Lab Member Monday is a new weekly CRUISElab social media series. We’re hoping that it gives you the opportunity to learn more about each CRUISElab team member and their valuable roles in the lab. Keep your eyes here each Monday for a new post!
29 May 2017
Interviewer: What is your role in the lab?
George: When I first started working in CRUISElab, I worked on the 2SHAWLS project, as an undergraduate research coordinator. At that time, the project had a research assistant, she was wonderful. Eventually she left and I took over the role as research assistant.
Interviewer: What is 2SHAWLS? Can you tell us a bit about this project?
George: It’s a resilience study looking at 2 Spirited HIV positive men who have been living with HIV for more than 10 years. It came out of this conversation between David Brennan and Art Zoccole – who was the former executive of 2 Spirited People of the First Nations. And it came out of a community need. Often when we look at the literature, the academic literature, about 2 Spirit men living with HIV, it really kind of paints this picture of dysfunction and disease, but 2 Spirited men in the community know that is not the reality of their lives and in the community there are a lot of stories of resilience and strength. Even for a lot of the participants, the process of becoming HIV positive, coming to take on the 2 Spirited identity was one of building community and strength and getting in touch with tradition, so there is all this complexity and beauty that wasn’t being talked about. So I think that was what the project was, really an opportunity to change the dialogue and discourse that’s out there and present these men’s stories in a really cool way.
Interviewer: How long have you been working on the 2SHAWLS project? And how long have you been working at CRUISElab?
George: I was working with David before there was a CRUISElab. I was a research assistant, working as a work study assistant, and I remember helping to write the grant that made the lab. That was 6 years ago, so I’ve been in the lab for 6 years. The 2SHAWLS project ran out of funding a while ago, so technically it ended but we’re still working on it and a lot is still coming out of it in terms of manuscripts and presentations. And we have this beautiful website – 2SHAWLS.com to present the finding in more indigenous ways. So the project lives on and will continue to live on.
Interviewer: What has been the greatest difficulty with the project? What challenges have you had to overcome?
George: I think there’s a lot of tension and I think there’s a lot of tension not just in the work, but particularly in working in community-based research with Aboriginal communities on a mixed Indigenous / non-Indigenous team. There’s a lot of tension. Finding a way to see between two worldviews is kind of the idea of two-eye seeing in research and being able to actually engage in that and being able to negotiate the tension that’s often in the room, the tension that you have within yourself, is really a difficult process. I think that tension isn’t just in mixed Indigenous / non-Indigenous research or just in Aboriginal research, I think a lot of what we do in the lab, we’re talking about really difficult subjects that for many people are really personal, that are tied to a lot of lived experience. So you know, anxiety and attention around how we talk about and how we engage and how we do the work that we do is part of what we do.
Interviewer: What has been your most memorable moment at CRUISElab?
George: My most memorable moment was a few years ago when we were presenting at the Indigenous pre-conference to the International AIDS Conference in Melbourne in 2014. It was my second time presenting at a conference, but I remember we were presenting in a small panel in a small room with maybe 50 people from the pre-conference. It was the first time that we had presented the website, the online knowledge translation tool. So we’re sitting in a room of Indigenous scholars and activists and leaders and really people who are, who have built a lot of the foundations for our work. And the second that the website went on the screen, the electricity in the room was just mind-blowing. And I remember that there was this one elder from the conference who stood up and said “everyone needs to see this” and she pulled in the organizers of the pre-conference and made them change the entire schedule so that on the last day during one of the plenaries, we could present 2SHAWLS to the entire pre-conference. It was the most surreal experience and it made a lot of the anxiety and the struggle and the tension and the tears and anger and all of the emotions and hard work that went into the project… it made it so worthwhile. It was very cool. It was a very rewarding experience.
Interviewer: What advice would you have for a prospective student of the MSW program?
George: I kind of serendipitously fell into the MSW program. I think a lot of people look at it as a stepping stone to clinical psychology or really want to focus on clinical psychology, so for a long time when I was an undergrad, I would describe to people how I wanted to do clinical psychology but from an anti-oppressive framework. And I talked about how I would go into the field and change it… and then one day I was talking to one of the people here and they said, “you know what you want to do is social work, you are describing social work.” So I think that experience speaks to many people who go into social work who have an innate drive or fire in their belly, who believe in social justice, who believe in overcoming not just inequities, but finding a way to make a more just society for everyone… and to help those who are effected by injustices in our society. Often it’s very personal and based on community. I think that people really need to hold onto that fire and anyone who is applying to this program should recognize that as a strength. It’s what sets us apart and makes us social workers.
Interviewer: Tell us something fun about yourself! An interesting hobby or something you don’t mind sharing with social media followers…
George: I was a ballet and Yugoslavian folklore dancer for 17 years and then I retired and became a social worker. That’s a lie… I didn’t retire, but it just kind of happened at the same time.