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FASS News, Faculty, Gender, Sexuality and Women's Studies
After four and a half very busy years, Catherine Murray stepped down as Associate Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) on August 31. Her extensive portfolio included Undergraduate Programming, Learning and Teaching, and Student Experience.
Murray, a professor in the Department of Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies, now hopes to reactivate her writing and research career and tie up some unfinished loose ends during a well-earned year of research administrative leave. She’s also looking for creative opportunities, possibly mobilizing politically, although Murray admits that retirement is an option she’s considering.
“I think it's fair to say I'm not alone here,” she says. “The pivot to remote teaching and work has been demanding. I would say we have been on emergency footing for a number of months now. FASS makes up 30 per cent of SFU’s students and faculty members, so we’ve been at the forefront of helping the largest number of people make the transition to remote teaching and learning.”
“Catherine’s creative energy, visionary and tireless work as Associate Dean has helped FASS ‘up its game’ when it comes to programming and initiatives related to undergraduate students. She has provided invaluable support to departments in their efforts to reach students who are looking to make meaning in their lives and make meaning in society,” says FASS Dean Jane Pulkingham. “Catherine is a true influencer. I will miss her resourcefulness, indomitable spirit, as well as her friendship.”
Murray began her term in the Dean’s office in January 2016 as SFU was gearing up to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Confederation. Early in her tenure she championed the FASS Canada 150 Program where student teams designed and produced commentaries, events, exhibitions and performances on themes of diversity, inclusiveness, young people, and reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.
“It marked a very memorable sesquicentennial in a year when we were just beginning to question the colonial roots of Confederation in the history of the country,” Murray says.
Pushing the reconciliation envelope
Murray is proud of FASS’s response to the calls for decolonization from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. During her tenure in the Dean’s office, Murray worked extensively with the reconciliation working group that incorporates SFU’s four host nations in professional development and cultural literacy training, and monitors the success and progress of Indigenous students in FASS. The working group’s efforts have resulted in the creation of a joint bachelor’s degree in history and Indigenous studies.
She points to other examples as well, including the interim Indigenous University Preparation Program housed in FASS, which works with Indigenous students from very different walks of life to help them succeed at university.
“We are looking at a total cohort of over 50 students who might not otherwise be at university who have now successfully migrated into the general FASS population and the rest of the university,” Murray says.
Another example is the work of the Indigenous Languages Program where over 200 students have learned their Indigenous languages: “There is urgency because of the fact that many of the elders are the only ones who have their Indigenous language as a first language and they are of the age where they are beginning to die. The commitment to revitalizing that language culture is urgent across all British Columbia. FASS has played, I hope, a small part in some of that recovery.”
Change on the horizon?
Murray predicts that there are changes ahead for SFU with a new female president (Joy Johnson) and the forthcoming advent of the new vice president academic (Catherine Dauvergne), a woman from a legal background.
“FASS should look forward with great anticipation to a complete intergenerational change in SFU’s leadership,” Murray says. “I hope that future administrators or associate deans consider stepping forward to leadership at a time that we've never needed more wise heads.”
She believes that the arts and social sciences are poised for a remarkable recovery in enrollments both domestically and internationally although she admits it’s dependent upon how the visa and COVID-19 situations unfold. Murray cites new interdisciplinary ventures across FASS such as the Global Asia and Social Data Analytics programs which she sees as exciting ways for undergraduates in the faculty to develop skills that will be richly rewarded when the post COVID-19 recovery begins.
“These interdisciplinary degrees prove that the ethical and critical thinking skills that we learn and our historical mindedness are invaluable in today's work environment and time of such social dislocation and transformation.”