Four York U students receive Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships

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York graduate students Alison Humphrey, Zachary Lomo, Jesse Thistle and Syrus Marcus Ware have been named recipients of the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship, one of the most prestigious graduate scholarships in Canada.

Recipients receive $50,000 annually for up to three years to support their doctoral research and are selected based on their leadership skills and high standards of scholarly achievement in the social sciences and humanities, natural sciences and engineering, or health-related fields.

“I’d like to congratulate Alison, Zachary, Jesse and Syrus on this wonderful achievement,” says Barbara Crow, dean of the Faculty of Graduate Studies. “Their research projects are exciting and diverse, and I’m so pleased that they have been recognized by the broader research community with this incredible honour.”

Vanier Scholarship recipient Alison Humphrey
Alison Humphrey

Alison Humphrey
Cinema & Media Studies

Humphrey is collaborating with young performing artists at drama schools in North America, Europe, Africa and Asia, to create a science fiction story world titled Shadowpox, exploring civic engagement through the concept of vaccination through her thesis Participatory Culture, Political Chorus: Empowering youth civic engagement and public health problem-solving by reinventing an ancient Greek dramatic art for the internet age.

“The chorus in ancient Greek theatre gave voice to a community, a collective ‘character’ in dialogue with the individualistic hero,” says Humphrey. “These choruses were often performed by Greek youth as a cornerstone of their participation in civic life. I see parallels in young adults employing digital technologies to respond to and build on stories in present-day popular culture and civic debate.”

Humphrey notes that we use stories to help us figure out how to act and, in the case of health decisions, these might come from family, friends or various forms of media. “Often we are most moved to action not by the story with the best randomized controlled trial, but by the one with the most human drama.”

“I’m incredibly lucky to be able to work with geek-friendly faculty like my PhD supervisor, Caitlin Fisher, who co-founded York’s Future Cinema Lab; Graham Wakefield, who let technical director LaLaine Ulit-Destajo and me loose in his brand-new Alice Lab for Computational Worldmaking; and Jen Jenson, Director of York’s Institute for Research on Digital Learning,” she says. “Dr. Fisher and I will be participating in an exhibition next year at the United Nations in Geneva for The Vaccine Project, a multi-year initiative bringing together scientists, artists and academics to explore strategies for improving global health decision-making.”

Vanier Graduate Scholarship recipient Zachary Lomo
Zachary Lomo

Zachary Lomo

Lomo’s work investigates how the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) can be held accountable, at international law, for both environmental degradation resulting from refugee camps in Africa that it helps create, fund, and manage and the conditions of refugees in those camps.

“I hope my research will contribute to better understanding of the responsibilities of international organizations, which enjoy separate legal personality or in layman’s language, which enjoy autonomy and independence, from their parent organizations, whose activities greatly impact the lives of millions of people in the developing world,” he says.

Lomo’s work seeks to clarify the factors that form the state of exception of refugee encampment and stimulate further research on alternatives to refugee encampment. The hope, then, is to prompt debate on finding alternatives to refugee encampment. “This will benefit refugees, host communities, and many people who contribute billions of dollars each year to support the work of UNHCR because such a debate will create the momentum for further research for better ways of serving humanity, especially the most disadvantaged and vulnerable amongst us.”

Lomo recently concluded a residency at the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) in Waterloo, Ontario, and has since returned to York to continue his research. “The environment at York is superb for the kind of research I am conducting. The materials and resources I need are easily accessible and the Librarians are excellent,” he says.

Vanier Graduate Scholarship recipient Jesse Thistle
Jesse Thistle

Jesse Thistle

Thistle’s thesis Indigence, Invisibility, and Indifference: Metis Life in Road Allowance Communities on the Canadian Prairies focuses on Indigenous narrative, memory, and storytelling as a way to rediscover history and identity. Centred on intergenerational trauma in Metis-Cree in the northern Great Plains, Thistle has built an oral history archive, a photo journal, and preserved community stories for posterity.

In addition to the Vanier, Thistle was also awarded a Trudeau Scholarship this year, with an annual value of $60,000 (including an annual travel allowance of $20,000) for up to four years. He is the first York scholar to be awarded both a Trudeau and a Vanier.

“My work on trauma is geared towards Indigenous community healing and moving forward; I do not study trauma for the spectacle of it, I want to understand trauma and help people recover identity and move forward in a good way, towards reconciliation,” he says.

“The goal of my research is to make Canadians aware of Metis road allowance history on the prairies in the 20th century. Most people I have talked to across the country do not even know what a road allowance community was, when they existed and who lived on them. I want to change that. I want people to better understand this chapter in Metis history, to make people see the resilience of my people.”

The work is very personal for Thistle. Looking at his own family history dating back to after the Riel Resistances of 1869 and 1885, it is his hope to bring about a greater understanding of impacts experienced by the Metis people to better inform how future generations can fight against, heal and overcome trauma.

Thistle says that winning both the Trudeau and Vanier opens many doors for him in terms of research support, travel and connecting with top scholars in the country – noting community as the true value of the award.

“In all, I guess I will keep doing what I am doing with my own Metis-Cree community and friends in Saskatchewan and Ontario, and I will keep writing my crazy stories and histories with my cat and wife Lucie by my side. And I know I will keep visiting and working with Randy, Nancy, and Jolene up at the Centre for Aboriginal Student Services (CASS). Those people work magic, truly. Go check them out. CASS helped make me into the person and scholar I am today – York is lucky to have such an Indigenous centre with such experts.”

Vanier Graduate Scholarship recipient Syrus Marcus Ware
Syrus Marcus Ware

Syrus Marcus Ware
Environmental Studies

Ware’s work focuses on the disjuncture of progressive policy frameworks and funding structures for equity-seeking populations, and the ability to use those frameworks in a way that improves the life and work chances of those who need them most.

“My research seeks to address the existing limitations in the field of disability arts by exploring the development of a contemporary disability arts movement alongside both the institutional infrastructures that fund and present this work as well as the lived experiences of disabled artists of colour,” says Ware.

This research allows Ware to investigate the experiences of disabled artists of colour within arts communities and better understand their lived experiences, something that has been widely under-researched.

“It will also bring me closer to an understanding of my own work as a racialized, disabled artist and activist. My research will contribute to the burgeoning fields of disability arts, disability studies and museum studies, contributing invaluable insight into the lived experiences of those on the margins,” says Ware. “My work will contribute to interventions within these fields by scholars of colour calling for an intersectional approach and analysis. On a large-scale, this research could be used to help disabled artists advocate for access and resources, and help funders and institutions better engage with diverse populations.”

Additionally, Ware contributes to Marvellous Grounds – an SSHRC and ERA-funded, forerunning collection of art, activism and academic writings by queers of colour in Toronto. It is a book and web-based project and is co-edited/curated by Jin Haritaworn, Alvis Choi, Ghaida Moussa, Rio Rodriguez and Ware at York University.

“York University is the ideal place for me to train and conduct this research. Through the Faculty of Environmental Studies’ specialization in interdisciplinary and transnational research, community arts, and critical race theory, I will gain skills that will help me broaden my current research and analysis. Working in a recognized, socially conscious institutional environment and with well-established faculty such as Dr. Haritaworn, Dr. Ford-Smith and Dr. Gorman (Critical Disability Studies at York) will be ideal and they have written some of the seminal works on trans and queer of colour theory and activism; performance and social movements; community arts; community-engaged and activist art and disability and social movements.”

You can read more about Ware’s work at