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Fierce inspiration

Gender Studies graduate will walk, skate or sashay across the convocation stage

special feature: Class of 2024

Part of a special feature celebrating and recognizing the Class of 2024 at Memorial.

By Joshua Goudie

Hailing from Port-aux-Basques, spring graduate Emil Francis says he applied to Memorial to pursue a degree that would one day land him a job.

Emil Francis stands in front of banners and smiles. There is a gold sash with the words "special feature" in it in the upper left-hand corner.
Emil Francis during a research presentation for his gender studies program.
Photo: Submitted

The only issue was that he had no idea what that job would be.

“I didn’t even know what I wanted to do with my life,” he said.

Luckily, his perspective shifted during his first semester.

Thanks to the MUN Mentors Program, Mr. Francis became involved with several volunteer organizations.

He gave his time to the English as a Second Language Conversation Partner Program and MUNs Sexual and Gender Advocacy Group.

“I was actually enjoying school for the first time in years.” — Emil Francis

He was also the Department of Gender Studies’ undergraduate representative on the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences’ Faculty Council.

Through his community work, a path began taking shape and soon he had a solid vision for his studies and his future.

“I couldn’t believe that I was actually enjoying school for the first time in years,” he recalled.

On Tuesday, May 28, at the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre, Mr. Francis will cross the convocation stage to collect his bachelor of arts degree.

Academic awakening

A pivotal moment for Mr. Francis was joining the Gender and Politics Lab under the mentorship of Dr. Amanda Bittner.

There, he developed crucial technical and professional skills, igniting a passion for research.

This enthusiasm extended to his courses within the Department of Gender Studies, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences.

Under the guidance of Dr. Vicky Hallett, Mr. Francis began examining figure skating, a sport he deeply loves as both an athlete and professional coach.

“I wanted to give my fellow drag performers a platform . . . especially with the rise in anti-queer hate.” — Emil Francis

Dr. Hallett’s encouragement led him to develop a master’s thesis proposal.

His research is now being funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council’s Canada Graduate Scholarships-Master’s Program and when as recognized with the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences’ Dean’s Award for Excellence Award.

Despite the heavy academic load, Mr. Francis maintains a dedication to community work.

This winter, he took on a unique research project focused on the St. John’s drag scene, a community in which he performs under the name, Meryl Strip.

Emil Francis in drag, doing the splits at a park while onlookers cheer.
Emil Francis performs as his drag character, Meryl Strip, in St. John’s.
Photo: Submitted

“I wanted to give my fellow drag performers a platform to share their experiences, especially with the rise in anti-queer hate,” Mr. Francis said. “It was a labour of love, enriched by the perspectives of my drag siblings.”

Future unveiled

Looking ahead, Mr. Francis is planning on pursuing a doctoral degree and teach at the university level to further devote himself to teaching and learning.

Though leaving St. John’s and Memorial will be tough, he says he’s grateful for the incredible friends and mentors he’s met along the way.

“I’ve faced a lot of challenges, but I’ve grown so much because of the support I’ve received.”

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