UPEI's Diversity and Social Justice Studies program offers self-discovery, opportunities
UPEI's students are making an impact on campus, here in Canada, and around the world! Alex MacDonald recently graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree (double major in Diversity and Social Justice Studies and Psychology), and is now working as a Project Officer for Gender-Based Analysis Plus (GBA+) with Veterans Affairs Canada in their Office of Women and LGBTQ2 Veterans.
Why did you choose to pursue Diversity and Social Justice Studies at UPEI?
When I started at UPEI in 2015, my main goal was to get an education that would land me a career where I could help people. Initially, I started my degree in psychology, which I thought would give me the best chance at achieving this goal. However, over the years I took many DSJS classes both because of their eye-catching names ("Unruly Bodies," "Sex and Culture," "Race and Whiteness") but also because Dr. Ann Braithwaite was one of the best professors I'd ever had. As I got deeper into my degree, I realized that the structural change that we discussed in my DSJS courses was more closely aligned with the kind of work I wanted to do than the individual-focused perspectives we discussed in psychology. Just before I began my fourth year, Ann posted on our DSJS Facebook page encouraging fourth-year students doing a minor or major to reach out. I reached out to discuss my minor, but Ann and I figured out that if I re-jigged my schedule a bit I could complete a double major with DSJS and Psychology. I think this is how a lot of students come to DSJS. It's not a discipline that's encouraged in high schools, and a lot of us come to university with the same goals of helping others and only figure out that DSJS is a great route to take after it's too late. I'm lucky that I was able to fit the major in, but I wish there was more awareness around the great possibilities DSJS can offer earlier on in students' university careers.
How has the DSJS program contributed to your world view?
When I began studying psychology, I appreciated the person-centred approach to seeing the world. Psychology is a great discipline for better understanding yourself and those around you. DSJS, on the other hand, highlights the ways in which we as individuals, groups, and communities all fit into various systems of power, and how this power is unevenly distributed—causing discrimination and injustice.
No other discipline gave me the critical thinking skills I gained in Diversity and Social Justice Studies and these skills are to me, what university is about.
Gaining that level of critical thinking was pivotal in my university career, and every subsequent course I took inside and outside of the DSJS program was informed by this systems-level thinking. It's shown me that the major challenges we face today like climate change, racial injustice, gender inequality, growing income disparities, the ongoing impacts of colonialism, and so many more are connected in such a way that they must be addressed together or we risk reproducing those same inequalities. DSJS also helped me understand that there aren't easy, black and white answers to complex problems. Instead, we must learn to navigate the grey areas and be comfortable working within them.
What is your current job title and organization?
I currently work with Veterans Affairs Canada in their Office of Women and LGBTQ2 Veterans as a Project Officer for Gender-Based Analysis Plus (GBA+).
What projects and workshops did you participate in as a student, and how do they relate to your current job?
In my final year, we had the opportunity through our Communicating Social Justice course to give a presentation to two departments in the Provincial Government on Diversity and Inclusion in the workplace. This exercise was incredibly valuable as it gave me the opportunity to consult with clients, prepare an hour-long presentation, and translate the theoretical concepts of academia to be more practical for a wider audience. I do this same kind of work in my current role and even mentioned the class presentation during my interview for the job I'm in now. We also had the chance to work with the Women's Network (a local NGO) on their Masculinities Conference. For this project we created presentations covering different topics on masculinities. This was an informative exercise as masculinity can be a sensitive topic form some, and it was a challenge to design a presentation that would be both thought provoking but accessible to an audience who may have been new or unfamiliar with the topic.
What would you say to a student considering the DSJS program?
I'd recommend that every UPEI student take at least one DSJS course. No other discipline gave me the critical thinking skills I gained in DSJS and these skills are to me, what university is about. I also think many students would hesitate to take DSJS as they've often been told that disciplines like Women's Studies or Social Justice studies don't lead to employment opportunities. To this, my first piece of advice would be to not centre your degree on your employment prospects after graduating. I know doctors, engineers, and biology majors who never found the employment they were hoping for but history, political science, and DSJS majors who all found the exact employment that they had been hoping for within a year of graduation. The idea that some majors are "employable" and others are "unemployable" is simply not true. Ultimately, if you can take courses that you're passionate about or sound interesting to you, that's all that matters.
If students are hoping to plan for their future and aiming to have a university degree that will be relevant in the years to come, it's surely DSJS. Being able to read thoughtfully, speak effectively, and think critically are skills that will always be useful. And in a social climate that continues to be more open to change and correcting past and ongoing injustices, a DSJS degree will be helpful for the years to come.
Want to know more about UPEI's Diversity and Social Justice Studies program in the Faculty of Arts? Visit the Diversity and Social Justice Studies program page.