Reflections on the Dr. Marela Dichupa Memorial Graduate Award

October 26, 2023

I am deeply humbled and honoured to be the inaugural recipient of the Dr. Marela Dichupa Memorial Graduate Award. Dr. Dichupa was a gifted artist, educator, scholar, activist, and beloved member of many communities, including the SFU community. Although Dr. Dichupa passed away on August 6, 2021, her boundless passion for art and societal transformation courses through the veins of her work, an enduring legacy.

As I delve into the echoes of her teachings, writings, and way of life, I am profoundly moved by Dr. Dichupa’s vision of art as a catalyst for ethical involvement and her impactful research that raises consciousness about matters of equity, identity, representation, and social positioning. In the classroom, Dr. Dichupa’s ethos of compassion gently nudged students toward the peripheries of their own philosophical explorations.

Like her students, I too have sensed Dr. Dichupa’s gentle prods, urging me to delve into the depths of my doctoral research as I investigate embodied pathways that foster wholeness, healing, and activism for social justice. Central to my research is the role of the body. Dr. Celeste Snowber was the first to introduce me to the concept of the body as a place of knowledge during my MEd in Contemplative Inquiry at SFU. Initially, I felt unsettled by this corporeal knowledge, as much of my education had been steeped in cerebral-centric learning. However, as I allowed myself to embrace the epistemological possibilities, I stumbled upon fertile curiosities that would form the foundation of my doctoral research:

Embodied performance at the SFU Educational Review Symposium in 2019 at the Burnaby Campus.
Vines Art Festival, 2019; Dance Performance, Photography by Sheng Ho and Shanna Venor.

"I had danced almost every day for as long as my memory stretched back in time, and during my childhood, I danced more vigorously on days when Dad arrived home heavy-hearted after being belittled by his bosses at the local lumber mill…again. 

Perhaps dancing had not been what I had deemed, a mere hobby, but something more?" 

Throughout my doctoral journey in Arts Education, the seeds of my inquiry have flourished under the nurturing guidance of my senior supervisor, Dr. Snowber, and committee members, Dr. Lynn Fels and Dr. Hartej Gill (UBC), who inspire me to approach my scholarship as a whole human being. My research has sprouted from daily embodied practices where my body serves as a compass. From this place of cellular knowing, a place that generates expansive expressivities of mind, heart, viscera, spirit, memory, ancestry, intuition, and imagination, I have been artfully and critically revisiting, reframing, and reclaiming stories from my Punjabi-Sikh family’s multigenerational lived experiences.

Drawing from interdisciplinary insights in embodied arts-based research, decolonizing theoretical perspectives, Punjabi-Sikh onto-epistemologies, and trauma-informed literature, I make visible and visceral the sensory and structural patterns that arise across familial generational narratives in fleshing out recurrent themes of love, loss, beauty, shame, silence, violence, strength, and healing. What makes my familial narrative unique is that my Punjabi-Sikh ancestors were among the first wave of migrants to arrive on Coast Salish lands from Punjab in the early 1900s, and remarkably, since then, my family has resided in the same Greater Vancouver suburb for five generations.

Sharing my research with various communities has been a truly enriching experience. I emphasize the importance of relational, anti-oppressive, cultural, and pedagogical potentials that emanate from embodied ways of understanding. This is reflected in my written and performative works, conference presentations, and collaborations with organizations such as the Network to Eliminate Violence in Relationships (NEVR), the Center for Imagination in Research, Culture and Education (CIRCE), and the Faculty of Education. 

Spoken Word Poetry, Photography by Sepideh Yadegar

In my interactions with graduate students and faculty, I have encouraged them to cultivate their critical consciousness by attuning to the subtleties of their own embodied responses. I am eagerly looking forward to delving deeper into the interplay between embodiment, imagination, and social justice as part of an upcoming knowledge mobilization series spearheaded by Dr. Gillian Judson and Dr. Meaghan Dougherty, aptly titled "Cultivating Imagination in Educational Leadership for Social and Ecological Justice."

Given the intimate nature of my research, I am inevitably confronted with swells of emotional overwhelm. During such times, I anchor myself in the truth that discomfort is the doorway to change. The first in my lineage to pursue a doctorate degree, I also have a responsibility to carry forth the dream that buoyed my Punjabi-Sikh ancestors’ spirits as they crossed a sea of uncertainty, the dream of equitable opportunity. And as I peer out the window to taste the expanse of Autumn’s blue-sky optimism, I know I am never alone in my work, for like-minded-hearted scholars walk with me. Dr. Marela Dichupa’s words, words that live on through her research, words fuelled by her fierce love, embolden and embrace me in my research journey.