One month ago today, on September 24, 2018, I was honoured with an Alumni Horizon Award from the University of Alberta. The prestigious award was a surprise as I was nominated by the Dean of Arts and is a once-in-a-lifetime award meant to provide recognition for outstanding community work and positive contributions to society.

While I am on a research and writing sabbatical in Morocco, I requested that my family, friends and colleagues still attend the ceremony as my mother would be accepting the award on my behalf – and they did. Some of my closest family members, friends and people I am blessed to work with spent the day just thinking about me and loving me. For someone with a history of mental illness and negative self-talk, it is unbelievable to me that folks would do that while I was 10,000km away – some even taking the day off work!  It was an incredible day of jubilant celebration and support from people of all walks of life who I am blessed to know. And that could be felt all the way in a little village north of Marrakech where I am currently staying.

I have been humbled by the award and want to reflect on it a bit. I genuinely feel that I share it with every amazing person I have been blessed to do community work with: from my committee with Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council to the advisory crew with the Chester Ronning Center for the Study of Religion and Public Life, from the amazing fundraising team with the Young Indigenous Circle of Leadership Cree Women’s Camp to every interfaith leader and community organizer I have been blessed to meet. My colleagues in the Department of History and Classics at the University of Alberta, along with fellow researchers at the Tessellate Institute and the Institute for Religious and Socio-Political Studies all share this honour with me.

I know that these awards are not always what they seem and I was (and remain) hesitant about accepting it from an institution I have benefited from but am ultimately concerned about in terms of its exploitation of folks with excessive tuition rates and underpaid intellectual labour, and especially for its often tokenistic/abusive treatment of Indigenous and Black folks I know directly. I always hesitate when a large neoliberal institution values what I am doing because it might mean that I am fitting a convenient narrative about brokering social change in ways that are merely superficial and don’t get at the deep structural violence implicit in the system itself. I am terrified of the implications of that and of being complicit in the systems that benefit me above others for no other reason than the social positionings I was born into. I am mindful of my privilege as a white convert to Islam in being recognized and amplified when so many of my merited siblings and kin of colour are not.

Ultimately, this award has never been about me. It is about the work and about the people I am privileged to share dignified spaces with as a result of that work. I can’t think of many people I have met and worked with who haven’t influenced me or taught me wisdoms beyond even what they imagine they do. This is our award and I pray that it serves to remind other people about the types of work we can do when we come together. Above all, I wish that it will inspire other people to build more spaces of social change and justice – ones that are unapologetically critical in all the right ways. And for the person who feels like they want to suck back the very last dregs of despair before seeking oblivion, it is my desire that this kind of recognition makes its way to you and serves as a source of hope – as those I have served are a continuous source of hope for me.

Much love,

Nakita

Read Nakita’s award feature in New Trail Alumni Magazine or an article profiling her work from the Faculty of Arts.

I have written previously about the difficulties that accompany the writing process. When I really got to thinking about how people cope with these challenges while also pursuing other ambitions – careers, raising a family, cooking dinner every night – I realized that for the most part, they don’t. A lot of us are not writing as much as we want to be. A lot of us are not writing at all. It is absolutely heartbreaking to think of the number of people who want to be authors or poets but never seem to be able to fit writing a book into their busy schedules.

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I’m not here to pass judgement, point fingers, or guilt-trip. What I would like to do is suggest some strategies for getting back on the writing train if it’s something you’ve been missing

Get the other parts of your life in order. We all know that some of the best writers also had challenging personal lives. It is possible to produce incredible work while struggling in other areas, but for many of us, if dinner’s not made and we had a rough day at work, we’re not going to be able to sit down and write at our best. Use writing as a motivator to get organized and start living the life you want.

Force yourself to be accountable. For many of us, we were most prolific in our writing while enrolled in school. Why? Because we had to be! Having to hand in assignments provides excellent motivation to get to work. If you are hoping to make writing a priority, consider creating a system that keeps you accountable for creating high-quality work. For some people, this may be as simple as setting deadlines. For others, this may mean enlisting a friend or family member to act as an enforcer, making sure you consistently produce work on time.

Structure your time. Waiting until you have enough time to write is sort of like waiting for that spider in the basement shower to knit you a bikini. Is it theoretically possible? Yes. But it’s just never going to happen. If you’re going to produce considerable work, you have to consciously set aside time dedicated to writing. If you think you will have trouble sticking to schedule you set yourself, consider taking a writing class or starting a writing group with a few friends.

Make concrete goals. Many of us “want to write more” but we actually have no idea what we would do if we did sit down to write. Setting concrete goals – such as “I will write a short story this week” – will not only give you something to work towards but shape your thinking so that you are on the lookout for good settings, characters, and plot ideas.

Don’t keep your writing to yourself. It can be hard to share, but can you imagine what our world would be like if J.K. Rowling never contacted a publisher? Sharing your work is necessary if you hope to be published, if you want feedback on your work, if you want to be held consistently accountable, and so on. Not to mention your writing might just change someone’s life.


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Rachael Heffernan has recently completed a Master’s Degree in Religious Studies at the University of Alberta. In the course of her academic career, she has received a number of scholarships and awards, including the Harrison Prize in Religion and The Queen Elizabeth II Graduate Scholarship. During her undergraduate degree, Rachael was published twice in The Codex: Bishop University’s Journal of Philosophy, Religion, Classics, and Liberal Arts for her work on Hittite divination and magic and philosophy of religion. Rachael has also had the opportunity to participate in an archaeological dig in Israel, and has spoken at a conference on Secularism at the University of Alberta on the Christian nature of contemporary Western healthcare. Her wide-ranging interests in scholarship are complemented by her eclectic extra-curricular interests: she is a personal safety instructor and lifelong martial artist who has been recognized for her leadership with a Nepean Community Sports Hero Award. She is an enthusiastic reader, writer, and learner of all things, a tireless athlete, and a passionate teacher.

