Travel Report: Sarah Vanderveer, Sociology and Anthropology

November 28, 2018

Sarah Vanderveer, a Master’s student in Sociology in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, received a Graduate International Research Travel Award (GIRTA) to further her 2018 research in Accra, Ghana. Her report: 

My research focuses on how female academics in Ghana are challenging gender norms and expectations within their academic and social environments. This research focuses on the gendered experiences of female faculty and PhD candidates, the methods they employ to raise consciousness about systemic gender bias and the ways they pursue gender equity.

As my research is ethnographic in nature, fieldwork was a necessary part of my studies; this fieldwork was made possible by the generosity of the Faculty of Social Sciences at Simon Fraser University the the granting of a Graduate International Research Travel Award (GIRTA).

Key findings from my field work focus on how women in academia initiate critical discourse with peers and members of their community to raise consciousness about embedded gender biases. Using negotiative feminist methods, they manage cultural pressures to fulfill the roles and obligations related gendered domestic labour and childrearing. They work together to create, under difficult circumstances, to develop and support each other, building systems outside of the traditional academic structures that were not built to include them. By participating in these support systems, openly challenging gender bias and creating new methods for pursuing equity and development, they navigate the larger system, ensuring that it must include them, and take their special considerations into perspective.

Their emphasis on collaborative, interdisciplinary work results in the creation of complex knowledge that facilitates promotion and challenges the hyper-individualistic proclivity of professional academia. By creating a professional culture of collaboration, women simultaneously build mentoring relationships, thus extending the network of female academics while advancing their development and performing innovative methods of labour production.

It is important to note that I benefitted greatly from the generosity of the women that I had the privilege of meeting. It is also important to note the directionality of this benefit and knowledge. It is from their generosity of time, knowledge and mentoring that I am developing. My participants viewed me as a researcher, but also engaged with me as mentors, taking the opportunity to encourage me, direct me towards sources, dedicating their time and energy to my interests and development, embodying and expressing the mentoring that is central to their culture of support.

During my field work, I was able to interview dozens of female academics and access thousands of pages of academic literature produced by female, Ghanaian academics that would not have be available to me otherwise. This access was crucial to embedding this research in the experiences, ideologies and perspectives of Ghanaian women; a focus essential to mitigating a colonialist perspective.

The GIRTA was critical to my research; it enabled me to extend my field research for an additional month, a time during which I was able to interview key informants and study as a visiting student researcher.

I want to extend my deep appreciation for this support.

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