Ryerson student receives prestigious doctoral award

Ryerson student receives prestigious doctoral award

July 19, 2019

Considered one of the most prestigious doctoral awards for students interested in major social and public policy issues, the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation Scholarship Program (PETFSP) helps shape researchers into engaged leaders who are conscious of their research, connected to the realities of the communities in which they work and open to non-conventional forms of knowledge.

Ryerson University PhD student Nataleah Hunter-Young feels privileged to be part of the 2019 cohort of distinguished scholars 

Coming from diverse backgrounds, places and disciplines, this year’s distinguished group of 20 was selected from among hundreds of candidates put forward by universities in Canada and abroad.

“It’s a great honour to be included among this noteworthy group of change-makers,” she said. “This scholarship will help broaden my horizons and increase the potential impact of my work, both here and abroad.”

Hunter-Young is pursuing Communication & Culture studies.

Her thesis title is still in development.

“At the moment, it is called ‘The Cultural Impact of Public Executions: eLynching & Artistic Interventions’,” she said. “My research looks at the social and cultural impacts of social media police brutality videos and how contemporary artists are taking up the themes of police violence in their work. I think that there is a lot we can learn from the way artists pull apart and abstract social issues and I am keen to learn about how they think these violent videos contribute to the way blackness and Black people are seen and imagined.”

Hoping to graduate in 2022, Hunter-Young had a few reasons for choosing Ryerson to pursue her PhD.

The joint program with York University is a unique partnership that combines expertise and opportunities for advanced study of media and cultural technologies as well as communication politics in practice and theory.

“That appealed to me and my choice was also influenced by my familiarity with past community engagement initiatives run by faculty and staff,” she said. “I did my Master’s at Ryerson and made really meaningful connections there, so it was an easy decision to go back and do my doctorate.”

Completing high school at Harbord Collegiate Institute, Hunter-Young – who did her undergraduate and graduate degree in Social Work at McMaster University – said the switch from Social Work was seamless.

“Certainly my objectives are the same and that is to make a difference in my community,” she noted. “Films won’t save us, but they will help us think differently and that’s step number one. Beginning my career in Social Work taught me about the power of stories. Social workers are meant to listen to people’s stories intently and to read above, below and between the lines in order to support the well-being of individuals and communities and contribute to social change. But unfortunately, our government’s predatory systems and unreliable funding models have made this increasingly more difficult to achieve in the traditional way. So I am trying something new.”

Beyond its capacity for entertainment, Hunter-Young said film and media arts contributed significantly to her education and imagination.

“I could learn about everything from interpersonal conflict to global crises without leaving my home and it often left me more curious and inspired than I was when I began,” she said. “Film programming has offered me an opportunity to share that love of film with my community. I want everyone to be able to access that knowledge and I want to help harness the capacity of film and media arts to dream up new solutions to critical social issues.”

Over the years, she has supported festival programming with the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival, the Toronto International Film Festival, Toronto Outdoor Picture Show and the Durban International Film Festival in South Africa where she was the lead documentary programmer in 2018.

“Believe it or not, I watch movies all day,” Hunter-Young pointed out. “My role is to review some of the films submitted to these festivals and recommend the best ones to screen for public audiences. The process unfolds differently at each festival but, ultimately, film programming is about connecting audiences to the best films and, for me, that often means the ones with the potential for greatest impact.”

Asking a film lover to pick their top movie is almost an impossible question.

Nataleah Hunter-Young (Photo by Zahra Siqqiqui)

Nataleah Hunter-Young (Photo by Zahra Siqqiqui)

Hunter-Young singles out ‘The Prison to Twelve Landscapes’, an award-winning Canadian documentary directed by Brett Story and released three years ago, as a recent favourite.

“Story introduces audiences to a series of places and spaces effected by the prison industrial complex, but that lie beyond prison walls,” she said. “I love the way her film challenges assumptions about the impact of incarceration and encourages us all to think more critically about our relationships to that system.”

Hunter-Young is the daughter of Patrick Hunter – a Share community newspaper columnist -- and Sandra Young who co-owned the Ashanti Room which was a space dedicated to showcasing positive Black images.

She acknowledged the impact her parents have had on her growth and development.

“They raised me in community and taught me early on that I had a responsibility to contribute to the betterment of that community,” she said. “That community has looked out for me, like the African Canadian Heritage Association for instance, since I was a child and now I run into these ‘aunties’ and ‘uncles’ in professional capacities where I know it is my job to continue the work they started. There are so many people I carry with me into my work. None of this would be possible without them.”

Her career goal is to continue to push people’s thinking and general world view.

“It could be through teaching, writing, research, film programming or other work in the creative arts,” added Hunter-Young. “I think I will continue to learn, in the years to come, that there are a number of ways I can do that, some of which may not be known to me yet. For that reason, I intend to stay open.”

Lasting three years, the PETFSP provides generous support for Scholar’s doctoral work in the form of a stipend and research and travel allowance.

In the first year, they will receive mandatory leadership training from the Foundation’s Mentors who are leaders in the public, private and non-profit sectors and Fellows who are leaders in research and teaching.

Scholars will work with Mentors and Fellows in the second year of their term to collaboratively plan and participate in a public conference with a flexible format to be created and led by the Scholars.

The final year is dedicated to knowledge dissemination.

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