In a recent article by Asam Ahmad, call-out culture was, itself, called out as being inherently toxic, primarily because it does not facilitate rehabilitation through conversation but constitutes a sort of public shaming in which activist egos are stroked and perpetrators are demonized. And while I tend to agree with this sentiment, that call-out culture is abusive far more than it is effective, and especially having seen just how far conversation actually goes to change people – at the same time, there is a pattern emerging for which call-out culture is useful: the most stubborn of haters who dominate in socio-economic, gendered ways over those whom they hate.

It might seem counter-intuitive but there are actually many types of people who hate. It is my understanding that the vast majority of people who have been conditioned to hate fall into two main and often overlapping categories: the fearful and the ignorant. In fact, ignorance is the direct precursor to fear which necessarily precedes hatred, particularly when one’s livelihood, and more importantly, one’s identity and sense of self is held in the balance. Perceived threats to both our livelihood and our self-hood which are exterior to us are often not the subjects of curiosity and genuine interest but, rather, end up being objects of hatred and violence. One need only look so far at how a fearful, phobic individual treats an animal or phenomena they fear to know how they might treat a human being they also fear.

There is, however, another type of person who hates. This person is neither ignorant, nor fearful. I know this is going to make a lot of people I know uncomfortable because we tend, as activists, to buy into the narrative that everyone is redeemable to our worldview when this is, very likely, not a real possibility –  at least not without mass social accountability. Human beings engage with hatred to consolidate power. They hate in order to be in a masterful position over the one they hate and, because of this, are easy to detect. They are the most prone to violence, the most prone to saying flippant and hurtful things, the least apologetic about it. They tend not to offer excuses without masking or hiding their hatred. They shout it from the rooftops, unabashedly, in the name of “not appearing PC”, of reclaiming what they think is owed to them, of making their name and their personhood and their nation great again from whence it came.

These people cannot be dismissed as being “stupid” or unaware of what they are doing. And they often do not respond to criticism. In their worldview, critics belong to the “other” – someone for which they have an ever-present snappy response an undercutting retort that pushes buttons and gets the job of hatred done. They can rationalize things that seem impossible to others. They can excuse atrocious things.

These people are the target of call out culture. These are the people most in need of public shaming if we re-conceptualise public shaming as social accountability and accept that call out culture has some work to do in terms of its effectiveness. “An interaction between two individuals” as a public performance, as Ahmad puts it, is not an academic brand of activism: it is the only option some people have left. Ahmad seems to be under the impression that conversations are, by definition, equal playing fields. That they can even be made to occur at the instigation of victims of oppression…all the while ignoring major power imbalances, not even to mention personal repercussions incurred by the one who initiates a conversation with the one who oppresses them. Putting this onus on the victim of repression is not only unrealistic, it is unsafe.

Call out culture has emerged because “calling in” is not always an option and just because that may be the case, oppression should not continue unmarked. As I previously mentioned in my article entitled “The Internet is the Voice of the Oppressed”, what is important to note for our purposes is that the internet (as the ultimate stage of call out culture) has become a vehicle for connecting liminal, minority groups – for communicative memories to develop in peripheral forums and for connections to be made across geographically disparate spaces. What we are seeing is a dramatic increase in critical awareness for a variety of minority issues – and a territorializing of these groups’ memories on an exponential basis daily. The result is an influx of posts, videos and pages devoted to the causes of those marginalized in regular society, those who were previously unable to “call in”. Almost immediately, people in positions of privilege have criticized these movements as minorities being overly-sensitive or abrasive, rolling their eyes at the proliferation of trigger warnings, or jumping to defend those who have been brought to justice by bringing their injustices to light online. What these individuals don’t realize is two-fold:

  1. These oppressed people have always been around. They just have a larger collectivity now because of the internet and their voice is much louder because of the heavy use and reliance on this technology today.
  2. Oppressed people who cannot find justice in their everyday lives will use every means at their disposal – outside of the collectively prescribed methods – to achieve their justice.

Perhaps what Ahmad was warning against was my own concern, not so long ago: that those who challenge the order run the risk of becoming it.

When the oppressed achieve recognition, their communicative, everyday memories tend to be distorted in the name of their collective, which ultimately has little need for the individuals in this new memory form. As I stated before, this raises further questions about the meaning and even the possibility of true social aggregation, meditations on which will have to be left for another time. So to ask the question again: Is call- out culture always toxic? No. It isn’t. Not always. Oftentimes, it is the only tool we have in sounding the alarm on oppressive behaviours. For now, give pause before you do, then keep wailing that hammer.


nakitaNakita Valerio is an academic, activist and writer in the community. She is currently pursuing graduate studies in History and Islamic-Jewish Studies at the University of Alberta.  Nakita was named one of the Alberta Council for Global Cooperation’s Top 30 under 30 for 2015, and is the recipient of the 2016 Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, as well as the Walter H. Johns Graduate Studies Fellowship. She has also been honoured with the State of Kuwait, the Queen Elizabeth II and the Frank W Peers Awards for Graduate Studies in 2015. She has been recognized by Rotary International with an Award for Excellence in Service to Humanity and has been named one of Edmonton’s “Difference Makers” for 2015 by the Edmonton Journal. Nakita is the co-founder of Bassma Primary School in El Attaouia, Morocco and the Vice President of External Affairs with the Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council.