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Lieutenant Governor Medal Winner Nimrit Basra leads social justice initiatives at SFU
You may need to take a deep breath before saying Nimrit Basra’s degree in one go. Her Bachelor of Arts consists of an English major (honours), an extended minor in gender, sexuality, and women’s studies, a minor in criminology, and a legal studies certificate. This interdisciplinary degree represents Basra’s wide range of interests and the exciting future she has planned for herself.
“I’ve always had a passion for writing and trying to put my emotions and feelings into words,” Basra says. “I knew I wanted to pursue English. One of the main reasons I chose to come to SFU was because of an email I received from Professor Michael Everton.”
The English professor wrote to Basra, telling her that the department would be a good fit for her, and she would thrive at SFU.
“The email was so kind,” she says. “It was one of the first times I’d had somebody at a university level reach out to me personally. I felt reassured that there was a place for me here at SFU.”
Basra did indeed thrive at SFU. Academically, she excelled, winning awards like the 2022 Dr. M. Sheila O’Connell Undergraduate Prize in Children’s Literature and the following year successfully presenting her English honours paper, “How Our Diasporic Stories are Shared: Canadian Coverage of Victory in the ‘No Farmers No Food’ Movement.”
“The No Farmers No Food Movement took place in India, but then spread globally through the diaspora,” says Basra. “I really wanted to focus on it because it was affecting my own community here in Surrey. With the support of my supervisor, Professor Peter Cramer, I was able to research ways to improve inequitable societal systems and allow us to envision and ultimately implement, new values rooted in justice and equity.”
Criminology lecturer Tamara O’Doherty, who also had Basra as a student, noted her focus on social justice issues in class.
“She consistently sought to make space in academic discussions for increased attention to subjects that are important to diasporic communities in colonized social and political structures, ultimately hoping to bring life to her commitments to civic inclusion of marginalized groups across Canada.”
Basra’s focus on social justice extended beyond discussing and researching those issues in the classroom. She volunteered for various campus organizations and led many student-centered initiatives.
For example, she spent more than four years as a volunteer and collective member of the SFSS Women’s Centre, organizing programming, maintaining the space, and providing support to her peers. In 2022, she led the Bans Off Our Bodies Solidarity Rally to help students experiencing anxiety and uncertainty after the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
Through the Women’s Centre, Basra was introduced to the Embark Sustainability Society. With the help of the Embark community, she discovered a love of gardening as she volunteered with the group and found it an effective way to reduce stress. She decided to share her positive experience with her fellow students.
“I’m part of two student unions: the English Student Union (ESU) and the Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies Student Union (GSWSSU),” says Basra. “For both student unions, I rented garden plots because I thought it’d be a unique opportunity for students in the departments to engage in this practice that had been so beneficial to me.”
Through her gardening experience and work with Embark, Basra gained a deeper understanding of what it means to have food security. The food grown in the student union gardens often went to the community fridge in the Student Union Building, the ESU fridge, and Community Kitchen events.
“We wanted to harvest produce for our peers so that they could go home with healthy and fulfilling food,” says Basra. “In our own little way, we tried to fight food insecurity and educate each other and our community.”
Basra’s commitment to initiatives such as these has won her the 2023 Lieutenant Governor’s Medal for Inclusion, Democracy, and Reconciliation.
Lara Campbell, GSWS professor and associate dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, praised Basra for her involvement in these volunteer endeavours and many others.
“Basra is an extraordinary young woman and a compassionate leader with a demonstrated and sustained commitment to the values of reconciliation, inclusion, equity, democracy, and human rights. These values inform her sustained advocacy and activism.”
Basra’s post-SFU future includes attending York University and completing the Masters of Socio-Legal Studies graduate program. She then plans to become a human rights lawyer, eventually starting a non-profit organization providing counselling, resources, and legal services to historically excluded and marginalized communities in British Columbia.
“Through my studies and community involvement, I have come to be a strong believer in community care, collective justice and racial empathy—all values I will carry on well beyond my time at SFU,” says Basra.
Nimrit Basra is thankful for all those who have supported her through her time at university thus far and will cherish the memories she has made.