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SFU urban studies graduate Stephanie Allen awarded international recognition for master’s thesis

May 27, 2021
Stephanie Allen’s Master of Urban Studies thesis, Fight the power: redressing displacement and building a just city for Black lives in Vancouver, was awarded the 2020-2021 Western Association of Graduate Schools (WAGS) and ProQuest Distinguished Master's Thesis Award in humanities, social sciences, education, and business disciplines.

Stephanie Allen’s Master of Urban Studies thesis was personal, profound, and the impact of the research and activism inherent within it, created reverberations felt by the City of Vancouver as well as internationally.

On March 22, Allen’s thesis, Fight the power: redressing displacement and building a just city for Black lives in Vancouver was awarded the 2020-2021 Western Association of Graduate Schools (WAGS) and ProQuest Distinguished Master's Thesis Award in humanities, social sciences, education, and business disciplines.

While undertaking her urban studies courses, Allen explored the consequences of racist policies that prevented Black people from owning property and creating communities within Vancouver. It also detailed how a community, which came to be known as Hogan’s Alley, was erased by the city when urban renewal in the form of the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts were purposely situated through its heart.

More recently, with the removal of the viaducts in the works and the city’s redevelopment plan for the Northeast False Creek area of Vancouver underway, Allen and her colleagues from the Hogan’s Alley Society began advocating for redressing the loss of the historic home of the Black community. Utilizing Allen’s background as a developer and housing advocate, she and her colleagues tried to work with the city on the society’s proposed non-profit land trust that would enable affordable rental housing and small-scale commercial spaces in a place that would be inclusive, allowing Black people to find a sense of place while respecting and connecting with the surrounding community.

Allen’s thesis documents her story and experience though this challenging journey, while also serving on boards and committees and working and studying full-time.

“My thesis was an inspiration for me to keep going, to keep up the work of my ancestors that did a lot of work for me, many of whom were brought here against their will. For Black people and racialized people in general, it’s another brick that builds and fortifies and provides a place for others to stand and continue the work that still needs to be done.

“The conversations held throughout my thesis lined up with the conversations more people are having now; before the murder of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, but after Trayvon Martin others, including the other Black and Indigenous peoples in Canada finally made it to mainstream conversations.

“It’s tremendously meaningful to write something so integral to my struggle, my ancestors struggle, and the struggle of so many of my community. I had the support of the faculty and my supervisors as they encouraged me onward and most importantly the support of my colleagues in the work. But the work is not over and we’re many generations away from full equality,” says Allen.

While Allen struggles with the impacts of being in the spotlight, she sees value in the light that the recognition brings to the lives devastated by policing, neglect, anti-Black racism and the systemic policies created and held by people in positions of power.

“Being recognized by an international body such as WAGS and Proquest, elevates the voices documented in my thesis and the struggles of people of African descent in Vancouver and elsewhere. It helps to provide legitimacy within a white supremacist society that usually delegitimizes racialized people and their voices. It shores up the work and the voices that really deserve to be heard in academia, politics, civics and urbanism, where so many of the voices in these areas have been oriented toward anti-Blackness,” says Allen.

While her master’s journey may be over, Allen plans to continue her work, board work, volunteering duties and family commitments. Yet, she still has questions and a doctoral degree is not off the table. In her spare time, she continues to learn about the construction and evolution of whiteness, learning from African and Afro-Caribbean scholars and cultural development. However, she recognizes that the work cannot be carried on the already burdened shoulders of Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC).

 “From my perspective, anti-racism and the work that I’m continuing to document is mainly being done by racialized peoples who themselves people didn’t create racist systems. The responsibility for ending racism rests mostly on white people, and we’re far from being out of the woods. Its really important for white folks to get busy: learn about the systems of privilege and power, the immigration policies and Indian Act for example; include Black and Indigenous scholarship in curriculum as well as positive representation; and disrupt the violence of white supremacy. It’s the only answer.”

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