May 11, 2020

Profile photo of Ashley BeairstoAshley Beairsto is the 100th graduate of the Master of Arts in Women’s and Gender Studies program, a joint program between Mount Saint Vincent University and Saint Mary’s University.

After completing her undergraduate degree in psychology and women studies at the University of Prince Edward Island in 2015, Ashley realized she wanted to explore women’s issues more broadly. “I had taken some women’s studies courses during my undergrad and ended up doing a double major in psychology and women’s studies. I love to learn and knew I wanted to pursue more education so when I heard about the MA in Women’s and Gender Studies, it aligned with what I was looking for.”

Marnina Gonick, Graduate Coordinator and Professor in Education/Women’s Studies believes that the collaboration between the two universities enriches the experience for students and faculty. “The program started over 25 years ago and allows students to take courses and work with faculty from both MSVU and SMU throughout their program. This allows students access to diverse perspectives and expertise from faculty members across the two institutions for both their course work and thesis committees.”

Diverse classes and perspectives make for an enriched learning experience

Ashley, who graduated from the program this past January, loved the opportunity to be able to learn from her fellow classmates and professors, each of whom brought unique backgrounds and perspectives to the classroom.

“Going into the program, I thought I knew a lot already about feminist theories and women’s rights, but the program opened me up and helped me to further develop my critical thinking skills and my writing skills. It challenges you to get curious about your own belief systems, your relationship to the world and to explore biases. The class sizes are small so you really get to know your peers and have meaningful conversations. The fact that you are learning from faculty members from two institutions is also a perk as you get to hear their unique expertise and perspectives. It keeps the content interesting and engaging.”

Teaching in the program since 2007, Marnina is pleased to see increased enrollment, and believes that women and gender studies is an expanding and exciting field.

Learning to challenge the status quo

“The program addresses critical social justice issues in day-to-day life. Our classes explore a variety of topics, including feminist perspectives on racism, sexism, homophobia, colonialism, able-ism and other social justice issues. It is a broad field and ever-expanding. If you are someone who is curious about the world and want to develop a critical analysis or develop progressive social policy, this is a great program to gain those skills,” says Marnina.

“We have graduates who go on to work in women’s shelters and with youth or other community organizations. Many of our students graduate and pursue professional degrees in areas such as social work, education or medicine. Ultimately, the program provides greater contextual knowledge for understanding and acting on the most important social justice issues confronting us in the past, present and future.

Ashley agrees. “I think social justice issues are so important, particularly in a time where social media exists and opens up dialogue on a global level. Social justice issues impact us all, and I think it’s important that we question the systems that are currently in place and to not accept the status quo. There will be no change if we accept everything as it is. The program allows for issues to be explored more deeply and to dive into people’s lived experience, which I really enjoyed.”

When asked what advice she would give to students considering this program, Ashley responds without hesitation, “Take the leap. I had some questions on where this degree may lead, but the experience of writing a thesis was such a huge accomplishment and the courses give you an extensive background on oppressive structures. This knowledge can be carried into many different roles, even in the corporate sector with women’s rights becoming an area of focus.”

Ashley has since decided to pursue her Public Relations diploma from the Nova Scotia Community College. “Through writing my thesis, I realized I had a passion for writing. My hope is to use both my communications background and interest in social justice issues to work for an organization that aligns with my values.”

As the 100th graduate of the MA in Gender and Women’s Studies, we extend our hearty congratulations to Ashley!

Learn more about the MA in Gender and Women’s Studies program