FASS graduate students recognized at 2023 Research Impact Canada Engaged Scholarship Awards

April 24, 2023

Three graduate students from Simon Fraser University's Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences received top accolades at the 2023 Research Impact Canada Engaged Scholarship Awards. The award recognizes graduate students who have demonstrated exceptional engaged scholarship, co-creation of knowledge or integrated knowledge translation. 

Research Impact Canada Network (RIC) is committed to maximizing the impact of research for the public good in communities. RIC aims to develop the capacity for knowledge mobilization and support activities related to the impacts of research in Canada and beyond. The network is dedicated to developing institutional capacity to support creating and assessing the impacts of research, scholarship, and creative activities by developing and sharing best practices, services, and tools.

Doctoral students and recent doctoral graduates category award:

Indira Riadi 

Department of Gerontology

"Developing Inclusive Digital Mental Health Services/Interventions Through Understanding the Mental Health Priorities of Community-Dwelling Older Adults"

Indira is a 4th year PhD Candidate and Sessional Lecturer in the department of Gerontology at Simon Fraser University. She completed her bachelor’s degree at the University of Toronto specializing in Neuroscience.

Indira’s doctoral project comprises of two objectives: 1) to understand social factors that impact the mental health of community-dwelling older adults in the Vancouver West End, and 2) to create a community-based program to better the mental health of seniors by improving the digital literacy of the population. With the help of her community partner, the West End Seniors’ Network, she aims to collaborate with their members (older adults over the age of 65) and the volunteer technology coaches in the design and creation of the digital literacy program. Having digital literacy is especially important in the post-COVID-19 world and these skills will allow individuals to access online (mental health) services, build social connections, and overall increase their independence.

Indira’s interest in community-based work started when she became a volunteer at West End Seniors’ Network in the peak of COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, she has received support and funding from Mental Health Research Canada, Mitacs, and SFU’s Community-Engaged Research Initiative (CERi). Outside of research, Indira mainly spends her free time gardening, cooking, rock climbing, skiing, and staying at home with her husband and three cats.

About Riadi's project

This project aims investigate factors affecting the mental wellbeing of community-dwelling older adults and develop digital-based services to promote equitable access to services for seniors. The entirety of the research project was guided by community-dwelling older adults who reside in the West End of Downtown Vancouver. The community partner of this project is a large not-for-profit senior’s centre in Vancouver, the West End Seniors’ Network (WESN), who has aided with the recruitment and dissemination of findings from this project. Participants were asked to participate in semi-structured interviews to understand the beliefs, experiences, attitudes, and underlying feelings about mental health, and what services they need to access to alleviate mental health burdens. When talking about mental health and digital literacy, two difficult topics for older adults, trust and rapport between researcher and participant is essential. I have lived in the West End for the past three years and have built relationships and significant trust with members of my community. The key element in this project is the involvement of older adults from the community throughout all phases of the project because, ultimately, they are the experts of their own lives and abilities.

This project is nearing its completion, and findings of the early stages of the project has been published or has been submitted for publication. Firstly, a systematic review on technology-based interventions was conducted. The results determined that (1) end-users and the population of interest should be at the center of digital mental health interventions creation and design; (2) digital mental health interventions need to be malleable and able to adapt to different life circumstances, education level, and physical and psychological abilities of the population; and (3) creation of digital mental health interventions must be accompanied by (human) support available for all users (Riadi et al., 2022). Secondly, this project generated four overarching themes that contribute to the mental wellbeing of community-dwelling older adults: 1) having a sense of stability over personal circumstances, 2) being able to do, 3) positively impacting others, and 4) feeling a sense of belonging (Riadi et al., in press). These results will aid with the development of interventions and services that put the mental health needs of older adults at the center of creation and design.

These preliminary findings have been shared beyond academia to the community. WESN continues to aid with knowledge mobilisation strategies, including offering space in the newsletter for results that arise research project, hosting seminars regarding digital literacy and mental health at WESN and at South Vancouver Seniors’ Network, and collaborating with the Programs Manager at Burnaby Neighbourhood House to create a curriculum-based digital literacy service for the diverse population of older adults in Vancouver.

