Evelyn Arriagada

 
Performing gender through contested waters: Becoming female water activists in Chile
 
Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

I was born and raised on an archipelago called Chiloé, a remote area of southern Chile well known for its natural beauty and cultural uniqueness. Growing up with this reality, I developed a strong commitment to fairness and fostering belonging that continues to inspire my research and work towards gender, social, and environmental justice. I went on to study Anthropology at the University of Chile. Academically, my agenda started by understanding the peculiarities of grassroots leadership, and the power dynamics in different forms and contexts. In Chile, these were not mainstream subjects of study from an anthropological point of view. To face this, I sought out intellectual alliances in other departments and disciplines. I also acquired interdisciplinary tools to address and expand those topics during my two master’s degrees (more related to Sociology and Political Science). After finishing my second master´s degree, I started teaching at the Sociology School of the Diego Portales University, in Chile, where I worked as a lecturer and Academic Coordinator for seven years. In this role, I continued to develop my theoretical and methodological skills, while simultaneously teaching and managing research activities to foster institutional improvement and innovation. Even with these experiences, something was missing in my academic path. I started to recognize that I needed to do more with my research and the tools and platform provided by my place in academia. I wanted to become a public/engaged intellectual – someone who ethically builds knowledge, and also disseminates this information to varied audiences, intervening in public discussions, and collaborating with communities. I think that a Ph.D. is an entry point to make that shift in my trajectory.

Why did you decide to study at UBC?

I was looking for a place to broaden my scope in an interdisciplinary way, especially to learn theoretical and methodological tools to collaborate with communities affected by environmental hazards. Additionally, I wanted to be involved in solutions-oriented research, to help them face both ongoing and future challenges, especially related to water issues and intersectional inequalities. Since I am interested in gender and water relationships, alternative epistemologies, and community-based research to develop my doctoral project, I was also looking for a university in which all these approaches were developed by top researchers in diverse disciplines. Undoubtedly, UBC was the right place to achieve all those aims.

What is it specifically, that your program offers, that attracted you?

The Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability at UBC combines academic excellence (and an interdisciplinary formation) with a solid engagement with communities affected by environmental hazards. Besides, I like the approach to the Ph.D. topics and process, which I think is more flexible than other programs. Finally, I wanted to work with Leila Harris, my supervisor, because of her particular contributions to understand the relationships between gender and water.

What was the best surprise about UBC or life in Vancouver?

I love how the campus is integrated into the natural landscape, which is very similar to those in my hometown. The colours (and the smell) of the forest, the rain, and the sea make me feel something familiar and reinforce my engagement to contribute to environmental issues. I live at the UBC campus, with my husband and my little daughter. Even with COVID restrictions, this is an amazing place to study in the company of your family. Being here in this context, with the possibility of connecting with nature and the people from the UBC community has been a blessing for us.

The Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability at UBC combines academic excellence (and an interdisciplinary formation) with a solid engagement with communities affected by environmental hazards. I wanted to work with Leila Harris, my supervisor, because of her particular contributions to understand the relationships between gender and water.
 
What aspects of your life or career before now have best prepared you for your UBC graduate program?

I think that having a non-linear academic trajectory has been key to understand how the academic field works. Additionally, my previous professional experience has served to think about my doctoral research not only in intellectual terms, and also to imagine future job opportunities beyond academia. Finally, keeping a long-term commitment with particular communities and organizations allow me to build a doctoral process that is deeply grounded - where social processes are continually informing my theoretically-driven questions.

What do you like to do for fun or relaxation?

I listen to music all day long. I have different lists for different purposes. I also like walking with my family, surrounded by trees, or going to the beach. I also started to write poetry here, in Vancouver, in the middle of the pandemic, which has been an amazing way to express myself.

What advice do you have for new graduate students?

These are uncertain times. It is difficult to be engaged in academic activities when outside, in the 'real world', everything seems to be changing. However, I am convinced that academic work can serve as a platform to develop and enrich both, intellectual and public agendas, while also contributing to help and accompany particular communities. Keeping that in mind is important when you feel lost or not making any 'progress'. Another important issue is giving yourself permission to make mistakes, to hesitate, to feel lost, or even fail. Pursuing a Ph.D. is more difficult when you come from another country, when English is your second language, and when you are a woman (and a mother) in academia. However, it is important to remember that everyone learns differently and has their own rhythm and path. Academia needs all this diversity to grow, transform itself and make positive impacts in the real world.

 
 
 

Learn about our faculties, research and more than 300 programs in our 2021 Graduate Viewbook!