Kimberley Manning has a lot of work ahead of her. Not that she’s complaining.
On January 1, the incoming principal began her position at the Simone de Beauvoir Institute (SdBI).
Manning, an associate professor in the Department of Political Science, officially landed the role on June 1, 2015, but she has been on leave.
In anticipation of International Women’s Day on March 8, we caught up with Manning to talk about feminism, women’s studies and her big plans for the institute.
What have your first few weeks on the job been like?
Kimberley Manning: Amazing. I could not have asked for a better introduction to administrative work. Indeed, I have received attentive, hands-on mentoring from individuals at all levels of the university — including from colleagues and staff within the institute itself.
I can’t tell you how much I have appreciated the helpful advice, collective problem solving and warm collegiality I have experienced since the first day of my arrival.
Moreover, colleagues and staff from Political Science, my home department, have been generous with assistance and support during this period of transition as well.
To say that I am happy in this new role is a serious understatement: I am absolutely thrilled to have been given this incredible opportunity.
What are some of the major initiatives you would like to get to work on?
KM: We have several exciting initiatives that are at various stages of development. One of my first priorities as principal is to shepherd through the Major in Studies in Sexuality (MISS).
A number of Concordia faculty, including former SdBI principal Geneviève Rail and professors Thomas Waugh and Frances Shaver, have worked very hard to realize this new program and I am confident that it will prove popular with Concordia undergraduates and a dynamic source of growth for the institute.
I am also working with my colleagues to initiate a master’s degree in Feminist Studies in Social Research.
Launching a master’s degree has been a long-time aspiration of the Simone de Beauvoir community. With our particular strengths in critical activist studies, feminist theory and studies in race/nationalism, we will offer a unique training to graduate students planning to work in the public and private sectors, as well as those preparing to pursue doctoral studies.
In addition to these in-house programs, discussions are underway to establish a new multidisciplinary research centre: the Feminist Action in Research (FAIR) Centre for Policy Change.
Ideas currently under consideration include establishing a training program in gender-based analysis and a residency for scholars, activists and policy makers.
What role do you see the institute playing in Concordia moving ahead?
KM: The Simone de Beauvoir Institute is ideally positioned to help the university realize its full potential as an accessible institution that offers some of the best research, teaching and community initiatives in higher education today.
In my tenure as principal, I hope to help integrate our feminist ethos and practice into the Concordia community at large. Concordia already has policies in place (generous parental leave and high-quality affordable daycares) that make us the envy of many of our American and Canadian counterparts, but there is so much more we can do to address the structural inequalities that pervade our institution.
How do we diversify our faculty and administrative template? How do we address the insecurities faced by our adjuncts? How do we support our first-generation university students to develop the professional and critical skills that will enable them to thrive before and after graduation?
By tackling these and other questions through a feminist lens, I hope we can establish Concordia as North America’s first feminist university, a next-generation university that places social justice at the centre of its mission and practice.
March 8 is International Women’s Day. At a time when women make up 50 per cent of the federal cabinet and our prime minister identifies as a feminist, we still see a lot of anti-women stereotyping and discrimination. Do you think women’s causes in Canada are advancing, regressing or stagnant? Why?
KM: In some ways we find ourselves at a remarkable moment of transformation: after years of work by Indigenous activists and their allies, the Government of Canada has committed to launching a national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
Also welcome: the new Minister of Justice, Jody Wilson-Raybould, has committed to reviewing the Harper government's prostitution laws and to incorporating sex workers into consultations.
She has also been mandated by the prime minister to introduce a new gender-identity bill, a piece of legislation that many transgender activists and allies have struggled to see passed into law for over a decade.
But these, and so many other issues, cannot be resolved through legal changes alone. The mass incarceration of Indigenous women and men in Canada’s prisons, the street-level racism directed at hijab-wearing women and the recent decision to reduce funding to Quebec’s daycares all trouble the idea of “progress for Canadian women.”
So yes, many of the aspirations sought by Canadian feminists look brighter than they did six months ago, but there is no question that much work lies ahead.
What would you say to a student who questions the value of a degree in Women’s Studies?
Faculty who teach in the Simone de Beauvoir Institute are committed to providing their undergraduate students with the best learning experiences possible.
Small class sizes, a hands-on learning centre and library, and opportunities to integrate practice and theory are just some of the highlights that our program offers students interested in undertaking this critical field of study.
The fact that our undergraduate enrolment is growing (by some 36 per cent over the past three years) is an indication that many students already see the value of a Women’s Studies degree. But we also recognize that students are seeking more direct preparation for the world after graduation.
To this end, we will be offering a new template of workshops through the Workshops on Social Science Research (WSSR) next winter and are exploring other learning opportunities that will bring our students into contact with academics, policy makers and activists outside of Concordia as well.
Find out more about Concordia’s Simone de Beauvoir Institute.