Dr. Célia Romulus, Queen’s alumna, recognized for outstanding dissertation

Célia Romulus
Célia Romulus

Exceptional scholar and activist Dr. Célia Romulus has been recognized for her groundbreaking dissertation, Remembering the Duvalierist State – Gender, State Repression, and Migration Patterns between Haiti and Canada, with the prestigious 2023 Canadian Association of Graduate Studies (CAGS) Pro-Quest Distinguished Dissertation Award in the Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences category. Her research explored “Haitian feminism from a transnational perspective, examining the intergenerational memory of political violence perpetrated under the Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier (1971-1986) and the ways in which it shaped Haitian men and women’s experiences in the diaspora in Montréal from the 1960s to 1980s.”

The School of Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs nominated Dr. Célia Romulus for this award after glowing recommendations from her examining committee who wanted to see her work published immediately following her defence. Her research will be published in a forthcoming monograph in both French and English with relevance to scholars, students, and community members interested in Haiti, Political Studies, Black Studies, Migration Studies, Gender Studies, among other disciplines. Célia’s work will be used across disciplines to understand local and international feminism, how global political economic forces have affected the lives of Haitians both in their homeland and abroad, and how we need to appreciate silence and memory in our analysis of political and personal trauma and its ongoing impact.

Theoretically, Dr. Romulus used scholarly understandings of memory and silence and pushed these concepts further to tease out how the gruesome dictatorships in Haiti affected Haitian women in Haiti and in Canada and the ways in which they resisted through transnational and local feminist activism in Montréal. Dr. Romulus developed an original epistemic framing, “Haitian internationalist feminism”, from which we can learn intimately of the impact of Duvalierism and its relationship to Canadian and Québécois politics at the level of both state and civil society.

Methodologically, Dr. Romulus’s  thesis was also path breaking for its nuanced multiple methods approach. She employed archival documentation, artistic performance, participant observations, interviews with key actors, life stories, and autoethnography to centre the experiences and deep reflections of key figures in both Haitian and Canadian feminist political life. The remarkable result is a seamless analysis that deepens our understanding of the harsh and long-lasting realities of Duvalierism and Canadian Imperialism, and yet the irrepressible political spirit that continues to spark and demand justice both in Haiti and in Montréal. Finally, Dr. Romulus’ thesis shows us a nuanced interweaving of the political and the personal, using her family’s legacy of political commitment and tragedy, to make sense of Haitian women’s experiences of torture and indelible belief that it is possible to build a more just world.

Dr. Romulus is now an Assistant Professor at the University of Ottawa cross-appointed in the Institute of Gender Studies and the School of International Development and Global Studies. She explained the importance of her doctoral research to herself and to diasporic Haitian communities in Canada:

“This research has allowed me to connect the past and present, to remember stories I was never told. Because I chose to follow stories that are part of my life and that are similar to mine – stories that took people to various countries I have drawn from various story-making and story-making processes. These life stories illustrate multi-located resistance strategies as deployed by opponents of the Haitian dictatorial regime, but also by Haitian men and women in negotiating their citizenship between two or more countries including Canada.

This research project has been an opportunity to act as one of the co-storytellers regarding what is remembered of the Duvalier era and Haitian feminism in Montreal, which remains a daunting task. I hope this dissertation does my fellow storytellers and loved ones justice.” She continues to expand upon her important research and share her knowledge through her teaching in the classroom and involvement in community in her new position at the University of Ottawa.

Dr. Romulus will be honoured at a special award banquet at the 62nd Annual CAGS Conference, to be held in Toronto, ON, from 29 October to 1 November 2024 where she will receive a $1500 prize and framed certificate acknowledging her scholarly contribution. The CAGS-ProQuest Distinguished Dissertation Award has been recognizing outstanding Canadian dissertations for twenty-five years. The award seeks to showcase original and innovative doctoral research that makes significant contributions, both to their respective academic communities and to Canadian society at large.

“Our heartfelt congratulations to Dr. Romulus from the School of Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs for her outstanding accomplishment in winning this prestigious dissertation award” –says Dr. Fahim Quadir, Vice-Provost and Dean! “This remarkable achievement stands as a testament to her scholarly excellence and dedication to academic pursuits”.