PhD (Sociology and Anthropology), 1998
On October 1 2001, Dr. Sunera Thobani delivered a talk on Canadian foreign policy that was described by Herizons Magazine as the “speech that shook the country.”
Thobani is an associate professor with UBC’s Institute for Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice. She was the founder and director of the Race, Autobiography, Gender and Age Centre and was the president of one of Canada's largest feminist organizations, the National Action Committee on the Status of Women. She completed her PhD in Sociology and Anthropology at SFU in 1998.
Thobani's work crosses the worlds of advocacy and academia, and she strives to eradicate racial violence, inequity and exclusion within Canada. “This country is often perceived as a peace-loving and tolerant nation, and yet we have failed to come to terms with our own heterogeneity. There can be no social justice without the decolonization of Indigenous peoples — and social justice cannot exist if immigrants are continued to be seen as outsiders and a drain on resources,” she says.
At the heart of Thobani's work is her drive for citizens of all nations to live free from violence. Though critiqued for describing US foreign policy as "soaked in blood" in her controversial speech, Thobani's message helped open up public discourse across the country to include views based on peace-making and compassion.
“The reaction from my speech broke through the ‘war frenzy’ and brought oppositional discussions into the mainstream. It created a moment where a different decision could have been made, different politics could have happened. They didn’t but that doesn’t take away from the possibility that the moment created,” she says.
Thobani’s role as one of Canada's most outspoken and impactful activists, she explains, was informed by her PhD experience at SFU. A pioneer in the field of racial politics, Thobani had to direct her own program as there were no faculty mentors available to guide her. Though challenging at times, she notes this freedom afforded her an immense amount of intellectual growth.
“I was attracted to SFU because of its reputation as a radical university but few professors were focused on racial politics so I wound up doing it on my own. That freedom allowed me to develop my own thinking and my own ideas about how race is central to nation states,” she says.
- Written by Graduate Studies & Postdoctoral Fellows
Published in 2015