Dionne Hillary Co

Transforming Communities

From a young age, Dionne Hillary Co has always been fascinated by cities and urban spaces–having lived in them her entire life. She was drawn to Vancouver to SFU’s Urban Studies program for the diversity in faculty research and the university’s commitment to community engagement. 

Since arriving in Canada, Dionne has worked with vulnerable people in the Metro Vancouver region, despite being in a vulnerable position herself as a recent immigrant. Dionne worked as a Housing Outreach Worker at the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre, where she helped community members access safe, adequate and affordable housing. From here, she joined the volunteer board for Women Transforming Cities, a non-profit society advocating for women’s political participation at all levels of municipal governance. 

In addition, Dionne has been involved with various grassroots organizations such as Alliance Against Displacement, in solidarity with people who have been forcefully displaced. Dionne continues her work with the Spartacus Collective, a radical non-profit community-run bookstore in Vancouver. 

Through all this work, Dionne continuously reflects on her own privilege, while considering the opportunity to make her own contribution. This reflection cycle has brought out the best in her own abilities as she works to enrich the lives of others. 

Dionne’s research supervisor, Professor Noel Dyck, says about her:

“The empathy and perceptiveness that Dionne brings to her work enables her to identify and illuminate overlooked connections between everyday aspects of urban lives and the larger economic and political forces that shape these. Her insight into the varying life experiences that separate residents of a city speaks to her remarkable record of community engagement and development as an articulate urban intellectual.”

Dionne writes, “The Urban Studies program has helped me learn that community engagement could mean a wide variety of things: civic participation, grassroots organizing, protesting, electoral campaigning, even checking in with your neighbour. It means acknowledging the limits of academic expertise and instead learning how to connect, observe, and listen.  

I am grateful to have had the opportunities to engage with communities that have welcomed me, and I am grateful for receiving the Urban Studies Alumni Award for Community Engagement, alongside my dear friend Aman Chandi, as recognition for my work.”

Her Master of Urban Studies research, underway since Fall 2019, will draw from her experience in the intersection of academic research and community engagement methods , as she seeks to take a hands-on research approach to her study of shared housing arrangements in the city. Additionally, she continues her work with SFU Surrey’s Community Engagement Centre, drawing on her artistic skills to generate new forms of community arts practice in Surrey.