But, through those experiences, I think the most important part was that students were experiencing racism in the classroom and on their way to class. And this includes different interactions with university professors, with other students, violent lectures that promote a lot of racial stereotyping, a lot of targeting of racialized students. These were all collectively different experiences that students were sharing with us of their experience, and also faculty experiencing racial violence from their students.
Azka Choudary 31:40
So, the six key areas our report provides calls to action for are residence, faculty, student government, athletics and administration. And a lot of the calls to actions start with the administration stepping up and doing the work. And eventually, this would trickle down to the other departments that we noted. So, they would do the work, and then eventually, that would impact the athletics and student government, as well as residence and residence hiring. It is important to note that the current and future Black, Indigenous and racialized students, staff and faculty deserve better than the calls to actions that we stated at the time. Again, this work falls on the administration, and we’ve demanded that they step up many, many, many times now. So, we’re just hoping that they do.
Bruce Gillespie 32:31
Do you see the project in a different light? I’m getting you did this a couple years ago now, I think, but certainly given the past seven, eight months of, sort of, I don’t know what to call it, a resurgence of interest among white folks, I guess, in sort of fighting racism across Canada and North America. So, do you see the report differently than you did before? Like, do you think it’s being taken up in a different way than it was before?
Paige Grant 32:57
Yeah, I feel that people are really interested in racism as a, I don’t know, as, kind of, something to take up. It’s actually a really interesting experience because a lot of things that we were saying before, we actually received a lot of resistance from this report, up until probably this summer. Like, there were so many people in online comments, with different articles that we were a part of that really, like, interrogated us in public spaces. This included many academic professors, you know, saying that, you know, “This research is not valid.” And, you know, “How do you know someones experience is racism?” And a lot of these, like, very anti racialized comments that try to demise what a racialized person is saying when they say they experienced racism. Like, it’s telling someone to prove it, or to show me, show, you know, whatever the white world. You know, explain it in a way so that we understand, so that we can validate that that’s true. So, those were kind of the encounters that we’re having with the emergence of protests with anti-Black violence that has happened this summer, specifically with the protests and social media being a huge part of it.
There has been a huge shift in, I would say, yes, I would say globally. Specifically in the Laurier culture, I would say folks are a lot more open to listening, but I would detract, or, kind of, walk back when I say that people are super supportive. There’s different types of support, I believe. And I think that a lot of social media interest, it can only go so far. And also trying to see the genuine interest versus, you know, this is a popular thing now, and I need to be a part of it. It’s kind of confusing, honestly, it feels like, and, you know, Azka, you can talk about this too. Like, I feel like I’m being gaslit by the world. Like, we are saying the exact same things we said before and now, there’s almost this, like, overabundance of support which feels very inauthentic because we were so harshly, I wouldn’t say, like, not only criticized. Because, you know, when you publish research, you know, critique is going to be there. But, I think the extent of, like, Laurier professor’s, the pushback that we got as undergraduate researchers, you know, now in graduate school, I see that that was, like, bullying. That was, like, straight up racist bullying that was super public. And the lack of, I think, attention that people had towards that, I think it wouldn’t have happened in, you know, today. It wouldn’t have happened today because of the emergence of the protests in the summer. But, it seems kind of tricky on where we see, you know, authentic forms of activism, and if folks are really dedicated to racial justice, as you know, put in statements and other types of forms.
Azka Choudary 37:18
When I think about this question, I just remember how difficult it was this summer, writing the open letter with Paige and Joey because we have not been on campus since 2018. So, in some ways we are happy that this resurfaced and that these conversations are happening. But, we graduated, we are doing different things, and constantly being told to be the spokesperson of a research report that we did when we were in our undergrad back in 2017-2018. It’s just, like, in some ways we were out of touch with a lot of the Laurier community and the Laurier culture. There were a lot of gaps in things that we were trying to fill. And although it was difficult, it is meaningful work, and it has been nice to do. And I feel like a lot of the bridges are we’re trying to just cross at the moment is finding people on campus that can do this work. And that can continue this type of work. Because again, were doing different things and constantly being pushed back into the Laurier community where we are, like, we’re out of touch with it. And like Paige said, a lot of the experiences that we had were not positive and this overwhelming amount of positive and, like, authentic support that people are giving us, it doesn’t feel genuine because they never, we never had it to begin with. And people only want to listen now because it’s a thing that we did, and it’s existed. And it’s nice, but it’s, like, okay, I need you to give that energy to the people, the racialized students that are on campus right now, that we show staff and faculty that need the help and the love and the care that you’re giving us.
