A message for FIMS alumni from the Dean

Headshot of Lisa HendersonDear FIMS Alumni,

Hello everyone.

Our Year with the Pandemic – So Much Going On

Let me start by sending our sincere hope that you and yours are healthy and safe as the COVID19 pandemic wears on. It has been a long, hard year, and here at FIMS we have marshalled a lot of stamina, patience, creativity and commitment. Students and faculty are now completing more than a full academic year of remote emergency teaching and learning and will welcome, I’m sure, the break Spring offers even as others carry on with Summer studies. I am moved every day by colleagues’ and students’ capacity to stay in the game, to extend compassion to each other, and to sustain accountability and ingenuity in teaching, learning, research, scholarship, and leadership. Our staff have been rock solid in their contributions to our academic mission and beyond. Twelve members have served as Classroom Ambassadors who check students in to the few face-to-face classes we’ve convened, ensure that they’ve completed their return-to-campus health questionnaires, and have appropriate PPE with them. Thanks in part to their efforts, we are relieved to acknowledge that not a single case of COVID19 transmission has been traced to instructional activity at Western. The residence hall risks are higher for obvious reasons, and the University’s Housing and Ancillary Services staff have been models of swift response, offering students containment, protection and medical care where needed, plus meals and support services from counselling to co-curricular online programs.

I have been very proud to work at Western, to recognize our University leadership including President Alan Shepard, to see what the University has accomplished, and to lead FIMS at this time especially. The pandemic third wave closed our classrooms, but we will complete a strong year, full of development and forward thinking despite the demands. Permit me to mention a few highlights:

  • Our recruitment of two new faculty colleagues in a search that targeted Indigenous scholars and creative practitioners. We are very fortunate to have made wonderful appointments and look forward to Sally Kewayosh and Sofia Locklear joining us in July. (See the item in this newsletter).

  • Our Big Data at the Margins panel series, which drew an international audience of 400 people on each of four occasions from January to April. We welcomed guest scholars and activists asking big questions about the ethics, practice and politics of big data in government, policing, work, housing and credit. Led by Professor Alison Hearn, this SSHRC-funded series was co-developed by Professors Alissa Centivany, Joanna Redden, Luke Stark, Nick Dyer Witheford, and Tom Streeter, and Professor Matt Stahl collaborated with the group as FIMS Rogers Chair for the final panel on Debt, Austerity and the Media. Big Data picks up again in October, and you’ll be able to find its events (f2f and online) at our new FIMS Events Page here.

  • Our annual Career Conference, held for the benefit of upper year students who will soon graduate, moved online this year. Themed “You’ve Got This: Paddling Schitt’$ Creek”, the online format allowed us to engage a record number of our alumni. Alumni joined us as featured speakers, but also as industry mentors, and by offering students career tips through short, self-recorded videos. We are immensely grateful to everyone who made time to participate in this important event (See the item in this newsletter).

  • We have important grant news to announce, though must await clearance from the funding agency (Restraint is hard!).

  • We continue working with the University and with both students and alumni in our MMJC (Master of Media in Journalism and Communication) program to develop curriculum, pedagogy, and process to address Indigenous and racialized communities, coverage and MMJC students. It’s past time, and our efforts in MMJC will serve as a model for other FIMS graduate and undergraduate programs.

Hats Off to Alumni and Faculty Authors

We have great book news to relay from FIMS alumni authors. Andrea Benoit (PhD'14, Media Studies) received the National Business Book Award for VIVA M·A·C: AIDS, Fashion, and the Philanthropic Practices of M·A·C Cosmetics, her stunning account of a new kind of philanthropy practiced by M·A·C (originally a Canadian firm) in support of gay men’s health during the AIDS crisis in Canada in the 1990s. Andrea’s book started as her dissertation under the direction of Daniel Robinson. And Ashley Audrain (BA'05, MIT) has seen galloping success with her first novel The Push, released in January. Congratulations Andrea and Ashley. Read more about both of them in this newsletter. Congratulations as well to faculty authors Tim Blackmore, Daniel Robinson and Romayne Smith-Fullerton, whose new titles are also featured.

International at FIMS

FIMS has long had an international faculty, including distinguished members Melissa Adler, Isola Ajiferuke, Alissa Centivany, Norma Coates, Nick Dyer-Witheford, Heather Hill, Ajit Pyati, Anabel Quan-Haase, John Reed, Victoria Rubin, Kamran Sedig, Matt Stahl, Tom Streeter, Sasha Torres, and Liwen Vaughan. (See our item about Liwen’s retirement January 1, 2021). We also have an international graduate and undergraduate student population of 10-14% in a given year.

There are a many ways to bring international student perspectives to FIMS, which are crucial to FIMS development and to all our students wherever they live and work. Let us introduce you to Selena (Jiying) Guo, Class of 2021, and recipient of a prestigious Schwarzman Scholarship. On finishing her MIT program here, she will be moving to Beijing to complete a master's degree in international relations at Tsinghua University, a major Chinese research institution. Of the global cohort of distinguished Schwarzman Scholars, five are from Canadian universities, including Selena. Selena, we congratulate you and wish you the best as you begin this next phase of your academic journey in Beijing. A Western News article titled “Selena Guo named among class of 2022 Schwarzman Scholars” is available in this newsletter, if you’d like to find out more.

We also invite you to look at this creative essay written by first-year MIT student Haochen Xu, who hails from Northern China (scroll down to find it). Haochen’s warm-hearted, artful photographs engage with members of his small town as they plan for the Chinese New Year. The essay was included in this year’s online iteration of FIMS’ annual Media Arts Festival, which features creative work from undergraduate students. We missed all the action—from video screenings to live vocals—in the FIMS & Nursing Building this year, but are grateful to the resourceful, creative students who contributed online.

We look forward to bringing you news of international students and all students’ international lives and experiences in future newsletters.


Finally, for now, I want to say a big thank-you to the Western Alumni Association and the FIMS Undergraduate Student Fund, whose gifts of $100,000 and $25,000 (respectively) have furnished and equipped our Alumni Creative Commons in the FIMS & Nursing Building. It’s a beautiful space, ready for undergraduate study by day and lively academic and social events by night. We look forward to everything that we know will take place there, and to acknowledging both gifts as we use the space.

Read on, dear alumni, and please send us your news. We miss you and look forward to welcoming you back to FIMS and Western as soon as we can do so safely.

Warm wishes,

Lisa Henderson