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GSWS alumnus Simran Basra seeks to advance equity and inclusion in science
By Casey McCarthy
“I am passionate about science, but I always wanted to work in social justice. I ended up forging my own path in my degree,” says Simran Basra (BSc, 2023) of her experience as an undergraduate student at Simon Fraser University (SFU).
Graduating with a major in Biological Sciences and an extended minor in Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies (GSWS), Basra is determined to make a positive impact through her future science career. “It is an interesting intersection, and it has prepared me to think about things differently,” says Basra. “After graduation, I want to pursue scientific research from a feminist, anti-colonial perspective.”
With her lifelong interest in activism, Basra credits her grade 12 social justice class with inspiring her to seek out courses exploring current issues in society as soon she arrived at SFU. “I took a GSWS class in my first semester, and those classes immediately became the ones I looked forward to,” says Basra.
Appealing to both her aptitude for science and dedication to effecting change, some of Basra’s favorite courses at SFU were taught by Coleman Nye, a GSWS professor studying science, technology, medicine, and genetics through a feminist lens. “She opened my eyes to the biases at play in scientific research, and she helped me to understand how I want my work to reflect my values,” she explains. “Dr. Nye’s encouragement has helped to shape my growth over the past four years.”
Through her GSWS courses, Basra gained more than a skillset to support her future career; she also found opportunities to reflect on her identity and articulate her guiding principles in life. “I have been able to figure out a lot about myself, especially in my last year at SFU,” she says. “As a gay Punjabi woman, meeting fellow students and GSWS faculty with similar interests has helped me to become more comfortable being out and being myself.”
Volunteering with the Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies Student Union (GSWSSU) has also helped Basra to meet people with shared interests and find her voice. “As the department and Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) council representative, I was able to advocate for GSWS students and their needs in the university community,” she says.
Collaborating with the GSWSSU team, Basra has worked to create a safe space for students. “On International Women’s Day, we organized an event where guests created their own collages in celebratation of the inspiring women in their lives,” says Basra. “As a departmental student union, we are proud to encourage the campus community to come together and think about important topics in a judgement-free environment.”
After graduation, Basra’s immediate plans include taking Punjabi language lessons with her cousin to gain a deeper connection with her family’s cultural heritage. Basra’s advice to current and future students is to embrace university as a time to learn — especially about yourself. “Allow yourself to have an emotional response and reflect on what you are feeling,” she says. “Be willing to put yourself out there and take chances, and you will grow as a person.”