"Students in the Spotlight" is a conversation series with members of the SofC Student Academy and Urban Leadership Fellowship program.
- What are you currently working on? What are your research and engagement interests?
I'm making a simulation of St. George campus for students to explore and learn history. It will be open to contributions, so the UofT community can build this creation together!
My research interests focus on an intersectional approach to history. In particular, I was heavily influenced by José Esteban Muñoz, Achille Mbembe, Kimberlé Crenshaw, and Gayle Rubin at the start of my academic career. Thus, I’m interested in multifaceted storytelling and reading into narratives in histories that are oftentimes hidden due to their focus on marginalized individuals and communities. I suppose if you were to put a name to theory, I’m “queering” history and asking whether the existing historiography can be examined through an alternative lens.
What has motivated your interests and journey? How do you hope to make a difference?
I'm a history major, but I love tech and games. I want to engage people through public history and show its complex nuances in an approachable, friendly way. I am very concerned about the paywall towards knowledge that can occur in academic institutions - how research on certain groups of people is inaccessible to those very groups. Historians have a social and moral responsibility to the subjects they engage with, and I hope my work reflects that mission statement. Ultimately, I hope this project will bring together our University community in a time where people may feel isolated.
What’s the latest project you have been working on and would like to share with the SofC audiences?
I’m making a simulation of campus for students to explore. It will have little tidbits of history and general hidden gems about campus that are hard to articulate now that it’s closed. Places and spaces have their own stories and memories. I want to give students that sense of place whether through nostalgia or new eyes. Also, it will be open to contributions, changes, and suggestions so that it is more like a collaborative, collective memory than my own vision of campus. Initially, I wanted to encompass all of Toronto and include all of its history, but quickly realized that would be a bit much for a one-person team. It would be incredible to reach that point eventually, but hopefully this will be a good base to start or an open-source foundation if anyone ever wants to continue my work!
As a student, researcher and/or activist, what have you learned from the pandemic and its global impact?
The pandemic has heightened the wealth gap and its insidious alignments along socio-cultural and racial lines. People have a right to be angry. Sometimes, it was shocking to see news and protests and suddenly remember: “Oh right, we are in a global pandemic.” I think that thought expresses the crux of the problem - the pandemic is not something that will pass easily not only for health reasons but because it uncovered deep, deep inequalities which we cannot bury ever again. The impacts of the pandemic will last far beyond the implementation of a vaccine. We need to reconsider whether “back to normal” is actually a return to an already broken system and an exclusionary status quo.
Please share with us your experiences at the SofC. How do you think being a member of the SofC Urban Leadership Fellowship and Academy Program has contributed to your scholarship and added to your experience as a student?
Everyone has been supportive and passionate. I'm proud to be part of this community and to be given an opportunity to try something unexpected and new!
Any final words or messages?
I hope we can soon reflect on this time as history rather than present pains. Stay safe everyone!
Ze Xi “Jessica” Ye is a third year undergraduate student majoring in History with minors in Anthropology and Sexual Diversity Studies at Trinity College, University of Toronto. Her research interests include archival accessibility, examining power structures through an intersectional lens, and telling the stories of the marginalized. Toronto fascinates her as a transnational city with a complex identity and a history that continues to impact its present. She hopes to alleviate the informational barrier between people and the places they live, to create a context for their experiences. Diverse, inclusive cities do not pop up overnight and she believes understanding the process to achieving this goal is just as important as getting there.