We are excited to introduce you to the Social Justice Studies Program at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada. If you are a current student, welcome! If you are interested in the program and would like more information please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mehdia Hassan, Pursuing an Arts-Integrated Approach to Social Justice
Mehdia Hassan (MA’19) found out about the relatively new MA in Social Justice Studies (SJS) Program while compiling a resource document of graduate programs that supported arts-based health research. She was finishing up an HBSc in Health Studies and Psychology (with a minor in French) at the University of Toronto Scarborough, and Thunder Bay was not on her radar for graduate school. But the flexibility of the SJS Program, specifically the chance to do a creative project as part of her MA, intrigued her.
“I grew up in the most densely-populated part of Canada, St. James Town, a neighbourhood in downtown Toronto, so coming here [Thunder Bay] was a nice change. The distance was a bit scary at first, but I took a leap of faith, and I am really glad I did. The program was such a great fit.”
When Hassan arrived in Thunder Bay in the fall of 2017, she found the faculty in the program to be really welcoming and supportive of her desire to blend creativity and research. She took exciting courses like “Sociology of the Body” with Dr. Pam Wakewich and “Gender, Health, and Food Justice” with Dr. Barb Parker. She had a very positive GA experience with Dr. Chris Sanders in Sociology, and found the perfect mentor, Canada Research Chair in Arts Integrated Studies, Dr. Pauline Sameshima, an internationally recognized scholar in the Faculty of Education.
Hassan co-established a visual arts program for youth living in St. James Town, Toronto, carried out research on that effort, and created her own artistic synthesis of her findings with youth participants. Hassan used the innovative and interdisciplinary Parallaxic Praxis model (Sameshima et al., 2019) to collaboratively explore how arts-integrated inquiry can foster mental wellbeing in five racialized St. James Town youth who experienced forms of marginalization. Feelings of belonging and self-esteem were two indicators of mental wellbeing that she explored through interviews, paintings, and artist statements. Her project findings revealed expressions of community connectedness and feelings of belonging in the youth’s experiences of living in St. James Town, in relation to notions of nature, revitalization, diversity, and unity. Hassan technically ended up in the research stream of the program, but her work is a beautiful synthesis of creative arts production and qualitative, community-based research.
The participants’ artworks were first displayed at an annual community festival and are now exhibiting at the St. James Town Community Corner. “I brought the art and research back to the community, acknowledged their contributions to the work—it was really their work—and all the community participation.”
Hassan’s graduate work at Lakehead gave her a number of options for pursuing a PhD, but she has selected the University of Toronto’s OISE (Ontario Institute for Studies in Education) PhD program in Social Justice Education for her next step, Fall 2020. She is very excited to continue to mobilize knowledge between academic and public communities, through her interdisciplinary, arts-integrated research. Her Toronto-based, doctoral research will critically examine how visual methods of inquiry can allow at-risk, Afghan-Canadian youth to make meaning of their nuanced cultural identities and lived experiences.
“I am proud of how much I accomplished in my two years here. I did work that was meaningful to me, work that I was passionate about. I received encouragement and support from all of my professors, I found the program to be welcoming and comfortable. I grew in so many different ways, academically. This was a great community to be a part of.”
Link to Hassan’s research project featured on the Lakehead Research Education Galleries: http://galleries.lakeheadu.ca/featured-masters-arts-integrated-research....