Two York PhD students awarded prestigious Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships

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Two York University PhD students dedicated to the advancement of trailblazing research have been awarded 2021 Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships. Valued at $50,000 per year for up to three years, this prestigious scholarship is presented by the Government of Canada to support doctoral students who are conducting world-class research. The scholarship recipients embody all of the rigorous selection criteria: academic excellence, research potential and leadership.

This year’s Vanier Scholars, Debbie Ebanks Schlums and Maureen Owino, are advancing knowledge in areas that can stimulate positive change on a global scale. Both of their research areas have a diverse reach, from addressing the issues around the underrepresentation of small diasporic communities in formal archives to tackling injustices of pandemic responses that often overlook vulnerable populations.

“York University and its community are proud to support these incredible scholars in the advancement of their groundbreaking research and empower them for long-term success,” says Thomas Loebel, dean and associate vice-president of York’s Faculty of Graduate Studies.

Debbie Ebanks Schlums, cinema and media studies/film
Debbie Ebanks
Debbie Ebanks Schlums

Ebanks Schlums acknowledges the important role small diasporic communities play in the constitution of the Canadian nation in her proposed dissertation titled “Community-Engaged Memory Preservation: Co-Creating an Audio-Visual Archive of the Jamaican Diaspora in the Greater Toronto Area.”

“Small diasporic communities significantly impact the national fabric of Canada, yet their contributions are marginalized within official archival collections and, therefore, within the idea of the nation,” says Ebanks Schlums of her project.

This cutting-edge study challenges the work done by official archives through creating an alternative presentation of artifacts that does justice to preserving the cultural heritage of the Jamaican diaspora in the Greater Toronto Area. Ebanks Schlums underscores that there are portable and non-material forms of archiving that carry history on and through bodies of communities that have a migratory nature. This project will embody a creative and collective imagining of a diasporic archive by creating a variety of unique artifacts from musical compositions to cellphone portraits of people and places. This innovative type of archive will be shared in mainstream spaces to provide as much accessibility to these cultural artifacts as possible.

Through this research, new methods dedicated to the study of diasporas and under-examined archives will emerge through the creation of novel forms of artifact presentation. The project aims to support the Jamaican community in exploring their own identity and sense of belonging through creating connections to community members, their homeland and the society in which they reside.

In addition to the cutting-edge academic work that Ebanks Schlums performs, she is also an active leader in her community. She was a founding member of the Out of a War Zone and To Lemon Hill collectives, both addressing the Syrian refugee crisis.

Maureen Owino, environmental studies
Maureen Owino
Maureen Owino

Owino’s research, titled “When HIV and COVID-19 Pandemics Collide in Black Communities in Canada,” confronts issues relating to pandemic responses that impact already vulnerable communities.

Through institutional ethnography, the research will examine the cumulative impacts of existing and emerging social and public health policies on Black people’s health and well-being in Canada. “It will do so by: 1. Tracking the rapidly changing health and public policy landscape in Canada; 2. Using critical feminist and race theories to analyze, compare and contrast COVID-19 and HIV containment and mitigation strategies; and 3. Examining how these policies address, reify, challenge, and uphold existing health inequities from the perspective of Black people living with and at risk of pandemics in Canada,” says Owino of her research.

This research is vital, as it exposes how pandemics reveal inequities in health outcomes for vulnerable communities who also face racism, sexism, homophobia and poverty, which create acute conditions for these vulnerable populations. The findings will be accessible to a diverse audience base through a collaboration with Black organizations, community members, researchers, activists and scholars.

“Whereas most Canadians are reeling from the impact of COVID-19, Black people also remain in an HIV pandemic zone and must deal with the impact of both pandemics simultaneously,” says Owino. “This structural inequities creates conditions of vulnerability that are increased by barriers to effective and timely health care, and increases the Black communities’ risks to future pandemics.”

In addition to being a dedicated scholar who promotes these vital social causes, Owino also shows exemplary leadership skills. She is the director of the Committee for Accessible AIDS Treatment and a member of the Ontario Advisory Committee on HIV/AIDS.

“Both Debbie Ebanks Schlums and Maureen Owino are outstanding examples of Vanier Scholars through their innovative research and dedication to the community,” says Loebel.