Master's students and recent Master's graduates category award: 

Ashley Kyne 

School of Criminology

"Canada’s National Disgrace”: Identifying Risk and Protective Factors for Indigenous Offenders"

Ashley Kyne is an iTaukei master’s student at Simon Fraser University’s School of Criminology. In 2022, she received her Bachelor of Arts in Criminology (Hons) and Indigenous Studies. Kyne’s honours thesis combined two of her passions—Indigenous justice and offender risk assessments—to examine culturally-informed risk factors for Indigenous offenders.

As a SSHRC Joseph-Arman Bombardier Masters Scholar, Lieutenant Governor Medalist, and CERi Graduate Fellow, and now, a RIC Engaged Scholarship award recipient, Kyne will continue her research on risk/protective factors and assessment practices for Indigenous offenders. 

About Kyne's project

Did you know Indigenous Peoples represent 4.5% of the Canadian adult population, but 26.3% of new admissions to federal prison? Compared to non-Indigenous offenders, Indigenous offenders are over-represented among those in administrative segregation, released later in their sentence, and among parole revocations. There is a similar overrepresentation of Indigenous Peoples in the United States, Australia, and Zealand. While the culture and experiences of Indigenous groups vary, they face similar challenges in learning how to maximize the fairness and effectiveness of a European-imposed justice system.

Almost all decisions in the criminal justice system are influenced by a formal or informal assessment of an individual’s risk of reoffending. These roles include but are not limited to security classification, sentencing, and treatment. Risk assessments can be understood as a prognostic tool. Although practitioners make dichotomous decisions, risk exists along a continuum, where dangerous and not dangerous are components of reoffending. Instead, risk is determined by various factors that describe an individual’s risk as more or less dangerous.

Identifying strategies for reducing Indigenous overrepresentation is prioritized in the application of risk assessments. Existing risk assessment tools and core risk factors tend to predict recidivism better for non-Indigenous offenders but worse for Indigenous offenders. Furthermore, Indigenous offenders are more likely to be classified as high-risk. This crucial gap in risk assessment research/practice takes on particular importance given the Supreme Court of Canada ruling regarding the applicability of risk assessment tools with Indigenous offenders (Ewert v. Canada, 2018). In this case, Jeffrey Ewert—a Métis federal prisoner—contended that the risk assessment scales used by Correctional Services Canada were not validated with Indigenous populations, rendering them harmful due to the potential for discrimination. The case resulted in the Court mandating that risk tools must be appropriately validated on Indigenous offenders.

Given that risk assessment scales are not working as well for Indigenous offenders, we need to understand why this is the case, and how we can improve risk assessment practices. An endeavour like this involves two core components: content and process. No risk assessment tool currently in use has been developed in a culturally-informed way or has considered the possibility of culturally-specific risk factors for Indigenous offenders.

Culturally specific risk factors can be explained in terms of the historical and ongoing marginalization that Indigenous Peoples experience, including colonization, intergenerational trauma, and residential schools. These risk factors have been cited for impacting Indigenous Peoples’ social and economic status, making it highly possible that they would also be related to criminal behaviour.

Although this type of risk assessment research is new, it is clear that a more blended approach of culturally-informed data collection is needed to explore the potential culturally-specific risk factors of Indigenous offenders. To address this crucial gap in risk assessment research, I developed a culturally-informed questionnaire focusing on issues unique/disproportionate to Indigenous experiences in North America. This study’s methodology and recruitment strategy involve considerable attention to decolonizing methodologies and consultations with Indigenous stakeholders with ample experience working with Indigenous Peoples. Historically, researchers employed a “helicopter approach,” where they would arrive in Indigenous communities, collect data, and never return. Likewise, social science researchers have reduced Indigenous Peoples to numbers, separated from their stories.

Despite my quantitative objectives, I will change the narrative by weaving in Indigenous peoples’ stories and experiences as essential components of the research—linking numbers to people and stories. Data collection practices will demonstrate respect, reconciliation, and potential for transformation in our relationships with Indigenous peoples. This is a key component of my research as Indigenous Peoples finally have a say in creating, interpreting, and disseminating information about them in risk assessment research.

Acknowledging the importance of culture in the justice system is the first step to rectifying the issue of inequitable justice for Indigenous offenders, and risk assessments might be our best solution.

Honourable Mention:

Sarah Law 

Department of Sociology and Anthropology 

"Resistance and Resilience in the Era of Ecological Grief" 

Sarah Law is MA student in sociology with a focus on political economy at Simon Fraser University. She is a climate justice organizer and facilitator, which grounded her undergraduate honours thesis on eco grief, climate action, and the politics of mourning. She is interested in moral and affective economies, neoliberalism, knowledge production/mobilization, eco grief, world making, care practices, and late capitalist affects. 

Her current projects include her master’s thesis; a fellowship with DoingSTS; eco grief workshops; and organizing Holding Climate Emotions ­– a climate justice conference exploring stories of eco grief, the imagination as political protest, and collective liberation through a series of youth activist led workshops, research presentations, and reflective dialogue.

About Law's project

Climate justice is a movement that fights for futures where no one is disposable or left behind. We fight for the equitable redistribution of wealth, the return of Indigenous lands, and the abolition of oppressive systems of extraction and incarceration for all species to thrive. Working with climate justice activists in this project and having been an organizer for nearly seven years has brought me the opportunity to conduct meaningful and engaged research from a position of compassion rooted in my communities.

After speaking with climate justice activists about their experiences with ecological grief and how emotions influence their organizing work, the importance to highlight the political and social nature of their climate emotions became clear. The reason for their anxieties, anger, and fear was not out of lack of individual effort, or dedication to the cause, or a simple case of burnout and exhaustion – these emotions were the result of the same systems of capitalism and white supremacy which have created and sustained the climate crisis. Their fear, anger, and panic were not only about the harms threatening our ecosystems like ocean pollution, CO2 emissions, wildfire smoke, or oil spills – it encompassed the cyclical nature of coming to terms with the disappointing and frustrating failures to implement structural climate action on political, social, individual, and collective levels.

Their stories shaped how I present ecological grief through six stages; 1. fear and urgency; 2. denial and overwhelm; 3. frustration and bargaining; 4. despair and depression; 5. anger and rage; and 6. acceptance and mourning. Each stage informs how we feel about the various systems that have created and sustained the climate crisis, which informs how we view the climate crisis as a systemic problem that requires radical social changes. I look to the sociality of emotions through feminist theories of affect to offer ecological grief as an embodied and affective response – a continuous practice of grief that shapes how we understand the climate crisis as a systemic problem that mourns environmental losses, hopes for the future, and deeply held beliefs about our social and political realities. When we look toward the sociality of grief, our emotions come alive – they move us, we are moved by them, and they can pull us towards each other.

Through theories of affect, I expand ecological grief away from a mourning of only environmental losses. It becomes inclusive of mourning the idea that our social realities and systems are fair, equal, and just which evokes feelings of despair and depression, and anger and rage. Each stage informs how we feel not only about how we feel about the object of the climate crisis, but the encounters we have with policies, police, governments, banks, and corporations. The climate crisis is the symptom of systems of white supremacy: capitalism, patriarchy, settler colonialism, and imperialism. Affect allows me to theorize with feelings, to frame emotional responses to the climate crisis as a structural and political problem. It alleviates the risks of theorizing emotion as an individual’s responsibility to heal or as a personal moral failure.

I use a desire-based framework and the radical imagination, which are tools found in both grassroots organizing strategy and radical environmental literature. Each activist expressed gratitude for the rare opportunities to discuss their grief without fear of being ridiculed and for being asked to share their dreams and visions of a just climate future. The opportunity to share their hopes for the future, their motivations to continue fighting, and their love for community building was a reminder that often the toughest politics come from the softest parts of ourselves.