Convocation Spotlight: Shilpa Narayan (award-winning social justice and mental health advocate)

June 22, 2021

Shilpa Narayan holds many titles and achievements: award-winning social justice and mental health advocate, intergenerational art activist and researcher, and soon a SFU Alumni of the Department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies (GSWS). 

Narayan’s work “focuses on the intersections between the LGBTQ+ community, mental health awareness and intergenerational arts activism using theatre and drama”. She is a research coordinator for a year long study on youth ages 16-24 and their mental health experience during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Raised in the city of Surrey, Narayan has given back continuously through activism work and youth empowerment. 

“My activism work came to fruition in Surrey and I have focused on empowering youth in Surrey to become leaders and have their voice heard. I have been involved with the Surrey based LGBTQ+ Youth Group, Youth for a Change, for the past 7 years. Surrey is a diverse, robust, and growing city and I am so lucky that I was able to complete a large part of my degree at SFU Surrey and connect on a deeper level with my community.” 

As member of the LGBTQ+ community and a woman of colour, Narayan says GSWS’s interdisciplinary and intersectional approaches to learning about a variety of topics confirmed she was in the right place for her studies. 

“It has been very important to me to ensure that the LGBTQ+ community and marginalized communities' voices are heard and respected. When I saw the Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies program at SFU, I was immediately drawn to its interdisciplinary approach to topics. I wanted to learn more about social movements, political movements and how they interact with our daily way of life. As a queer feminist woman of colour, I wanted to know where activist history began, how power structures impact us and what I can do to use my voice to lift others being impacted by injustices.”

Narayan reports that while there have been many highlights, her favorite memory throughout her time at SFU has been being able to work with such an interdisciplinary group of scholars in GSWS. 

“In my 7 years, I have been able to connect with professors who come from very diverse personal and academic backgrounds. They taught me the importance of intersectional research, the art of critical thinking and so much more. More importantly, they were a support for my personal and professional endeavours. When I was struggling, my professors would go out of their way to ensure student's well being was at the forefront. I will always be grateful for this.”

Narayan says the support of her peers and professors were key to her ability to weather the ups and downs of university, and the fears of not being “good enough” or “smart enough.” 

“My personal take away from my time at SFU is that 'anything is possible'. SFU showed me that with focus and passion, personal and professional goals can become a reality. There were times in my 7 years at SFU that I felt like I wasn't good enough or smart enough. However, because of the supportive community of my peers and professors, I was able to persevere and reach success! I have learned that I can achieve my goals with patience, vulnerability, and compassion.”

Her tangible and motivating advice for current undergraduate students? Accept the roller-coaster ride, find your supports, and be kind to yourself. 

“At times it may feel like you are working against a brick wall, and at times you will feel like you are on cloud nine! Embrace these ups and downs and know that there is support. Embrace vulnerability, practise self-compassion, and take it one day at a time! Connect what you're learning to your daily life and that will help to move forward. You can do it!”