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Justice warrior

Activist and master of arts graduate Kerri Claire Neil eyes the future

special feature: Student Success 2019

Part of a special feature celebrating the success of Memorial's graduates. This feature coincides with spring 2019 convocation ceremonies.

By Janet Harron

Kerri Claire Neil is all about challenging the status quo.

From deciding to run in the 2018 Windsor Lake by-election against Ches Crosbie and Paul Antle to questioning the need for graduation gowns at convocation on Twitter (and getting “slapped down” by Kim Campbell in the process), Ms. Neil is not afraid to speak truth to power.

Take her reasons for switching from economics (she completed her BA (Hons.) in 2017) to sociology for her master’s degree.

“Economics theory hasn’t changed much in 200 years,” she said. “Much of it is based on the idea that people are rational decision-makers. This of course has been totally disproven – we make decisions for all sorts of complex reasons – but it’s easier to teach it that way. Sociology, on the other hand, takes things that are complex and looks at them in a complex way.”

Sustainable and long-term

Originally from Spaniard’s Bay, Ms. Neil originally wanted to be a teacher. Then, she became interested in farming.

After spending a semester in France working on an organic farm (“farming is hard work!”), she decided to complete her undergraduate degree in economics in order to learn how to make Newfoundland and Labrador a better place to live.

“Obviously, the economy is really important in building a society where people are cared for and are successful.”

Kerri Claire Neil at the St. John’s Community Market.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

Now, having achieved the coveted title of fellow of the School of Graduate Studies, Ms. Neil believes the future for Newfoundland and Labrador lies in developing communities that use co-operative work structures, where workers making value-added products receive fair value for their labour.

“We should be making products that are true to this place and these, of course, can lead to jobs that are sustainable and long-term.”

Her master’s thesis, Temporary Tool or Long-Term Business Strategy?: Assessing Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program, received the sociology department’s award for best master’s research paper.

“Studying social sciences has totally changed the way I understand the world and opened my eyes to new possibilities.” — Kerri Claire Neil

Her online activism has included initiating an Eat Seal NL group on Facebook and challenging people to #eatmorefish on Twitter.

“Buying local and eating local is how we keep money in our economy,” said Ms. Neil, who cites Our Lives Our Times: Women of Newfoundland and Labrador, edited by Drs. Barbara Neis, Marilyn Porter and Carmelita McGrath, as an inspirational text.

She is now involved with Dr. Neis’s On the Move project and has worked as a research assistant with Dr. Tony Fang, the Stephen Jarislowsky Chair in Cultural and Economic Transformation.

“Studying social sciences has totally changed the way I understand the world and opened my eyes to new possibilities,” she says.

A screenshot of CBC’s Windsor Lake by-election candidates debate. Ms. Neil is pictured at the far left.
Photo: Submitted

Ms. Neil characterizes her 2018 “feet first” jump into politics as “an amazing opportunity to take up that space” and is currently looking for the right opportunity to start her own business.

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