Ruth Wynn Woodward (RWW) Junior Chair Dr. Guldana Salimjan Reflects on her Appointment with Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies

September 13, 2022
By Casey McCarthy

As her appointment as the Ruth Wynn Woodward (RWW) Junior Chair at the Department of Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies Department (GSWS) draws to a close, Dr. Guldana Salimjan remarks that her scholarship has evolved in unexpected ways while working at Simon Fraser University (SFU). “We tend to want to find a box, but my work exists because these divisions are arbitrary and I always want to push against that,” says Dr. Salimjan. Although her interdisciplinary research often transcends categories, her understanding of gender consistently informs her analysis of complex issues, such as colonialism and the environment. “Women’s stories are often untold,” says Salimjan. “My training in gender studies has made me very sensitive to looking at power structures and vulnerable people.”

This passion for exposing injustice and advocating for equality is engrained in Dr. Salimjan’s scholarship. During her tenure as RWW Junior Chair, Dr. Salimjan has continued her work as the co-director and editor of the Xinjiang Documentation Project. Through the project, Dr. Salimjan and her team have created a reliable and robust source of information about the detainment of Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other ethnic groups in state-run internment camps in China. “I want people to know that these people exist and that their stories need to be told,” says Salimjan of the mission driving the ongoing project. “In China, there is no official recognition of Uyghurs and Kazakhs as Indigenous people, which others us and separates us from our traditions. As a Kazakh educated in Han Chinese schools, I have become very good at analyzing the type of government documents we are making public through the Xinjiang Documentation Project. Setting this record right is especially important in this era of misinformation.” Dr. Salimjan is not alone in her fight: journalists, academics, activists, students, as well as the public, are turning to the Xinjiang Documentation Project to understand and raise awareness about the human rights crisis in China. The Xinjiang Documentation Project has also been referenced during debates in Canadian Parliament and in the Xinjiang reports by the UN Human Rights Council, potentially influencing politicians and policymakers.

Her position as RWW Junior Chair has empowered Dr. Salimjan to gain exposure for her work, which often shares the lived experiences of dispossessed Indigenous people in China. “As an academic establishing my career, the RWW Junior Chair has provided me the time and space I needed to focus on developing my scholarship,” says Dr. Salimjan. “I was able to dedicate time to framing my work and sharing it with different audiences, as well as branching out to collaborate in new areas.” As an example of one such opportunity, Dr. Salimjan published her research on the impact of China’s ecotourism policies on Indigenous people in Xinjiang — who rely upon their connection to the land for their survival — in the journal Human Ecology. “I would not have anticipated that my article would be accepted before examining my work from the perspective of environmental studies as the result of the encouragement of my mentors at SFU,” explains Dr. Salimjan. While serving as RWW Junior Chair, Dr. Salimjan has also published an article on memory, loss, and genealogy as it relates to Kazakhs in China in the journal Asian Ethnicity. In addition to publishing two journal articles, Salimjan has also been able to grow her professional network, “Attending workshops and conferences on Asian studies allowed me to network with peers and receive feedback from mentors, which I have very much appreciated.”

As a result of her often boundary breaking work, new doors are opening for Dr. Salimjan as she embarks on the next chapter of her career. In recent months, Salimjan has been awarded several highly competitive research grants, which will support her work after her term as RWW Junior Chair concludes. In the fall, she will begin work on transforming her doctoral thesis into a scholarly book, funded by a prestigious Early Career Fellowship in China Studies awarded by the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) and the Henry Luce Foundation. The Department of Central Eurasian Studies at Indiana University has invited Dr. Salimjan to its campus this fall as a Visiting Scholar, where she will work on her forthcoming scholarly book. Her second project, State of Dispossession: Voice of Belonging and the Colonial Politics of Land in Pastoral Xinjiang will be funded by SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellowship in 2023. Additionally, Dr. Salimjan’s work with the Xinjiang Documentation Project will continue, as the project has received two grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC): a Partnership Development Grant (2022) and a Connection Grant (2021).

Serving as RWW Junior Chair has empowered Dr. Salimjan to forge her own path forward, as she embarks on exciting new endeavors, “In GSWS, I have found a learning community of colleagues who lend support to each other, which is especially important considering our work is often very personal in nature. I have appreciated the platform that GSWS has provide me as RWW Junior Chair.”