January 27, 2022
Six Questions with Anusha Kassan
In her research, Dr. Anusha Kassan, Associate Professor, Faculty of Education, explores the migration experiences of same-sex binational couples, newcomer youth, 2SLGBTQIA+ newcomers and more. Dr. Kassan also investigates cultural and social justice competencies among graduate students and field supervisors. We asked Dr. Kassan six questions to learn more about her research interests.
What was the inspiration for your program of research and what is the focus?
My passion for critical psychology emerged from my personal background. I grew up in a biracial, bilingual, bi-religious home; an experience that has shaped the way in which I view the world and the way in which I understand the role of a helper. Not surprisingly, my lifelong personal and professional inspirations have been my parents. In addition, my children are a source of great motivation in my life, as I fight for equity in our society.
My program of study is influenced by my own bicultural identity and informed by an overarching social justice lens. My research presently includes two major foci. First, I am studying the process of school integration among newcomer families in French and English public education systems. Second, I am conducting teaching and learning research, investigating cultural and social justice responsiveness in professional psychology. My scholarly work represents a way to honour my family’s history and the many sacrifices they have made to allow me to pursue better opportunities in Canada; it is also my way to give back and collaborate with communities.
What kind of impact on knowledge or on society would you like your work to have?
With respect to newcomer wellness and school integration more specifically, I hope that my research can help shift our society and systems to become more welcoming and adaptable to meet the needs of newcomer children, youth, families and communities—rather than expecting them to assimilate in order to be successful. At this time, newcomer communities face a great deal of racism and discrimination, and there is a lot of stigma attached to the provision of psycho-social supports. This can make service delivery difficult. It is critical to change support services first and foremost, and work toward allyship with newcomer communities. My research highlights the need for such an approach to improve the wellness and school integration of newcomers to Canada.
I hope that my research and scholarly body of work will have a positive impact in changing some of the core tenets that guide the field of psychology. The discipline has a long-standing history of colonialism, adopting Western ways of knowing and pathologizing individuals and communities, particularly those from racialized, minoritized and vulnerable groups. By helping professionals and society at large, I hope that experienced and emerging psychologists can learn diverse ways of engaging in psychological practice and research to better respond to the needs of individuals and communities that have previously been marginalized. I also hope that with time, clients can learn to trust psychologists a bit more, and recognize that engaging in therapy can help in their healing journeys.
Whose work has been particularly important in your career to date, and why?
I have been privileged to have so many great influences and mentors along my journey. My graduate advisor, Dr. Ada L. Sinacore, saw potential in me that I did not see in myself. She is someone who has taught me to think critically and push boundaries. Once I graduated and began my academic career, I was lucky to accrue more great mentors, including Drs. Nancy Arthur, Shelly Russell Mayhew and Roy Moodley. My scholarly work has been impacted by the writings of many women and trans folks, people of colour and Indigenous peoples, such as Drs. Derald Wing Sue, Nadia Fouad, Anneliese Sighn, Suzanne Stewart, Carole Zerbe Enns, Roberta Toporek, Kimberlé Crenshaw, Jennifer C. Nash, Marcelo M. Suarez-Orozco, Vikki Reynolds, Susan Morrow, Patricia Hill Collins and more. Outside of scholarly platforms, I have learned a lot from artists, social media presences, as well as friends and family from Indigenous, racialized and minoritized backgrounds. These types of engagements help me understand my work more broadly and consider important concepts such as inter-disciplinarily, transnationalism and inter-cultural relationships.
What advice would you give to graduate students doing research in this area?
I would encourage graduate students to connect with their multiple and intersecting cultural identities and social locations. From there, they will be better positioned to lead with their passions and connect to their research in meaningful ways. Along with that comes the need to remain grounded, because when carrying out social justice research, we all face difficult moments. This epistemological position is not for the faint of heart. When facing colonialism, systemic racism and societal oppression, it can be easy to get discouraged. However, surrounding oneself with strong mentors, likeminded advocates and diverse allies can be instrumental throughout the research process and the entire graduate student experience. Further, getting out of one’s academic settings and spending time with communities can be extremely nourishing. Also, it can be helpful to find ways to engage in innovative, non-traditional means of knowledge mobilization. This has been a game changer for me, as it helps me think about my research and its potential impact in diverse, more authentic ways.
What would you like your next big research project to be about?
I love research and I would be ecstatic to see my program of study pertaining to the school integration of newcomer families, in both French and English school systems, expand beyond Alberta and British Columbia to all Canadian provinces and territories. Similarly, it would be great to see engagement from psychology training programs across the country to embrace and embody decolonization, as well as cultural and social justice responsiveness in real ways. Beyond that, it would be most meaningful to create a social justice research centre at the University of British Columbia. The possibilities for interdisciplinary collaboration and community engagement would be exponential, and could promote ethical action research that is community-informed and socially just.
If you could have a super power, what would it be?
I would opt for flying, so I can zip from place to place, see my family more often and zoom out and witness the world for all of its beauty. As a social justice advocate, I think this super power would also help me develop a helpful outsider view of the world. We have been facing incredible socio-political challenges and disparities around the world, many of which have become abundantly clear over the past couple of years.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.