Political Science

New Faculty Profile: Laurel Weldon, Political Science

December 06, 2018

By Amanda Maxwell, FASS

Laurel Weldon, who received her BA from SFU, returned to the university this fall, taking up the position of professor in the Department of Political Science.  Before this, she was Distinguished Professor of Political Science and Director of the Purdue Policy Research Institute (PPRI) at Purdue University.

Weldon says returning to SFU is a different experience this time around.

“Returning as a faculty member, rather than as a student is a little discombobulating, though in a good way,” she observes.  “There are still some comfortable and familiar features, such as the AQ and the Political Science department—the view from my office is still fantastic—but the campus itself is much larger, with UniverCity to the east.”

“There is so much that is familiar, and yet so much that has changed,” she continues, noting that it’s fun to re-connect with some of the same professors who taught her, but this time as a colleague.  

As an undergrad at SFU in the 1980s, Weldon was strongly influenced by student activist groups working to raise awareness of violence against women, and she was at SFU when the tragedy of the Montreal massacre shook the country. In 1989, a man claiming to be fighting feminism came into an engineering class at l’École Polytechnique Montreal and separated the women students from their male peers. He proclaimed that he hated feminists and proceeded to shoot and kill 14 women, injure ten other women and four men and then turned the gun on himself.  Feminist activists across the country- including students at SFU -organized vigils and other discussions to raise awareness of violence against women.

There was much public discussion of the shooting, and many heated debates on campus. Feminists argued that the shooting was another example of how violence and harassment contributed to gender inequality, for example, by discouraging women from taking on non-traditional roles (in this case, entering STEM fields like engineering).

These experiences as an undergraduate inspired Weldon to explore feminist politics further in her graduate studies and have continuously shaped her career. She pursued an MA in political science at UBC and explored questions of feminist politics  in her thesis, “The Shah Bano Controversy: Gender versus Minority Rights in India,” where she used a case central to Muslim women’s rights in India to explore questions about political representation for marginalized groups in democracies.

She then then enrolled at the University of Pittsburgh specifically to study with Iris Marion Young, a leading political philosopher and feminist, internationally renowned for her work on the nature of justice and social difference.

Weldon’s dissertation analyzed government policies on violence against women in thirty-six countries. Her project asked what made governments take action to redress violence against women, and showed that it was feminist movements and women's policy agencies (like Status of Women Canada) that prompted governments to act more comprehensively. Her first book, which grew of the dissertation, Protest, Policy and the Problem of Violence Against Women, pays homage to those early experiences at SFU and features a stylized rose, symbolic of the 14 roses used to symbolize remembrance of the shootings at École Polytechnique.*

Weldon has since published two additional books on these topics: When Protest Makes Policy (U. of Michigan Press 2011) and The Logics of Gender Justice (Cambridge University Press 2018 (the latter co-authored with Mala Htun), and she has acted as occasional consultant to the World Bank and the UN on gender issues. A current project funded by the Gates Foundation continues this line of research on women's rights, exploring the relationship between women's rights activism and economic empowerment.

As an academic, Weldon is a strong supporter of interdisciplinary research and collaboration. As founding director of the Center for Research on Diversity and Inclusion at Purdue, she helped promote interdisciplinary research on the problems and concepts arising in the course of collective struggles for democracy, justice and inclusion.

She also promoted interdisciplinary policy scholarship as director of the Purdue Policy Research Instutute (PPRI), facilitating connections between STEM researchers and those in social science and the humanities. Weldon led several initiatives that made these connections. One such initiative, funded by the Mellon foundation, produced interdisciplinary teams doing research on issues from Big Data Ethics to Climate Change.  Other initiatives included writing workshops for faculty and graduate students that help magnify public impact through policy briefs. Weldon continues to collaborate with Purdue colleagues, developing new models for interdisciplinary research

At SFU this spring, Weldon will teach two classes focusing on gender and politics. POL 350: Public Policy for Women, explores the ways that gender structures the political world and vice versa, focussing on the role of public policy. Global feminist politics is the focus for POL 438, which examines the philosophical underpinnings and political realities of global feminism as a movement and a principle of institutional design.

Her current research further reflects on social movements and public policy. The project funded by the Gates Foundation explores the relationship between women’s mobilization in social movements and women’s economic empowerment. Another project examines diversity and inclusion in social movements, studying whether inclusion makes such movements more impactful; the collaboration with colleagues from sociology, political science and computer science explores how inclusion impacts solidarity, using social media data as well as traditional analyses to examine a variety of global social movements.  

Weldon says that she is very happy to be back at SFU, roaming her old stomping grounds, however transformed they may be. She is proud of the great education she received here as an undergraduate and excited to be a part of delivering that same calibre of education to today’s students.  


*The date of the Montreal Massacre—Dec 6—is remembered each year as the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.