Shaylyn White will be receiving an award for academic excellence at this year’s Indigenous Student Achievement Awards. (Photo: Carey Shaw)

Women, Gender and Sexualities Studies student is making sense of the world through her education

Shaylyn White changed majors in her undergrad after she found herself drawn to the discussions she was having in a Women’s Studies class at Brandon University.

White is in her second year of a Master of Arts in Women, Gender and Sexualities Studies with an interest in queer narratives. She grew up in Thompson, Manitoba with roots to the Saulteaux Nation in Saskatchewan.

White will be receiving an award for academic excellence at this year’s Indigenous Student Achievement Awards (ISAA) on Feb. 7. Indigenous students from across the University of Saskatchewan (USask) will be honoured at a ceremony to recognize their academic excellence, leadership, research endeavours or community engagement.

The ISAA is part of Indigenous Achievement Week (IAW) which celebrates the successes and contributions of Métis, First Nations and Inuit students, staff and faculty. The festivities include a public art project, speakers and celebrations in various locations across campus.

We asked White a few questions about her time at USask and what motivates her.

Why did you choose Women, Gender and Sexualities Studies?

I originally wanted to be an English major since I’ve always loved reading and writing, but then in my first year I took an Introduction to Women’s Studies class as an elective and something just clicked. It’s hard to say what exactly it was, but I think it’s that for the first time, I was in a class discussing something I could see in my day-to-day life, especially in my interactions with others, and they were making sense of it in a way nobody I knew had ever tried to make sense of it before. That fascinated me, and I wanted to learn more and more about it, until one day I found myself changing majors.

What advice would you give to a first-year indigenous student?

This feels like such a corny thing to say, but other people are always going to be trying to set your limits for you, and I think it’s important not to make it easy for them. By that, I mean you should always do your best to reject (or to at least avoid dwelling on) self-doubt, especially when others are trying to foster it in you. The world is going to be throwing enough obstacles in your path as it is; it doesn’t need help.

What plans do you have for the future?

Right now, my plan is to keep going for as long as I can, and at the moment that means taking graduate studies as far as possible. When I’ve finished my master’s, I’d like to try for a PhD in the same field. I know at some point I’ll probably have to settle down, but I’d like to stay in academia, so maybe teaching? Whatever else happens, I’d like to get a cat and a hedgehog someday.

Has there been someone in your life who has inspired you to get to where you are today?

There are two people that come to mind. The first is Dr. Corinne Mason (PhD), a professor I had at Brandon University, the school where I did my undergraduate degree. She was the one who taught that Introduction to Women’s Studies class that inspired me to change majors, but she was also the one who urged me to consider graduate studies in the first place. I don’t know that I’d have even considered that as a possibility for me had she not suggested it, and I definitely couldn’t have made it through the application process without her guidance.

The second is my mother. She’s a very important person to me and has always been incredibly supportive in every way. She was as new to the idea of graduate studies as I was, but she made a point of learning about the process along with me so she could be there if I needed help. I know a lot of people don’t have parents who are as encouraging as mine and I want to do my best to prove that it was worth it.  

This year’s theme of the Indigenous Achievement Week is Powerful Voices. If there is one thing you can use your voice for in this moment what would it be for?

The world is honestly a mess right now and at any given moment it feels like there are a thousand and one issues demanding our attention. Because of that, it’s harder than ever to just be happy. I’d want to tell people to not forget others, but to not forget themselves, either. Seek joy in small moments and fulfillment in brief connections so that you have a reason to keep going even when the world seems like it may fall apart. Don’t let yourself be paralyzed. Keep moving forward no matter what.

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