York volunteers central to success of Congress 2023 

York community members and volunteers at Vari Hall with the YorkU letters during Congress 2023

By Ashley Goodfellow Craig, YFile editor and Joseph Burrell, YFile communications officer 

York University community members contributed hundreds of volunteer hours to support the University in hosting Congress 2023, Canada’s largest academic gathering, in partnership with the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences. 

From May 27 to June 2, York staff, faculty, students, retirees and alumni made up the 400-plus cohort of volunteers at the University’s Keele Campus working to bring the first in-person Congress since 2019 to life. 

“We had an overwhelmingly positive response to our call for volunteers with nearly 700 applications received, surpassing our goal of 500,” says York University’s Liz McMahan, director, Congress 2023. “This is a great opportunity for community members to meet each other and demonstrate their York pride by working together to welcome attendees from all over the world.” 

With more than 10,000 participants at this year’s conference, volunteers were recruited as front-line ambassadors to greet guests, give directions, support events and help with operations.

Congress volunteers lining up to get their volunteer t-shirts
Congress volunteers lining up to get their volunteer t-shirts (Photo by Joseph Burrell)

Volunteers attended a training session to learn more about what they would be doing in different roles, including: event ushers, cultural programming assistants, hospitality assistants, wayfinders, kiosk attendants, accessibility stop assistants, catering assistants and logistics support. Volunteer groups are coordinated by volunteer team leads. 

The effort was led by Congress 2023 Volunteer Coordinator Christine Le, who oversaw the recruitment, scheduling, training and provided ongoing support for the volunteers. 

“The volunteer program has been a huge success, thanks to Christine’s leadership,” said McMahan. “There is a palpable energy that volunteers have been bringing to Congress. We have received many comments about how warm and welcoming they are – and they are terrific ambassadors in their red Team Congress 2023 t-shirts.” 

Diane Beelen Woody
Diane Beelen Woody (Photo by Joseph Burrell)

Diane Beelen Woody, co-president of York University’s Retiree Association (YURA) and retired associate professor and senior scholar from the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (LAPS), says working towards the success of Congress is a “lovely contribution” to make in retirement. 

“Many of our members have spent their entire careers at York, including me,” she says. “I think this is special for York because it is unique in terms of its student diversity, and the themes of Congress are so appropriate for York, and for Canada, at this time. I think it’s a monumental undertaking and the organizers deserve all of the support that we can give them.” 

Dammy Atekoja
Dammy Atekoja (Photo by Joseph Burrell)

For Dammy Atekoja, a student in Schulich School of Business’ MSc Financial Accountability Program (MFAc), the opportunity to volunteer supports his goals of helping people and contributing to society. 

“Personally, it brings me pleasure to know that I’m helping. This is a school that I feel connected to, and when they have events like this and they need students to make sure the event is a success, then I want to be a part of that,” says Atekoja. 

Jodi Tavares
Jodi Tavares (Photo by Joseph Burrell)

For some, like staff member Jodi Tavares, volunteering is an opportunity to show and share pride in the University. “We have the best and brightest minds on campus, and I want to make sure I’m part of the group that shows them how welcoming York can be. If I’m volunteering, then I feel that I’m helping that experience, and helping reflect the values of York. We’re open. We’re welcoming. We want to bring more community here.” 

Tavares, a student of the liberal arts, says hosting Congress is a big deal for York, and helps to increase awareness of York’s successes. 

“York is already on the map – we’re a massive research institution and we have a huge footprint in terms of number of students, [and being] the third-largest university in Canada. But this puts us on the map academically – we have some of the best researchers here, some of the greatest minds, and now we’re bringing the rest of them here. It’s a big deal, I just want to be a part of it.” 

McMahan says she hopes volunteers come away from their Congress 2023 experience feeling proud of their accomplishments with lasting memories of a fun week. 

“I’ve really enjoyed watching our volunteers have fun – dancing to music being played on the Swag Stages, welcoming attendees with big smiles, making new friends, and taking pride in their university and in being part of Team Congress 2023.” 

York takes academic leadership role at Congress 2023 

Female conference lecture teacher professor

By Ashley Goodfellow Craig, editor, YFile

Upwards of 250 York University faculty members and scholars are among the presenters during the 2023 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, where they take an academic leadership role in sharing their research with colleagues from across the nation. 

