From the Head: Eleanor MacDonald
It’s a privilege to be writing this year’s “Letter from the Head” and to share with you my reflections on the 2019-20 academic year and my hopes for the one now underway. It has been quite the year for politics. For the Department of Political Studies at Queen’s, that’s also been true. There’s a lot to capture, so I’d like to focus on the highlights that defined this year for me: our people, the pandemic, and the politics of racial justice.
The department is, above all, a community of scholars: undergraduate, graduate, post-graduate researchers, and faculty members. We are ably supported in this scholarly work by an incredibly hard-working and talented staff. From the cutting-edge research of our faculty and graduate students, to the annual Meisel Lecture that celebrates the work of emerging scholars, to our wide range of course offerings, the department continues to be a vibrant place to study and work.
It’s also a place that is rapidly changing and developing. I am happy to fill you in on some of these developments. The 2019-20 year got off to a brilliant start that has continued into 2020-21. In the summer of 2019, we welcomed the largest new faculty cohort in decades. Dr. Yolande Bouka, Dr. Danielle Delaney, Dr. Paul Gardner, and Dr. Fan Lu all joined the department, as did Dr. Rachel Laforest (who transferred to our department from the School of Policy Studies). Along with other recent hires of the last several years – Dr. Poulomi Chakrabarti, Dr. Stéphanie Martel, and Dr. Kyle Hanniman – these new faculty members bring fresh energy, new teaching interests, and original research expertise to our graduate and undergraduate programs. I am delighted to announce that we are also continuing to grow, with this year’s addition of Dr. Elizabeth Baisley.
At the same time, we’ve reluctantly said goodbye to two of our most distinguished faculty members. Dr. Cathy Conaghan and Dr. Kim Richard Nossal retired in summer 2020. Dr. Conaghan and Dr. Nossal are both celebrated teachers and researchers who have contributed immeasurably to the department over many years. We already miss them greatly.
The department is also fortunate to have three regular postdoctoral fellowships. Here, too, there have been changes. Dr. Adrienne Davidson, who held the Skelton-Clark Postdoctoral Fellowship from 2018 to 2020, has joined the Department of Political Science at McMaster University. Dr. Kate Korycki, our Peacock Postdoctoral Fellow from 2018 to 2020, is now at the Department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Western University. The new Skelton-Clark and Peacock Postdoctoral Fellows are, respectively, Dr. Olivier Jacques and Dr. Pinar Dokumaci. Dr. Daniel Westlake is continuing as the Buchanan Postdoctoral Fellow for the 2020-21 year.
Our staff complement has also developed and grown over the past year. We’ve benefitted from the addition of two new staff positions. Lindsay McCabe, who served as Graduate Assistant during 2019-20 has taken on the new role of Online and Experiential Learning Coordinator. Lindsey Morey is in the new position of Departmental and Financial Assistant.
Several of our colleagues were recognized this year for extraordinary achievements. Dr. Margaret Moore and Dr. Kim Nossal were appointed as fellows to the Royal Society of Canada. Dr. Stéfanie von Hlatky was awarded the Canada Research Chair, Tier II in “Gender, Security, and the Armed Forces.” Dr. Stéphanie Martel was this year’s recipient of the Alma Mater Society’s Frank Knox Award for Excellence in Teaching while Richard Patenaude, a senior doctoral student, was the recipient of the Alma Mater Society’s Christopher Knapper Award for Excellence in Teaching Assistance. Most recently, Dr. Elizabeth Goodyear-Grant has been recognized by the Faculty of Arts & Science with the award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching.
The official arrival of the pandemic in Canada in mid-March 2020 had a profound effect on everything we do. In less than a week, the campus was closed, students were asked to return home, and course instructors were given just a few days to redesign their courses so that they could be completed online. Staff and faculty moved from their offices in Mac-Corry to their home desks or kitchen tables. The “pivot” to remote teaching meant, in many cases, the cancellation of exams or suspension of other course requirements. The university adopted new regulations, permitting students to take a “pass” on a course, rather than a letter grade, and permitting late withdrawals with no penalties. The vast majority of our students managed to complete their courses under these trying circumstances and should be commended for their commitment to their studies and their perseverance.
The summer months presented continued challenges. The department initiated a bursary plan for graduate students, most of whom rely on summer income from outside the university in order to continue their studies. Course instructors signed up for seminars to learn the new technologies that the university was purchasing to assist with remote teaching. Meanwhile, we offered three summer term undergraduate courses, all of which were fully subscribed. In late July, we held an online celebration of graduation for the 2020 graduating class over Zoom, trying to find inventive and inclusive ways to mark the occasion.
Now, mid-way through the fall of 2020, our program is offered fully remotely at both graduate and undergraduate levels. We will continue to teach remotely at least until the summer of 2021. We are continuing to develop our skills in remote course delivery, while trying to find ways to maintain our tradition of having a strong and cohesive departmental community. Faculty have resumed their research projects wherever possible, although both faculty and graduate students have, in many cases, needed to work around the limitations on fieldwork that the coronavirus has imposed. We will continue to teach remotely in the Winter term of 2021 and we are preparing to offer an array of Spring and Summer 2021 courses.
The Politics of Racial Justice
In the spring of 2020, the world was seized by growing recognition of violence against Black and Indigenous people, and people of colour. The killings of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Chantel Moore, Rodney Levi and so many others, at the hands of both police and civilians, led to massive public protests and demands for racial justice. Protestors called for new measures to stop racist violence. Anti-racist movement analysts appealed to society to take a hard look at the values, beliefs, and practices that sustain anti-Black, anti-Indigeous, and other forms of racism.
In this context, Political Studies students also turned this focus on our department, seeking a more inclusive curriculum, one in which more BIPOC authors and more critical perspectives would be included. An online petition in late May asked us to consider this need especially in those courses designated as mandatory for all students. This was followed by surveys initiated by undergraduate and graduate students to bring our attention to the effects of racism on our students and their studies. We’ve begun this work. With the assistance of anti-racism advisors, Célia Romulus and Dr. Anita Jack-Davies, and our Equity Issues Committee, the department is mapping out a plan that includes curriculum review and a deeper questioning of the discipline of Political Studies. We are committed to the project of racial justice, in our teaching and research, and aim to make that a priority concern in the coming years.
In closing, I can say the year has been an intense and important one for the department. We are enriched by the addition of new colleagues and a broader vision for our work. We are challenged continuously to find better ways to carry out our research, teaching, and service in this changed online environment, and in light of new demands to offer a more inclusive and just program of study. I hope you’ll enjoy getting a glimpse of departmental life in the pages of this, our second annual newsletter. We always welcome your thoughts and feedback, and we wish you – our broader community of political studies students, alumni, and friends – a safe, inspiring, and happy year.
Eleanor MacDonald, Head (Interim)
Department of Political Studies