Lily is a cultural sociologist studying empathy in the context of human rights education. Her work looks at how Canadian and international museums and school curricula represent genocides and conflicts, with the goal of providing recommendations for critical and pragmatic human rights education. 


Research Description

I am interested in how empathy works, both in the context of institutions facilitating empathy, and individuals empathizing with the experiences of others. My dissertation is a comparative study of how different memorial museums for genocide and human rights abuses represent these events, and how visitors to these sites interpret these representations. Findings from this research will contribute to policy recommendations for museums and other public education campaigns on genocide to help them facilitate both empathetic understanding and critical reflection among the public.

What does being a Public Scholar mean to you?

Sociological studies almost always have applications for social issues, but more rarely extend their findings to shape the institutions they study directly. There is a strong tradition of public sociology, but this is often stigmatized in the discipline’s longstanding tradition of apolitical research. Through my participation in the network, I hope to normalize the pursuit of both streams of studies simultaneously; in-depth academic research is actively helpful and necessary for public projects, and research lacks motivation and relevance without public application. I’m not purely committed to either side of the “academic” versus “public” debate – I think both principles are necessary in each line of work.

In what ways do you think the PhD experience can be re-imagined with the Public Scholars Initiative?

The Public Scholars Initiative is a much needed bridging program for students looking to apply years worth of in-depth knowledge and skills training to public institutions in much need of this type of intellectual rigor and insight. I think it would be amazing for a direct channel to exist between Canada’s increasingly budding post-graduate field and Canadian institutions looking to take advantage of these expertise. It would also be encouraging for graduate students to feel that at the end of a grueling four or six year degree, their work will be appreciated in mainstream society.

How does your research engage with the larger community and social partners?

I am interested in applying my research to Canadian public education initiatives, including curricula in high schools and universities, and human rights museums. Since it is these institutional representations that shape key elements of public discourse around human rights, I also think these sites are important to take advantage of as spaces for challenging and changing society.

How do you hope your work can make a contribution to the “public good”?

At this point in our post-enlightenment and hyper-globalized society, I think there are a lot of elements of the human rights paradigm that are taken for granted. Like if we set up a museum for human rights abuses, the public will necessarily pick up the tools to make these types of events less likely in some way, or to use the cliché, that education will help to “prevent genocide” in the future. I think it’s really important to actually break down what kinds of discourses the museums are mobilizing, what kinds of actions these encourage – or fail to facilitate – and to create more unity between human rights ideals and the realm of feasible action for everyday citizens visiting these sites. This is what I’m actively committed to in doing my research – challenging assumptions, thinking about the role of everyday citizens in these types of violence, and re-shaping education campaigns to achieve more tangible outcomes.

Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

I discovered sociology late in my undergraduate degree, and like many others who experience it for the first time, felt like I had come across a goldmine of tools to understand everyday experiences. I feel fortunate I can continue to build this understanding as a graduate student, and also refine it to be a better vessel for communicating sociological concepts in my daily interactions and bringing this lens to Canadian public life.

Why did you choose to come to British Columbia and study at UBC?

I came to UBC as a master’s student interested in the sociology of education as a way to meaningfully strengthen Canada’s multiculturalism commitment. I’ve since become aware that issues of ethnic and racial discrimination are deeply embedded in cultural institutions and discourses. I continued my graduate studies here to take advantage of the sociology department’s strong expertise in culture and inequality, and the opportunities UBC provides to make research and collaboration on this topic possible.


I am interested in applying my research to Canadian public education initiatives, including curricula in high schools and universities, and human rights museums".