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A Q&A with alumna Chandra Kavanagh

Campus and Community |

By Lisa Pendergast

Chandra Kavanagh, BA(hons.)’12, credits Memorial University with not only introducing her to the world of feminist thought and activism, but also continuing to support her in her career path.

The current doctoral student at McMaster University is this province’s second feminist-in-residence at the St. John’s Status of Women Council.

LP: Can you tell me a little about yourself? What is your hometown?

CK: I am a PhD student in the field of philosophy; my areas of specialty are bio-ethics and feminist philosophy. I particularly focus on issues with disability, especially those with autism, so that’s what I’m working on now. I’m in St. John’s for six months as the feminist-in-residence at the St. John’s Status of Women Council.

I feel like I’m from all over the island, but I grew up in Conception Harbour and then Bauline. After that, I went to high school in Gander and moved to St. John’s to do my undergraduate degree.

LP: Why did you first decide to come to Memorial University?

CK: I think I decided to come to Memorial University for the same reason that a lot of young Newfoundlanders and Labradorians decide to come to Memorial University, it’s convenient and it’s inexpensive. There was definitely a little part of me that wanted to go to Toronto or wanted to go somewhere far away and glamorous, but I could not be happier that I selected Memorial University, in part because I felt so tremendously supported when I was there.

LP: What did you enjoy most about being a student at Memorial? Is there a particular moment or experience that stands out?

CK: My experience at Memorial really catapulted me into the world of feminist thought and activism. In fact, my first interaction with the St. John’s Status of Women Council was as an undergrad here. I was completing the applied mental health ethics diploma, which has a co-op component and I chose to do my placement at the St. John’s Status of Women Council.

“[Memorial] has the feel of a small university, while having the resources of quite a large one.”

For my final project, I organized a 10-week creative writing class that culminated in the publication of a book of short stories, written by the women in the class, called Her Stories. The book was a great success, we had a launch party and we sold copies as a fundraiser for the centre. I feel that this experience really represents what is so special about Memorial, it has the feel of a small university, while having the resources of quite a large one. I had this idea and I received a level of support that I can only describe as familial. But, at the same time, I had the resources to publish and distribute a book based on my project.

LP: What does the feminist-in-residence role entail?

CK: In this role, they have given me free reign and the support to pursue whatever idea I have. I have worked on three central projects. The first was a workshop series, over five weeks, called Introduction to Feminist Activism. We did Feminism and Sex and Love, Feminism and Work and Feminism and Parenting. I thought, if we can get 7-10 people for each class we will be lucky. It turned out that we had 25-35 people attend every single week. We really saw that there is a need and an appetite in our city for feminist activism and good information about the feminist movement. That was really exciting!

My second project has been a feminist working hub, which is a weekly co-working commons where people who work from home, small business owners, students, artists and writers can all come together, on Mondays from 12-4 p.m., and hang out, use the resources at the centre and work together in the same space. It’s great because you can use the Wi-Fi or the copier, you can use the kitchen to make a coffee, but also this is a tremendous group of feminist activists and authors and musicians and people who want to share their knowledge. It becomes a really great pool of resources to draw from.

The last project that I am working on is a women’s mentorship program called Ment-HER!, which currently has 10 mentors and 10 mentees. It’s a two-month program where we pair people up and help them relationship-build. After the two months of scheduled meetings, we let them go and see how their relationship blossoms from there.

LP: What does being a feminist mean to you?

CK: To me, feminism is a basic philosophical category of thought, like ethics or politics or science. These categories provide us with the tools for understanding our world, the way it is right now, and they also provide us with methods for transforming the world into what we want it to be. So, feminism helps us understand why the world is the way it is and it also provides us with tactics and strategies for making the world a better place.

So, for me, being a feminist entails a dedication to understanding the world, through this gendered lens, and to working towards changing the injustice that it reveals.

LP: How has your time at Memorial University influenced your career?

CK: I think being at Memorial really started my career as an academic and a feminist activist and the institution still supports my career, as an alumna. Since I’ve been in this role, at the women’s centre, I’ve given presentations and guest lectures at four different departments, I’ve been invited to speak at a health ethics conference to be hosted by Memorial next month, and engaged with the philosophy department’s public lecture series at The Ship Inn in December.

“It’s empowering to know that once you are a Memorial student you can depend on this institution to support you.”

It’s been five years since I’ve been an official part of the Memorial community, but as soon as I came home, it was like I had never left. It’s empowering to know that once you are a Memorial student you can depend on this institution to support you in the early stages of your career and beyond.

LP: What is next for you?

CK: I have some pretty exciting things coming up! I finish up my role as feminist-in-residence in December and from there, I’m going to be spending a semester abroad in Sydney, Australia, at Macquarie University. I’m going to be working at the CAVE Institute, which is the Centre for Agency, Values and Ethics, which is this great feminist ethics institute with very well-published and amazing women who run it. I am extremely excited to do that.

After that, I’m hoping that I can finish my thesis and I will be going on the academic job market, as of this coming September. So, that is a scary and exciting next step for me.

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