Bruce Gillespie 38:59
Right. I mean, that makes sense. And I suspect that, you know, you probably should wait and see whether these, as you say expressions of interest, are genuine or, sort of, just popular right now. And that probably comes with, you know, where does the money show up? Do you see more supports? Do you see more hiring of Black, Indigenous folks, or do you not? Does it go away, right? But, I think that’s so interesting to hear. And I mean, certainly from my own part, really thank you for doing this work. Because I think it’s been really eye opening for a lot of us. And it’s really, it’s helpful to have a piece of research to, sort of, start with as we, sort of, make this roadmap for the future and try to make things better. So, I mean, I really thank you for the work and I can only imagine how difficult it must have been at the time.
Before we end today, I wanted to leave some time to talk about Joey, who you mentioned already. Joey Lee was one of your co-authors who unexpectedly passed away earlier this fall. I didn’t get a chance to meet her myself, but I’ve heard so many great things about her. So, I was wondering if you could tell us about Joey for those of us who didn’t get a chance to meet her.
Azka Choudary 40:04
Yes. So, Joey was a very, very, very close friend of both Paige and I. And she was a fundamental part of this project. And although she isn’t here with us, her passion and her love for social justice and activism work lives on through this report. And that’s also why Paige and I hold this report very close to our heart because it is the last big thing that we did together. Before her passing, she loved running our Being Raced Instagram page. And if you read the posts and the captions and everything that was happening on that Instagram page that is open and live still, it captures her spirit really well. She was on unapologetically herself. And at the root of her activism was the desire for people to be cared for and loved. And when I think about Joey, I think about these things, and I think about the warm feelings I get when I think back to our experiences together. She always reminded Paige and I that love was abundant and existed around us. And I honestly could not be more grateful to have had the opportunity to learn from her and with her from all the years that we’ve spent together.
Paige Grant 41:18
Yeah, Joey was our great, great friend. And really, like, when we talk about racism, when we talk about, you know, experiencing and disclosing to each other, I cannot emphasize how much me, Azka, and Joey, our relationship was really a center of wellness for all three of us, it was a space of survival. And yeah, I think, for Azka and I, as well, it’s, like, really difficult to continue to do this work without Joey, since she was so much of the heart and the spirit of this work. And a lot of the times, you know, sometimes we’re asked questions, and sometimes we have encounters, where we’re, like, “You know, this is exactly, you know, what Joey would take care of.” This is exactly, you know, Joey would know what to do in terms of responding to certain kinds of violence. And this was kind of the dynamic and the relationship that we did have where, you know, when people of color get together you learn different things, you learn how to survive with each other. And, you know, Azka and I, we continue to survive with each other. But, we deeply miss our friend, and we love her.
Bruce Gillespie 43:05
I’m really sorry for loss. She sounds like a really important, wonderful person, I’m really sorry I didn’t get a chance to meet her. But, I think as you say, she leaves a really powerful legacy behind this report. And I think you two do the same thing. So, thank you for joining us today to talk about it. Thank you for doing this work back then, thank you for continuing to come back into this work all these years later. Thank you for building the foundation for the rest of us to sort of pick up where you left off and hopefully make some real change.
Paige Grant 43:34
Thank you for having us.
Azka Choudary 43:36
Bruce Gillespie 43:38
You can find a link to the Being Raced Report and the open letters the authors wrote on our website.
And that’s a wrap. Thanks for joining us. We hope it’s helped you feel a little more connected to the Laurier Brantford community. If you liked what you heard, tell your friends and colleagues. You can subscribe on Apple, Google, Stitcher or wherever you find your podcasts. Worried about missing an episode? Sign up for our newsletter. You can find the link on Twitter and Facebook @onemarketlb. One Market was created and produced by Bruce Gillespie and Tarah Brookfield. Music by Scott Holmes, graphics by Melissa Weaver. Our research assistant and intern is Serena Austin. Thanks for listening. Keep in touch.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai