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GSWS alumnus combines passion for theatre with LGBTQ+ community work
For new alumnus Reese Findler, studying at the Department of Gender, Sexuality, & Women’s Studies (GSWS) was a natural fit. Emerging from the theatre world to organize fundraiser performances for the LGBTQ+ community, Findler is deeply committed to social justice issues.
Taking the stage for her first show when she was only nine years old, Findler has always been involved in theatre and the performance community. As president of her high school’s Gender and Sexuality Alliance, Findler wanted to combine her passion for theatre with community impact. She founded Perform for Pride, an organization that showcases local youth talent to fundraise for LGBTQ+ organizations in the same community theatre where she performed as a child.
Findler continued to direct Perform for Pride throughout her time as an SFU student, capping off the project with a celebratory fifth-year anniversary performance in January 2022. The performances raised money for Vancouver-based LGBTQ+ support networks and community initiatives, including Rainbow Refugee, QMUNITY, RainCity Housing: LGBTQ2S+ Youth Housing, and Out On Screen.
“I found that my studies and my passion for producing fundraiser events intersected in a way that still allowed me to focus on my academic life,” notes Findler about hosting Perform for Pride as a full-time student.
“Be open to new viewpoints and having your way of thinking challenged. I think it is one of the most valuable things that I've gotten out of the degree.”
Reese Findler, GSWS alumnus
FINDING HER PASSION
Findler arrived at SFU’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) without having declared her major, but her background in community work around gender, sexuality, and inclusion quickly led her to the GSWS department.
What first opened the door to majoring in GSWS was FASS 101, a special topics course that allows select first-year students to study with professors in an upper-division seminar setting.
“A lot of first-year courses are quite broad, but this was a chance to get really specific with only eight of us in the class. As a first-year student that really inspired me because it was closer to what you would get in a fourth-year seminar,” says Findler. “Having that opportunity in my first year was so important in formulating my understanding of what university could look like and how impactful class discussions could be.”
The course was taught by GSWS professor Coleman Nye, who specializes in gender studies and the critical theory of performativity, a term first popularized in theatre studies. For Findler, a lifelong theatre aficionado, it was the perfect combination.
By the time she finished her degree in FASS, Findler had taken all of professor Nye’s courses, and even completed a directed project with Nye at the intersection of her interests: representation and casting politics in American musical theatre. “That experience was really cool for me because it was an opportunity to combine my passion for theatre and gender studies,” says Findler.
Findler credits her GSWS courses and classmates with shifting and expanding her worldview and perspective on many social issues.
"The students in GSWS are open to sharing their experiences, which is so valuable,” says Findler. “Sometimes I don't have the lived experience to analyze complex social topics with, and having classmates who feel safe enough to share from their own life has been really important for me in transforming how I understand social relations.”
When asked for her advice for incoming GSWS students, Findler says that they should be ready and curious to learn about a plethora of new perspectives and new worldviews. “You really need to go in with an open mind and be willing to soak everything in like a sponge,” she explains. “Be open to new viewpoints and having your way of thinking challenged. I think it is one of the most valuable things that I've gotten out of the degree.”
Putting her GSWS major and Communication minor into immediate practice, Findler was hired to assist with the Musical Theatre Youth Conservatory program at the Kay Meek Arts Centre in West Vancouver, which will stage two full musicals starring youth ages 8-18 over the summer.
While the Perform for Pride project is on hiatus for the moment, Findler considers reviving it in the future—with a new twist. "I would love to bring it back in a more educational format, maybe taking it through schools,” she explains.
Either way, now that she has completed her FASS degree, Findler is excited to find out how her passions and heart for social justice will overlap again in life beyond university.
Peform for Pride posters throughout the years