School of Graduate Studies

School of Graduate Studies
School of Graduate Studies

Addressing difficult topics – Meet Christopher Bennett

PhD candidate, Gender Studies  

by Phil Gaudreau, April 2020

Amy Cleaver

Christopher Bennett (MA’17, Artsci’16) began his university studies interested in Psychology and Health Studies, particularly in health policy issues. As his degree progressed and he switched from a Toronto university to Queen’s, Christopher became interested in issues like blood donation policies. He realized there was a lot of overlap between his interests and the field of Gender Studies.

Christopher began to take more Gender Studies courses and, eventually, decided to pursue his masters at Queen’s. That’s when a funny thing happened.

“I discovered someone else had already thoroughly researched my topic,” he says. “On the one hand, it was great to see, and it also opens your eyes and you realize you don’t know as much as you think you do.”

Still, Christopher continued with his masters and gained access to teaching assistant opportunities and through his studies he fell in love with teaching. In the years since he first enrolled at Queen’s, Christopher assisted with courses that look at sexual and gender diversity, comics and politics, science fiction and fantasy writing, feminist thought, feminist pedagogies, and women’s writing. The classroom environment gave him another idea for his research focus.

“When you are teaching, you have to contend with questions about how you teach about racism, homophobia, and sexism in ways that are personal and not abstract,” he says. “These are real lives being discussed, and these concerns exist within the classroom. How do we go about teaching these concepts in a meaningful, engaging, and respectful way that is connected to their context?”

Christopher is now in his third-year of his PhD, also at Queen’s. He chose to remain at Queen’s both to be closer to his hometown, near Kingston, and for the strong professors in the Queen’s Gender Studies department. When he approaches his research, Christopher’s original exposure to psychology still influences his thinking.

“My interest in psychology stems from a desire to help people, and teaching is one of those ways,” he says. “When you can discuss all these ideas together in a classroom and see the lightbulbs go off, it’s an amazing thing and I really enjoy that. Even on the bad days, it’s something to learn from.”

His intent in discussing these difficult topics in the classroom is to always ground the conversation in the context and its social application.

“There is no theory without people – all of our theory comes from people’s experiences and collective action,” he notes. “And some days, the class won’t want to discuss these topics perhaps because everyone is having a bad day. So how will a ‘bad day’ impact a discussion on traumatic subjects? These are the questions I am interested in.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Christopher enjoys school and hopes to teach after graduation. He is also considering going for more schooling so he can become a psychoanalyst.

As he reflects on his original research topic, Christopher notes he’s a strong example for the idea that you don’t need to have everything figured out when you enrol in graduate studies.

“Many people start their graduate degrees without a project in mind,” he says. “If you get in, you deserve to be here.”

Learn more about the Gender Studies program.