The flagship event of the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences – taking place May 27 to June 2 at York University’s Keele Campus – returns to an in-person format this year, following a hiatus in 2020 and the subsequent virtual format in 2021 and 2022. Congress is the largest academic gathering in Canada, with at least 10,000 participants attending this year. The event was last hosted at York University in 2006. 

Congress 2023 provides a platform for critical conversations, including diverse voices and perspectives to create collaborations that help drive the future of post-secondary education. This year’s theme “Reckonings and Re-Imaginings” will guide the direction of discussions and knowledge sharing in presentations, panels, workshops and more.

Andrea Davis
Andrea Davis

“I am excited by this theme because it’s a call to reflection on where we (as scholars, activists, artists and thinkers) are and how we got here,” said York University Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies Professor Andrea Davis, who is serving as academic convenor for Congress 2023, when the theme was announced. “Rather than simply centering the problems, this theme insists that we imagine otherwise – that we consider what a different set of possibilities might look like and that we come together collectively to create the kind of world we want to live in.” 

York faculty and scholars will contribute their humanities and social sciences research and expertise through more than 250 different events scheduled in a variety of programming streams, such as the Big Thinking Lecture Series, Career Corner, Black and racialized programming, Indigenous programming, scholarly presentations and more. 

Contributions come from all 11 York Faculties, three Organized Research Units, two divisions and other units, such as the Teaching Commons and York International. 

“We took the opportunity to apply York’s strengths as an institution that is known for supporting social justice and social responsibility. At Congress 2023, the University is playing an active role in igniting and sustaining positive change through scholarship, creative practice and conversations that generate new perspectives,” said Lisa Philipps, provost and vice-president academic.

Philipps is also a member of the Scholarly Planning Committee for Congress, which is comprised of York faculty, staff, graduate students and senior leadership, who together have helped to guide and shape the themes and programming for this year’s event through broad consultation with the York community. Learn more about the Scholarly Planning Committee here

York programming at Congress 2023 

The School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design will feature work from faculty and graduate students with topics exploring culturally relevant pedagogy, accessible tech for Canadian artists, film screenings and more. 

Diverse programming from the Faculty of Education – which contributes to more than 60 events – includes re-imagining teacher education, book launch events, the risks of queer lives during the pandemic, findings from a Black feminist qualitative study and more from faculty and graduate students. 

Both faculty and graduate students from the Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change will participate and explore topics such as the intersectional feminist approach to gathering and analyzing stories that reconsider risk, and a look at ceremonies of mourning, remembrance and care in the context of violence and more.

Glendon College faculty members will consider the ascent of right-wing populism in Canada, the politics of refusal in the Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette novel Suzanne, and more. 

Research by graduate students will be the focus of contributions from the Faculty of Graduate Studies, with a variety of presentations on diverse topics, including the impact of the pandemic on intimate partner violence in Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa, a focus on mental health and the suicide of Black men, female activists and their relationships with their mothers, and more. 

From the Faculty of Health, faculty members will explore how academic nursing leaders addressed the complexities of sustaining quality nursing education programs during the COVID-19 pandemic, participate in a roundtable on transnational Black communities and overcoming epidemics and a panel on promising practices that support aging with equity. Faculty will also present research on Indian immigrant fatherhood in the perinatal period, the experiences of immigrant Pakistani youths, and Asian Canadian exclusionary experiences in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to research contributions, a graduate program assistant will perform at the Swag Stage.

Lassonde School of Engineering will have contributions from faculty and an undergraduate student that focuses on designing a more equitable science curricula and York’s Cross-Campus Capstone Classroom (C4), which will be presented in partnership with a student from the Schulich School of Business.

Knowledge sharing from the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies will come from undergraduate students, graduate students, teaching and research assistants and faculty, with participation in upwards of 80 different events at Congress. Some of the research will cover racial profiling among Canadian university professors of Chinese descent, re-imagining criminal justice, activism and inclusion, decolonizing transnational human rights engagements and partnerships in Africa, queer rural teacher activists and more. 

Osgoode Hall Law School faculty members and a visiting Fellow will present their research on girls and Young Women before the Cour du bienêtre social of Montréal, conflicting interpretations of women in Canada’s thalidomide tragedy and Indigenous laws and jurisdiction for addressing harm. 

Faculty members representing the Faculty of Science will share their research on geological fantasies, the stark effect, and offer perspectives during a roundtable on overcoming epidemics and the transnational Black communities’ response. 

Find more information about open programming events at Congress here: https://www.federationhss.ca/en/congress2023/york-programming.