Wajiha Mehdi

Wajiha Mehdi, UBC graduate student
 
How do Muslim women navigate the city of Ahmedabad, India? The production of urban spaces through globalisation and communal violence
 

Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

While I was in India, I realised that systematic displacement and Islamophobia is underwriting a new legacy for present and future generations of Muslims in India. This is the leading motive for my research on the strategies Muslim women adopt in accessing public spaces in India.

Why did you decide to study at UBC?

I chose UBC to study at the Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice Institute because I was interested in their interdisciplinary approach with extensive expertise in intersectional feminist research.

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

GRSJ's interdisciplinary academic environment and participatory research approach make it the best place for me to carry out this research study which aims to bridge the gap between feminist activism and scholarship. My study is inspired and shaped by the diverse methodology and texts I was introduced to and skills I acquired and am still in the process of acquiring at GRSJ. While I read and learnt from discourses in intersectional feminism, critical race theory, and decolonial feminist methodologies, the overlapping theme, I found was how people displace their marginality to produce resistance. This inspired my study in geographies of resistance of Muslim women in India.

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

I am truly fascinated by the interdisciplinary work and research that I constantly hear about from students and faculty.

What aspect of your graduate program do you enjoy the most or are looking forward to with the greatest curiosity?

I was especially inspired by the kind of unconventional, interdisciplinary work being undertaken by students and faculty at GRSJ and it is good to know that creative and unconventional scholarship is supported here. I am closely witnessing the growth in me and how my thoughts are being challenged and expanding and I am excited about how this will reflect in my own scholarship.

What do you see as your biggest challenge(s) in your future career?

I think it is fair to say that competition is fierce. Unfortunately, academia is also falling prey to neoliberal tendencies and we are all constantly working to produce work that would be in someways marketable. This raises questions about what is happening to our educational systems around the world. One of my biggest challenges would be to find a career that does not only bring financial security but also helps me contribute in meaningful ways.

How do you feel your program is preparing you for those challenges?

I think this is an important time to be in academia with the rise in nationalism, anti-immigrant narrative, and Islamophobia, all that is happening around the world. I am both intellectually fascinated and frustrated as I am constantly thinking of ways we can produce work that bridges the gap between theory and practice, academia and activism.

What aspects of your life or career before now have best prepared you for your UBC graduate program?

My time at Aligarh Muslim University in India taught me how to bridge the gap between academia and activism as I found myself situated in a historical educational institution that prides itself as the center of Muslim intellectualism in India and yet finds itself systematically marginalised as a minority institution. At AMU, I learned to develop a lens towards how relations of power are laid out and function in multiple and complex ways and how that affects the everyday lives of a minority group, especially women from minority communities. This shapes my current PhD project to a great extent.

What do you like to do for fun or relaxation?

I am fortunate that the beach is very accessible to me, while I am not able to do this as much as I would like to, I do enjoy going to the beach for the sunset or just going for long walks around gardens at UBC.

What advice do you have for new graduate students?

When I came here, the very first memory is that of being extremely overwhelmed. As an international student, this meant a major shift in culture, weather and everyday life in general. So, to new students I would say, take your time to settle down. Academia is fascinating, but it can also be very isolating. In these times, do not hesitate to turn to your support system for help. There are so many people who have this shared experience and would be happy to support you. Also, don’t be afraid of raising your voice, asking questions or stating your opinions. It is even more difficult if you are coming from a different country and culture but it is important to remember that the perspective you bring to this institution is unique and important.