Removal and Reintroduction: Coming to terms with my racialized-self in my academic writing

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On Saturday, March 10, students and young professionals (SYPs) participated in the 5th Annual CCGHR Student Global Health Forum on the theme of “Research to Reality” at McMaster University. A mix of keynotes, workshops, global health simulation and this year’s unique graduate student panel guided the day’s learning and insights. Throughout, SYPs built off of each other’s questions, insights and enthusiasm, and offered each other a space for critical reflection and collective inspiration. To showcase some of the unique ways in which some of our SYPs experienced this year’s forum, we’ll be sharing two reflective pieces over the coming days.

By Chantelle Ramsundar

The most poignant part of the conference for me was the presentation by University of Toronto medical student Chika Stacy Oriuwa (check her out on Twitter). Being close to the end of my Master’s, I’ve been spending time trying to reflect on my experiences within academic and non-academic spaces.

While I truly enjoy studying within the realm of global health, specifically medical anthropology, I found it difficult to constantly, ‘legitimize’ my thesis and research. While I appreciate the conferences and contexts where I get to connect with other students and professionals, there always seemed to be a dissonance between my ability to connect my passion to its more practical practice.

To remain more professional, I deliberately tried to exclude my racialized self from conversations about my research and interests. Through the support of my advisor and other peers I was able to un-learn this seemingly defensive behaviour and was able to incorporate my experience as a racialized person (and researcher) into my work. Ms. Oriuwa was the first person, within a specific context of global health, to really drive this point home.

From research diversity to diversity in researchers

To be more specific, the diversity of global health as a field of research is understood and accepted. However, there is more nuance in the positionality of specific global health practitioners, researchers, academics and students, that is, the individuals that do global health research.

The impartiality that research calls for often paints a picture of a researcher that is, in fact ‘neutral’ — someone who is void of a historical or personal affiliation to thereby make their research more ‘legitimate’ or applicable, because there is no subtext or meta-message that is tied to their identity, biases or experiences.

Building on individual experiences and heritage

This ‘neutral’ ideal unintentionally devalues experiences of those who are racialized, casting their experiences or insights as hindrances in their ultimate academic and/or research-based goal.

The question then is, how do we understand and reconcile the need for original research while understanding that each researcher is unique in their connection to topics so intimate as those in global health?

Dr. Ana Sanchez from Brock University helped unpack some of the intricacies in global health research as well with her question of if doing “local” research can still be considered “global health”. The dynamics of power within its ethical standpoint is always addressed (Research Ethics Boards, Survey Guidelines, etc).

For context, my research looks at instances of type 2 diabetes in South Trinidad; my parents, and most of my family lives in Trinidad, however I was born and raised in Canada.

How does my positionality of someone with Trinidadian heritage make me an effective researcher? What is the gauge for this/how is such success measured? These are questions that, I argue, are inherent to the researcher, but also, to the field of global health research and its development in the 21st century.

Chantelle Ramsundar is a MA student studying Public Issues Anthropology at the University of Guelph. She currently works as a research assistant for the Department of Sociology and Anthropology.