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Canada on campus: grants support Whitman’s Canadian Studies Association

When Mark Kennedy ’09 came to Whitman College, he struggled to define what it meant to be a Canadian citizen in America.

He wondered if he would lose his “Canadianness” by moving to the U.S., or by living here for 10 years and becoming an American citizen.

Although Whitman lies 300 miles south of the U.S.-Canadian border, Kennedy found himself in the ideal setting to explore these questions, thanks in part to a grant that funds Canadian-based programming.

This year alone, Whitman will host five Canadian speakers – including the Canada-U.S. Fulbright Visiting Research Chair at the University of Washington – and present a number of films and cultural events on campus. The programs reflect the work of the campus Canadian Studies Association, which also supports the annual visit of the Banff Film Festival to Walla Walla, hosted by the Outdoor Program, and Bon Appétit's “marvelous” Canadian Thanksgiving Dinner, according to Sharon Alker, associate professor of English and General Studies and the first director of the association.
The 2010-2011 academic year marks the sixth consecutive year that the association has received a Program Enhancement Grant (PEG) from the Canadian government, resulting in more than $20,000 in funding since 2005. It is this funding that makes such dynamic programming possible.

“These grants are a major reason we are able to do these events and to have such a vibrant Canadian Studies program even though we don’t have a Canadian Studies major or formal academic program,” said Rachna Sinnott, ’93, director of foundation and corporate relations for Whitman.

This year alone, the group received $5,000 through the PEG and an additional $700 in the form of a Library Support grant, enabling the Penrose Library to purchase Canadian materials in disciplines ranging from gender studies to geology.

In addition to bringing Canadian culture to campus, the Association publicizes funding opportunities in Canada. This year, one faculty member and one student will travel north as the recipients of prestigious fellowships.  Suzanne Morrissey, assistant professor of anthropology, is currently the Fulbright visiting research chair in environment, health and sustainability at McMaster University in Ontario. Thomas Friedenbach '12 was awarded a Killam Fellowship to study at the University of British Columbia in spring 2011.

Jack Iverson, associate professor of foreign languages and literatures, French, and the current director of the Canadian Association, is eager to utilize as many sources of funding as possible. Through Whitman’s O’Donnell Visiting Educator program, the association has been able to bring three eminent Canadians to campus: writer Tomson Highway, and filmmakers Alanis Obomsawin and Magnus Isacsson. Iverson also plans to apply for a library matching grant specifically for Quebec materials from the Quebec Ministry of International Relations. In addition, the men’s basketball team is applying for a Student Mobility grant from the Canadian government to fund their trip to Canada in the summer of 2011.

Athletic Director Dean Snider, himself a Canadian citizen, hopes the association will continue to offer opportunities for students to better understand Canada’s complexities.

“Canada is the United States’ largest trade partner, but it is not necessarily the most well understood,” said Snider. “The more we know, the more we build respect for Canadian people and the issues that concern them and build respect between the two nations.”

Alker has worked to foster this understanding through literature, having taught a course titled, “A Complicated People: Canadian Fiction and its Discontents."

“It is vital that Americans understand Canada as a political nation, but it is also important to understand the country from a cultural standpoint  . . . reading the books through the prism of Canadian history, politics and culture opened up a whole new vision of Canada for students,” Alker said.

As a student in Alker’s class, Kennedy immersed himself in exploring Canadian culture on campus. He directed a Canadian play, Judith Thompson’s “Perfect Pie” and wrote a 40-page ‘mini-thesis’ on identity politics for another class.

After years of asking questions, Kennedy has realized that he isn’t seeking a definitive answer.

“I continue to construct my own particular identity, what it means to be a Canadian-American. My Whitman studies allow me to take heart with how complicated that project really is, and how it's okay for me to feel two or seven conflicting things at once; that it's all okay, really,” he said.

-Eleanor Ellis ’13

Published on Nov 19, 2010
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