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Meet Concordia's two new SSHRC Storytellers — including a 2017 winner!

Grad students John Bryans and Nadia Naffi investigate the ‘actor’s dude dilemma’ and young refugees on social media
By Tatiana St-Louis

Nadia Naffi: “We need our youth to understand they have a voice.” Nadia Naffi: “We need our youth to understand they have a voice.”

UPDATE (May 29, 2017): Nadia Naffi was selected as one of the final five winners at the 2017 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences at Ryerson University in Toronto. She will represent Concordia at the SSHRC Impact Awards later this year.

In April, Concordia graduate students Nadia Naffi and John Bryans joined the 25 finalists in this year’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Storytellers Contest.

The annual nationwide competition invites students to demonstrate — in up to three minutes or 300 words — how SSHRC-funded research impacts the society we live in.

The top 25 receive $3,000 and are invited to compete in front of a live audience at the Storytellers Showcase during the 2017 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences in Toronto, from May 27 to June 2.

John Bryans: “It’s important to be able to translate my work to a wider audience.” John Bryans: “It’s important to be able to translate my work to a wider audience.”

The finalists will also get to participate in a research communications master class, where they will receive mentoring and training to hone their skills and polish their presentation.

If they’re selected among the five winners, Naffi and Bryans will be featured at the prestigious SSHRC Impact Awards event.

Nadia Naffi: youth inclusion in the age of social media

Nadia Naffi is a PhD candidate in the Educational Technology Program as well as one of Concordia’s 10 Public Scholars.

An interior designer turned art teacher turned academic, Naffi fled Lebanon to ensure her children would not have to endure the political upheaval and fear of violence that she experienced growing up.

For the past eight years, Naffi has searched for concrete ways to help newcomers feel at home in their adoptive country. In her doctoral thesis, she decided to focus on the refugee experience, and more specifically on how youth construe their role as agents of change in a context where the integration of refugees is deeply influenced by social media.

“First we have to accept and become comfortable with the fact that youth are on social media,” Naffi says.

“Let’s stop criticizing and start understanding how we can all benefit from them being there instead of ignoring or suppressing their behaviours.”

Naffi interviewed youth aged 16 to 24 from several countries about their experiences encountering xenophobic, racist or threatening messages on social platforms. In doing so, she realized that one post could trigger an array of reactions, ranging from fear and violence to concern and compassion.

“Social media is the number-one source of information for most young people, but we are not preparing them to be critical of what they read and hear,” Naffi explains.

“And most importantly, we don’t show them how to develop empathy — not only toward refugees, but also people who have different positions. That’s where dialogue can actually happen.”

Naffi hopes to push her research further by looking for solutions. One would be to integrate her findings in new educational curricula.

“It’s not only about raising awareness. We need our youth to understand they have a voice. Only by developing their leadership will we enable them to fully assume that role.”

John Bryans: performing the male body

John Bryans is currently working on his MA in Sociology under the supervision of associate professor Marc Lafrance in the Faculty of Arts and Science.

His thesis project deals with what he facetiously calls the "actor’s dude dilemma". But his research is far from trivial. It resides at the intersection of obesity, masculinity and performance studies.

Originally from Winnipeg, Bryans worked as a professional actor in Toronto for 10 years before deciding to go back to school. His plan to become a physiotherapist soon led him to think critically about obesity and how it was portrayed in kinesiology, his field of study.

A chance to work with Lafrance, whose research examines issues of subjectivity and embodiment in the context of masculinity, brought him to Concordia.

“I was interested in understanding how performers, who self-identify as plus-size or big, negotiate roles in the film and TV industry in light of their own identity,” Bryans says.

“We stereotypically believe that men don’t talk about their bodies or their health, but these issues are gaining more currency in popular culture. Some themes that come up more prominently for actors can easily be translated to men in general.”

For his master’s thesis, Bryans asked five male actors to respond to a set of weekly questions through a self-recorded video diary. The sociology student will use these recordings to create a short documentary film.

“Part of the study design is to let the contributors present themselves without me imposing anything on them,” he explains.

While video seems like the logical choice to portray actors, it also serves an outreach purpose.

“Creating a documentary is an accessible way to convey research. It’s important to me to be able to translate my work to a wider audience.”

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