Zaren Healey White’s worldview has changed since becoming a new mother just days ago.
However, the foundation she received as a Memorial student has propelled her through her life and career thus far, making her a recognizable name in the media and beyond.
It’s not just through academics that Memorial made an impact on her career, she says. She believes that a university education also includes learning outside the classroom.
From editing The Muse to running the Student Volunteer Bureau and from entertaining bleachers of varsity athletics fans as Sammy the Sea-Hawk to taking on student leadership roles, each experience has contributed to the woman she is today.
In this Q&A with the Gazette, she recalls how formative her cumulative nine years as a Memorial student have been, and continue to be.
HW: Which people and experiences had an early impact on your career?
ZHW: I found a home in the Department of English early on with courses that shaped my research passions taught by many professors, particularly Drs. Jennifer Lokash and Andrew Loman.
Their guidance and encouragement of my academic interests had a profound impact, including the research I went on to do during my master of arts degree at McGill.
I was also extremely fortunate to participate in the first offering of the incredible Literary London Harlow Program in 2008 with Dr. Don Nichol and Mary Walsh.
Exploring London, travelling to other countries, reviewing theatre and writing satire with Mary Walsh was a unique high point.
It took me years into my undergrad to find gender studies. I was lucky to take two courses with the late Dr. Kate Bride. Her courses caused me to change my minor.
Returning to Memorial for my master’s in gender studies, Dr. Sonja Boon became a very important teacher and mentor for me.
I was also shaped by many mentors I encountered over my years working with Student Services, notably Kim Kelly and Chris Hibbs, as well as all the collaborators and peer mentors I learned from through Memorial leadership programs and student journalism with The Muse.
HW: You’ve received a number of awards for your contributions to Memorial. What have those meant?
ZHW: These opportunities make me think of all the support and generosity I received at Memorial. I’ve truly enjoyed the recommendations I’ve been able to provide in turn, for teachers, peers and those I’ve supervised.
When we support students to pursue their passions and find opportunities that excite them it builds confidence, and each positive experience has a compounding effect, propelling them forward.
Many people, ranging from professors to the many staff members who mentored me in Student Services, have supported me in applying for grants and jobs.
As a first-generation university graduate, accessing scholarships and being able to work and build my career while studying was essential for me.
HW: Can you comment on the responsibility of the media, or any other prong of your career, for that matter as an artist/writer, etc., in the context of making change?
ZHW: I think all academics — teachers and students — have a responsibility to share knowledge and help shape public discourse, promote critical engagement and contribute to social change.
The intersection of English, communications and gender studies always made sense to me as a catalyst for activism. I feel certain that gender studies is not just something you research but you also have to practice.
The media also has a critical responsibility for telling the stories that inform the public and shape our understanding.
As this role becomes more complex and important, it’s crucial that journalists have training around equity, diversity and inclusion, to ensure coverage is actively anti-sexist, anti-racist and so on.
Working in news media while completing my master’s in gender studies led me to a passion for feminist media criticism, allowed me to cover certain stories and contribute commentary for various news outlets.
I’ve enjoyed the privilege and responsibility of offering what I was learning to many public workshops, presentations and guest lectures. I also found fulfillment in bringing feminism and media studies to my own writing and art.
Blogging, doing interviews and starting a local art show to help showcase feminist artists certainly prolonged the completion of my thesis, but again, it felt like it was the point of doing the degree.
HW: What are your hopes and plans for the future, for yourself and for Newfoundland and Labrador?
ZHW: This question has more levels for me since my son Ronan was born! For me, I hope I keep pursuing opportunities to learn constantly and experiment in new facets of the career I’ve been building so far.
For my son, I hope to see urgent action to address the climate crisis across all levels of government worldwide and here in Canada and Newfoundland and Labrador.
Around social equality, I want to see wealth redistribution and a system where the rich pay a fair and equitable contribution of taxes.
Here in the province, I want to see regular increases to make the minimum wage a living wage, implementation of pay equity and investments in affordable, accessible, high-quality, post-secondary education.
I want to see a true gender-based lens applied to all policy-making and provincial budget development.
In the appalling wake of Roe vs. Wade being overturned in the U.S., I hope we all fight harder than ever to protect reproductive justice and improve abortion access as the essential, life-saving health care that it is.
HW: What does the Horizon Award mean to you?
ZHW: When I started at Memorial University it was a huge transition, but before long, I felt like I was home. I’d often spend 12 or more hours at a time on campus, studying, working and volunteering.
I found friends, mentors, rewarding challenges and a sense of purpose — I found a community.
I’m so grateful for the life-shaping academic and co-curricular experiences I had here, as an undergraduate and graduate student, an employee and now in my continuing relationship with the university as an alumna.
I’m honoured to be recognized with the Horizon Award, and I’m so grateful for the support I’ve received.
The 41st annual Alumni Tribute Awards take place on Oct. 5 at 7 p.m. NST.
The ceremony will be livestreamed on the Memorial University Alumni YouTube channel.