Get to know nationally recognized expert and Augustana professor, Lucas Crawford

Take a moment to learn a little more about Crawford and his work.

Sydney Tancowny - 30 June 2022

Lucas Crawford photo.

On June 2, the Government of Canada announced a new cohort within the Canada Research Chair (CRC) Program. This announcement included Augustana’s first CRC holder, Lucas Crawford.

An associate professor in the Department of Humanities and Fine Arts, Crawford’s CRC is recognition of his national and international scholarly reputation and the social impact of his work. During his five-year term, his research and community engagement will focus on transgender creativity and mental health.

As one of the few current CRCs residing in a municipality with a population under 20,000, Crawford looks to bring new and exciting research and community engagement to Augustana and the Camrose community. Learn a little more about Crawford and his work.


Q: You joined Augustana on July 1 last year, so you’re still pretty new to the campus community! To start us off, would you be able to share a little bit about yourself?

A: I did my PhD at the U of A and had great meetings with some profs in the English and Film Studies Department. And, I've just always had a real special place for Alberta in my heart since then. So, I'm delighted — and kind of not surprised — to somehow be back. Alberta kind of captures people. I feel you sort of end up coming back.

I've lived most of my life in Atlantic Canada — Mi'kmaq territory. I was born in Halifax and grew up in rural Nova Scotia in a village of about 3,000 people. That part of my life feels relevant to the work I do — about ideas and models of transgender that maybe don't fit the mainstream. Being a queer, rural person was really formative and, of course, being a Maritimer. It's not something I maybe imagined my career would focus on, but I’m so very lucky to be able to work on something I'm passionate about.


Q: You’ve recently been announced as the Canada Research Chair in Transgender Creativity and Mental Health. What kind of work are you hoping to do in this role? 

A: I’m looking into how ideas of mental health are intertwined in public and historical definitions of transgender. To this day, our dominant ways of thinking about ‘trans’ are psychiatric or psychological. So, my research is partly about tracing and pushing back against that history, questioning psychiatric authority over gender crossing, and looking for trans writers and artists who display their own trans version of mental health.

Within the transgender community, there isn't consensus on this at all; it's very much in flux. There are folks who want full-on acceptance: “We are normal. We are not crazy.” And then there are folks who are more sympathetic to mental illness or are allies to mentally ill people who think, “Why are we so quick to dismiss mental illness?” I want to trace how those two categories are sort of woven together. 

I feel like I always have two different tracks going — one is research with the academic output, and the other one is related to the research but more creative or public outputs. I have this big dream [to have] creative writing courses offered in every psychiatric ward in Canada. That's the other side of it that's getting going in the coming year. [My team and I are developing the curriculum right now], and the plan is to have free, weekly courses in 20 psychiatric wards across Canada starting in fall 2023. Then, we hope to scale up from there.


Q: In your CRC project title, you’ve identified this interesting connection between creativity and mental health. Can you touch upon what you think joins these two areas that are often thought of as separate?

A: Creativity is something everyone can access in their own way. So the “let's get creative writing in psych wards” is sort of like, well, you know, let's remind people they can be creative. Being a professional artist or writer isn't the only way to use creativity — it's something you can do yourself every day. 

We face challenges or emotional challenges day-to-day. In psychology or in therapy there's all these tools we know and that we learn we can use. We don't really think of creativity as a tool, but creativity lets us come up with new ways of dealing with things, new ways of being ourselves and new ways of finding a place for ourselves.


Q: As you know, Augustana Campus has a special connection to the surrounding community. How do you see that playing a role in your research and the work you're doing? What’s the benefit of having a CRC in a community the size of Camrose?

A: I've lived in rural communities for the majority of my life. I love cities, but I'm looking forward to connecting with a smaller, more intimate community, too. I think a thing in conversations about queerness and transgender is that to have a good life, or to increase your survivability, you gotta get to the biggest city possible. Cities can be really wonderful, but it shouldn't be something anyone is expected to do. Not every city is going to be queer and trans friendly, and I think we also underestimate what rural queer and trans folks lose moving to a city. Being part of a rural community has lots of special things about it. So, I think it’s important to push back against that idea that queer and trans people are only in cities, that cities are what's important and where queer history always happens. That's never exclusively been the case, and it certainly isn't now.


Over the past year, Crawford has engaged in and hosted multiple events open to the public, including February’s Lunch & Learn “Cut & Paste: Transgender collage as style and survival” and March’s “Transgender Art? In Alberta? You Bet!” 

You can learn more about Lucas Crawford and his CRC here. This piece has been edited for length and clarity.