Launching Intersections of Gender

A packed room of students, professors, and researchers gathered together on March 28th, 2019 to celebrate the official launch of Intersections of Gender-one of three new Signature Areas of the University.

Ramin Ostad - 07 June 2019

A packed room of students, professors, and researchers gathered together on March 28th, 2019 to celebrate the official launch of Intersections of Gender-one of three new Signature Areas of the University.

As the Director of Intersections of Gender, Dr. Susanne Luhmann, acknowledged in her opening remarks, the Signature Area wouldn't exist without the tireless and singular efforts of many within and beyond UAlberta. She and other senior leaders on UAlberta Signature Area initiatives, including VP Research Matthias Ruth, explained that the Signature Areas were created with the intent to enhance the teaching, research and academic excellence of the University.

The introduction to the launch was punctuated by the acknowledgments of the President of the University, Dr. David Turpin, who inaugurated the day of presentations and lively discussions with a resounding statement of support, cementing Intersections of Gender's place at the University.


The senior leaders used their podium time to draw on their experiences. They enlightened the captive audience on their long history of initiatives, struggles, and expertise in the area of intersectional gender research across various Faculties on campus. For example, Dr. Lesley Cormack, Dean of the Faculty of Arts, spoke to the history of gender research and women's studies within the Faculty of Arts, while Dean of Native Studies, Dr. Chris Andersen, discussed how gender has been a central focus in his Faculty's approach to questions of place and connection.


The late Dr. Margaret Ann Armour, Emeritus Professor of Chemistry and storied champion of gender diversity in STEM fields detailed the history of intersectional initiatives in the Faculty of Science, especially those undertaken by WISEST (Women in Scholarship, Engineering, Science and Technology), a program which she pioneered.


Many of the talks also highlighted the different ways in which intersectional gender research is becoming an inseparable part of academic excellence. For instance, Karine Morin, NSERC Director of Policy and Inter-Agency Affairs, described the ways that Tri-Council agencies are making intersectional gender research design an integral part of successful grant-writing. Dr. Chris Andersen also expressed a need to support the Signature Area by making research at the Intersections of Gender a fundamental and unavoidable part of the work done across the University community.


The benefits of Intersections of Gender research are of course not just felt within the university. This was eloquently pointed out by Dean of Education, Dr. Jennifer Tupper, who spoke to the ways Intersections of Gender can nurture practices in the K-12 community. Those practices include supporting the engaged citizen-students who had just demonstrated at the Alberta Legislature in defense of Gay Straight Alliances at schools.

While the morning's presentations gave the attendees much to digest over the lunch break, the exceptional keynote speech from Dr. Ange Marie Hancock-Alfaro, Dean's Professor and Chair of the Department of Gender & Sexuality Studies, University of Southern California, gave them even more to chew on. She spoke about the dangers of society co-opting intersectionality as it surges in popularity. She demonstrated how intersectional concepts are both broad-reaching and specifically focused, creating unique challenges as we take stewardship of this field. As we launch into institutionalizing intersectional gender research, her talk gave us all an understanding of the awesome responsibility we carry and the challenges we face in being good custodians at the University of Alberta.

In some ways, graduate student research is a wonderful indicator of our contributions to academic excellence. Our launch showcased some excellent student research, nominated by their faculty mentors. Topics ranged from Nursing student Oluwakemi Amodu's research on internally displaced women's access to healthcare in Nigeria, to Education student Gwendolyn Villebrun's work on challenging healthcare providers' assumptions about Indigenous femininity and its default association with mothering and reproduction.

Two students addressed questions of transgender politics-Anthropology student
Kevin Laxamana focused his questions on disrupted life cycles of transgender women in South East Asia, while Kinesiology student Abbie Schenk asked how trans people make meanings through travel. Finally, Political Science student Renée Beausoleil presented her research on the challenge of incorporating policing experiences within community governance processes while acknowledging their relationship to structures of violence.

Complimenting the thoughtful graduate research was the striking range and depth of showcased research on the Faculty panel, with several talks focusing on newcomer and immigrant issues. Two such research came from the Faculty of Nursing; Dr. Bukola Salami spoke about the specific challenges and hindrances faced when supplying healthcare for immigrant children, and Dr. Carla Hilario challenged us to think about the mental health and well-being of newcomer immigrant men.

Dr. Dia Da Costa, Social Justice and International Studies in Education, discussed how we can deepen intersectional research on racialized immigrants by addressing caste-specific issues in a North American context. Dr. Naomi Krogman, Agricultural Life and Environmental Sciences, spoke about the importance of acknowledging gender in mining research. And, if there was any doubt, Dr. Cressida Heyes, Political Science Professor and H.M. Tory Chair, made the necessity of intersectionality to an anti-capitalist critique crystal clear in her talk about the intersectional history of sleep deprivation and its intimate relationship to capitalism.

Dr. Sheena Wilson, English and Cultural Studies at Campus Saint-Jean, made an impassioned case for why energy futures are a fundamentally feminist issue, while Legal scholar Dr. Jessica Eisen spoke about the intersectional challenges faced by the discipline and practice of law in bringing animal and human conceptions of justice together.


And Cree scholar from Peguis First Nation,Dr. Jessica Kolopenuk, Faculty of Native Studies, combined poetic and Cree epistemological critiques of DNA science in order to underscore the relationships between colonial violence, Indigenous belonging, and relationality, connecting our scholarly conversations to the land we're in.


An attentive and critical audience kept the speakers on their toes with brilliant and lively questions and comments, even during the final panel at the end of an energizing day of inspirational and excellent talks.

Those spirited deliberations were both rewarded and refueled at the reception with delicious cake and snacks, feeding our conversations and bellies.

Thanks to a host of excellent volunteers and the unparalleled smooth operator Emily Friedrich, Project Coordinator with Intersections of Gender, all of the events proceeded without a hitch. We are still basking in the glory of the connections made and feel energized by the initiatives that have already taken shape following this successful launch.

From left to right: Dr. Nat Hurley, Dr. Dia Da Costa, Dr. Ange Marie Hancock-Alfaro, Dr. Susanne Luhmann, Dr. Sarah Dorow, and Dr. Lois Harder. (Photo: Cordell Moore/Arts Unleashed)