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Awards celebrate value of humanities

Article and Photo taken from Windsor Star
by Carolyn Thompson, Windsor Star

When Kirthana Sasitharan decided she wanted to study drama in Windsor, her parents were worried.

“We were scared because every parent wants their children to get a good job. What’s she going to get with drama?” her dad Sasitharan Ram said.

But Sasitharan’s parents were beaming with pride as their 21-year-old daughter received an award honouring her research on ways rape is represented in First Nations drama.

Sasitharan was one of 15 undergraduate students to be recognized at the event celebrating the humanities Wednesday night in the University of Windsor’s Katzman Lounge. It was organized by the Humanities Research Group.

The honourees

  • Brandin Glos for a report on rape and perceptions of social systems, part of the Bystander Initiative Project.
  • Lisette Gagnon and Claire Zimmerman for a project on music entrepreneurship.
  • Lina Chaker, Amy Kwan, Bibi Hijab Balkhi, Sheza Kurshid and Kurt Powell on the role of Windsor youth in Tikkun, a project for social change.
  • Kayla Dettinger, Salma Abumeeiz, Kyle Lariviere, Tyler Pickel and Sean Antaya for a public history project digitizing 19th-century records of St. John’s Anglican Church.
  • Lauren Miceli and Kayla Dettinger for research on Wilfred “Boomer” Harding and racialized sport in the border cities.
  • Kirthana Sasitharan for research on the theatrical representation of rape in First Nations drama.

Alan Wildeman, university president, said it’s an important reminder that the humanities can provide viable career options, even as the university sees its enrolment in those programs decline while other programs, such as engineering, see increases of students.

In the fall 2010 semester, the university counted about 4,900 students in arts, humanities and social sciences. Five years later, that had dropped to about 3,900 students. At the same time, enrolment in engineering went from about 750 students to 1,250.

“The study of the humanities is about learning and studying things that affect and shape who we are as individuals. It shapes who we are and how we’re then going to contribute to a society,” Wildeman said, adding numerous studies have shown humanities graduates find good jobs and have good lifetime earnings.

The projects recognized included digitizing historical records, studying music entrepreneurship, collecting stories from victims of sexual assaults and assessing ways youth contribute to social change.

Frankie Cachon, professor in women and gender studies and sociology, anthropology and criminology, said while she understands the need to be pragmatic about education choices, especially in a city with high unemployment, that can lead people to miss out on opportunities.

“When we filter education through a lens which is only about a cheque at the end of the day, we lose so much. How do you quantify the experience of your life and your perspective being transformed?” she said.

Cachon supervised the five students working on The Role of Windsor Youth in Tikkun project, which studies how youth can play a role in healing and transforming the world. 

Lina Chaker, who worked on the project, said she started out in biology thinking she’d become a doctor. Most of her family work in the health sector.

It wasn’t for her. Instead, she switched to communications.

“You’re putting an investment in your education. You want to know what you’re going to get out of it at the end of the day,” she said. For her, it’s already paid off.

“If people don’t realize that the humanities can pay off in one way or another, they’re not going to enrol in it,” she said.