Celebrating Women at UBC: Dr. Bettina Stumm

Tell us about yourself.

“I’m an assistant professor of English Literature at Corpus Christi College, the Catholic liberal arts college on UBC Campus. Both in UBC’s Coordinated Arts Program (where I taught previously) and at Corpus Christi, I have been concerned with educating students about marginalization and social justice issues facing women. In particular, I have focused on local contexts, teaching about Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and the kinds of trauma and marginalization sex trade workers have experienced and continue to experience in that community. Over the past three years, I have volunteered with two organizations on the DTES – Servantsand The Door is Open – and invited students to the DTES with me to engage interpersonally with members of that community. I also mentor students who want to become involved in local organizations that serve the marginalized communities in our city.”

Who are some of the women in your life that have inspired you?

“There are a number of women in my life who have inspired me. They have all been women who have invested themselves deeply in my life. The first is my mother, a quiet feminist who taught me that it never hurts to ask and not to take no for an answer. She also is and continues to be a mentor and role model for me in her work with marginalized women in her community. She has been involved in programs like Women for Women (supporting women through community building and assistance with material needs) and the Niagara Literacy Council, to help women gain language skills, life skills, and self-confidence. My mother also showed me that every person, no matter what background or context, deserves respect, attention, and kindness.

The second is Susanna Egan, who was my doctoral supervisor from 2004-2010. She showed me how to balance academic and family life. In particular, she showed me that one’s identity as a woman is not rooted in a single role or responsibility. As multifaceted beings, we find our fulfillment in pursuing all dimensions of ourselves, not just work-related, academic dimensions. At the same time, however, she pushed me to be the best academic I could be. She pushed me to seriously engage with my work while supporting me as a person. She has taught me how to be a mentor to students, encouraging both their academic excellence and personal development.

Finally, my spiritual director, Irene Gifford-Cole, has inspired me to think outside the box, to challenge my stereotypes, to open myself to experiences, people, and ideas outside my comfort zone, and to be content with who I am. For these amazing women, I am truly grateful.”

Tell us about some current women’s issues that you are passionate about.

“I’m passionate about marginalized women gaining the needed support to heal from trauma and to leave oppressive situations and addictions to find freedom and purpose in their lives. I am particularly concerned about women who are considered disposable and not treated with equal value as human beings (like the missing and murdered women on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside). Women are not commodities to be traded or objects to be used or manipulated. All women need to be treated with dignity and value, especially those on the margins of society.”

Tell us about a notable process has been made by/for women recently.

“I think we are making progress in verbally and actively supporting human rights and equality for underprivileged women. I am particularly moved by the number of women committed to working in partnership with other women who are suffering or in need on a daily basis, often in very ordinary and unglamorous ways. This is progress, though it often goes unnoticed. I also think we have made some progress in encouraging professional women to pursue upper management and CEO positions and in encouraging companies to open more positions of this kind to women.”

Current changes I want to see locally or internationally for women.

“I’d like to see more and deeper relationships develop between women of different classes and cultures, bridging the gaps between us so we can better support each other. I think all women enhance their identity in relationship with others. To relate well with others we need to overlook the differences that divide us and highlight our commonalities. I do not mean that we disregard difference entirely, but that we focus our attention on building relationships where difference becomes secondary to connection and community. In our own culture, I’d like to see women encouraged in who they are and how they are gifted rather than judged according to prescriptive roles or positions, which I think are still simmering under the surface of our society. I’d also like those women who seek to balance work and family life, be fully supported so that they do not feel they have to choose between the two.”

International Women’s Day (March 8, 2014)

“I think it is important to continue developing our awareness of the ways that women are not treated with equality in every community and to celebrate women and their achievements on a specific day. But even more so I believe that every day should be women’s day in regard to our attitudes, opportunities, choices, and relationships with women.”

What do you believe Female Empowerment is?

“For me, female empowerment means being able to live fully and wholeheartedly in whatever we do as women. This kind of empowerment comes both from outside and from within. Perhaps paradoxically, I also think female empowerment involves moving away from a focus on women’s rights per se to human rights more generally. As women, we have the ability to use our own experiences of marginalization and of empowerment to come alongside all suffering people with empathy and with hope. Female empowerment, then, is the power to take up responsibility for ensuring that human rights, equality, and freedom are given to all people.”

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