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People of SFU: Meet Carolyn Tinglin, graduate student

September 21, 2021
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By Alyssa Quan

This is a story in the People of SFU series, celebrating SFU’s unsung heroes—those who go above and beyond the call of duty to create community, advance SFU’s mission and make the university a great place to work and learn.  Read the original story here (September 10, 2021) and read more People of SFU stories here.

Understanding the intersections between identity and systemic inequality is complex, and Carolyn Tinglin is working to untangle them. Tinglin’s passion for justice and equity is driven by her lived experience, and her work aims to improve these systems for the next generation.

As a PhD student in the Faculty of Education, Tinglin’s research explores the social identities of Indigenous and Black youth, particularly those with learning “disability” labels. Through a social lens, Tinglin examines how these youth navigate society inside and outside of school and the impacts of these intersectional labels on their identity formation and futures. As the label of “disability” is designated rather than self-defined, Tinglin uses dis/ability to contest the often racist and ableist construct of ability and embrace everyone’s right to define themselves.

In her research, Tinglin worked with Black families to talk about the processes, and barriers, to getting the help their children need.

“To me, justice and equity in the education system is about examining what kind of environments we’ve created and what environments we’re going to create for historically excluded BIPOC youth and young people,” says Tinglin. “Rather than looking at the students who thrive, we need to look at the students who [the education system] harms.”

Tinglin began her career in healthcare and nursing, and moved into post-secondary teaching as an assistant professor of health sciences. Tinglin admits she experienced alienation and discrimination as a Black faculty member, leading her to study teaching and the education system itself, to understand the structures that become barriers to inclusion.

Her role as a parent advocate also influenced her decision to leave health education to focus on Special Education systems. As a mother, her push for equity in education is driven by a desire to see a more equitable education system for her son. “Viewing the education system through his eyes and his experiences has been a really strong motivating factor,” says Tinglin.

Tinglin currently works with SFU’s Centre for Education, Law and Society (CELS) as a research assistant, where she investigates issues of equity and justice within education, and with the Youth Alliance for Intersectional Justice, a non-profit helping to connect racialized youth with dis/abilities to meaningful and relevant education, entrepreneur and tech opportunities.

Tinglin brings this deep knowledge of equity in the education system to SFU’s EDI Advisory Council, where she is now serving her second term: “Working with the council is very interesting and gratifying,” says Tinglin. “I really value the council as a space to ask and discuss difficult questions.”

By embracing difficult conversations regarding the historic exclusion of Black, Indigenous, and other equity-deserving groups on campus, the council is able to identify goals for the university executive, such as problems in the recruitment and retention of Black scholars at the university, the need for identity-based scholarships and creating space for racialized groups on campus.

On September 11, Tinglin will speak at the upcoming workshop “EDI in Action: Best Practices and Future Directions”, organized by the Science & Policy Exchange, sponsored by SFU and NSERC Dimensions.

As a panelist, Tinglin hopes to learn more about equity barriers to equity other panelists and attendees are seeing in their institutions and continue to ask deep questions. “I want to examine how these spaces can be not just opened up, but created for and led by people who have historically been excluded.”

“When people feel like they can be themselves, bring themselves to school and education, and the value of knowledge and the production of knowledge is not centered around whiteness… that to me is taking steps towards a more justice-focused education system.”