In this SAR Spotlight, we speak with Dr. Melanie Adrian on her involvement with the SAR Network, including her efforts to build the SAR Canada Section, establish a national program to bring at-risk scholars to Canada, and engage students in SAR’s work through the Student Advocacy Seminars.
Dr. Adrian is an Associate Professor in the Department of Law and Legal Studies at Carleton University. She previously taught at Harvard University where she also obtained her PhD in Social Anthropology and the Study of Religion. Dr. Adrian has a strong research record and is the recipient of six teaching awards. She is currently working on a book about the experience of Muslim youth in Canada. Outside of her academic commitments, Dr. Adrian is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Be the Choice, a non-profit organization focused on changing the way breast cancer diagnoses are experienced and treatment options are understood.
In 2014, Dr. Adrian spearheaded Carleton University’s entry into SAR and led the creation of the Founding Committee, which she still Chairs. In 2016, she was voted onto the first-ever National Steering Committee and has since been instrumental to the functions of the SAR Canada Section. She currently serves as the Chair of the National Steering Committee. Additionally, in the fall of 2018, she taught Canada’s first Student Advocacy Seminar, and in March 2019, traveled to Washington, DC with her students to participate in SAR’s Student Advocacy Days.
How did you become involved with the SAR Canada Section and what is your current role?
Melanie Adrian (MA): When Carleton was thinking of establishing a SAR program, then-Provost Peter Ricketts facilitated my attendance at the Global Congress in Amsterdam. That’s where I began to hear about the national sections and started to understand what SAR was all about. I wanted to see how we could start a SAR program at Carleton. After Amsterdam, we started putting together a SAR committee. We worked closely with Ottawa University and hosted our first scholars jointly with them, starting in 2015.
I currently serve as Chair of the National Steering Committee for the SAR Canada Section. There are four of us on the national Committee: Viviana Fernandez, Nandini Ramanujam, and Anneke Smit. Together, we are improving the visibility of SAR nationally, increasing the membership, and building the SAR infrastructure in Canada with outreach and communications. Additionally, we are building a support structure for immigration and legal questions. Importantly, we are working hard on lobbying the government to support a national program which would give financial support to universities to enable them to host more scholars at risk.
Your students have committed to continue the work of your Student Advocacy Seminar beyond the classroom. How do you engage students and why do you think that these seminars prove to be so effective?
MA: This was the first SAR seminar that has ever been offered in Canada. There was a second seminar taught by Prof. Peterson at UBC, which is very exciting. The students were incredibly dedicated and still are. I think the students are so committed because they realized that real people’s lives are at stake and they enjoyed understanding the big picture of why these issues (and people!) matter. I hear they also appreciated the participatory style of teaching that I use. I ask students to engage their passions and direct them in ways that will make the world a better place to live.
You recently participated in a meeting with members of Parliament to discuss the implementation of a SAR Canada national program. What might this type of program entail?
MA: As I hinted above, our goal in establishing a national program is to facilitate and enhance the number of scholars coming to Canada and Canadian universities. Providing spaces of refuge for scholars who are at risk of discrimination, threats, and imprisonment enriches the scholar and the university communities in which they are housed. The idea is for Canada to take more of a leadership role, and this starts with our government. Once in place, this national SAR program would enable universities to apply for matching funds to increase the number of positions for such scholars. We are delighted that a group of dedicated MPs, led by Gary Anandasangaree, MP for Scarborough Rouge Park, are helping to shepherd this through.
After the meeting at Parliament, you helped organize a workshop for SAR Canada members. What was the outcome of this event, and why are these kinds of workshops important to SAR Canada?
MA: Workshops such as the one we organized last December are crucial for various reasons. Member universities are at different stages of developing their programs, and this allows us to draw on the resources we have in Canada in order to thoughtfully build these initiatives. It is also important to hear from scholars about their experiences and how we can better tailor our programs to meet their needs. The ultimate goal is to see them happy, safe, and employed. We are trying our best to make all those pieces fall into place. It’s about building SAR, hearing from scholars, and keeping the momentum of maintaining and building SAR Canada going. The workshop was really effective in bringing us all together, having that scholar/host exchange and giving member universities time to sit and discuss next steps.
In what ways do you hope to see SAR Canada grow in the future?
MA: I would like to see one or two SAR scholars at every institution of higher learning across the country! Given that we live in a country of great wealth and stability, it is our responsibility to help protect scholars and scholarship. Ideas are global goods and they should be protected and shared. It’s up to us to protect those at risk.
The SAR Spotlight is a series highlighting SAR scholars, partners, and network activities.