Stefan Sunandan Honisch

Stefan Sunandan Honisch, Cross Faculty Inquiry in Education, PhD Graduated May 2016

Why did you choose to study your program?

From my sister Erika (a musicologist and assistant professor at Stony Brook University), I found out about the emerging field of Disability Studies during the final year of my Master's degrees studies at the University of British Columbia School of Music (2007). At the time, I was about to finish the second of two Master's degrees, in Piano, and Composition. As a disabled pianist and composer myself, I recognized the ample scope for inquiry that Disability Studies presented, as far as understanding my own experiences more deeply, as well as grappling with the reception of disabled musicians (performers, in particular), on a larger scale. Through friends in the Education Department at UBC, I learned of Dr. Leslie G. Roman's work at the intersection of disability, culture, and education. Upon meeting with her, we realized numerous points of convergence in our research interests. I also met with Dr. Mary Bryson, then the departmental head of Cross Faculty Inquiry in Education, and realized that pursuit of my scholarly interests would find an ideal home within the department. I was fortunate to be accepted in 2008, and to work with Dr. Claudia Ruitenberg, Dr. Andre Mazawi, and Dr. Mark Anderson (from the UBC School of Music). Throughout my doctoral studies, I kept in touch with Professor Jane Coop and Professor Rena Sharon (with whom I studied piano as a Master's student). My undergraduate piano studies with Eva Solar Kinderman and Cary Chow at the University of Victoria also provided a repertoire (as it were) of pedagogical experiences that informed my doctoral research in a host of ways.

Why did you choose UBC?

As I have come to learn through conversations with a good friend of mine, Reetika Khanna (a Master's student in UBC's Department of Curriculum and Pedagogy) there is often a sense in which we ourselves do not simply choose, but also it is we who are chosen by the places, people, and events in our lives. I feel that her insight is wholly true of the path that led me to UBC for my doctoral research. I had applied to York University's PhD program in Critical Disability Studies, and was happy to be offered admission. However, for a number of reasons, foremost among these the chance to work with Dr. Roman, UBC chose for me to study here.

What are the most valuable things you have learned?

Nothing at all would have happened, of course, had it not been for the incredible presence of my parents, my mother Usha, and my father Martin. They have always been and will always remain as my greatest teachers. The philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce wrote that experience is our great and only teacher. With due respect to Peirce, my parents are my great teachers, and their pedagogy of the home, of family, of unconditional support, shines brightly in my mind, always guiding me towards a better, and deeper way of being human. My sister Erika, and my brother-in-law August Sheehy (an assistant professor in Music Theory at Stony Brook University) likewise are integral to what, and how I have learned during my doctoral studies at UBC. I earlier mentioned Reetika's insight about how choice is, in a profound sense, reciprocal and relational. I would further add that our friendship and our ongoing conversations about education, music, and philosophy have taught me a great many lasting lessons for the better part of two years now. My PhD supervisor, Dr. Roman, and committee members, Dr. Ruitenberg and Dr. Anderson have taught me valuable lessons about writing as an expression of clear, courageous thought, the necessity of attending to details, and, along the way, have pointed me to the work of scholars, philosophers, and musicians, whose work offers endless opportunity for reflection, and the renewal of whatever understanding I have gained to this point.

What are your goals for the future–immediate? Long-term?

In August (2017) I will be heading to Uppsala University, in Sweden, where I have accepted a two-year position as postdoctoral researcher within the Engaging Vulnerability program (Department of Cultural Anthropology and Ethnology). While there, I will be doing research and drafting a monograph based on my doctoral dissertation, teaching, and participating in the intellectual life of my hosting department, and that of Uppsala university as a whole. My long term goals are to continue within higher education, as a researcher and teacher, and to continue my freelance work as a pianist and composer (music remains an inseparable part of who I understand myself to be). I have the outlines of a second monograph project taking shape in my mind, and this is one of my longer term projects.

How do you hope to make a difference in our world?

One of my favorite aphorisms comes from Yahia Lababidi who writes "We’re here to pass around the ball of light, while keeping our fingerprints off it." If it can be said truly of my life, one day, that I passed around the ball of light, and that my fingerprints did not dim its brightness, or stifle its eternal warmth, then perhaps I will have made the kind of difference that honors and cherishes the differences of those, near and far, whose world I have been blessed to share.

What advice would you give a student considering your field of study?

What my advice would lack in originality, it would (I hope) make up for in the kind of sincerity that comes from testing by experience. In a word: be open to fresh perspectives on your work, write and read constantly, always be prepared to revisit those assumptions and beliefs which seem to lie within the realm of common sense. Above all, cherish the people in your life who pass the ball of light your way.

Stefan Sunandan Honisch

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