"Students in the Spotlight" is a conversation series with members of the SofC Urban Leadership Fellowship and Academy program
What are your research and engagement interests?
Throughout my undergraduate education, I have been passionate about developing and advocating for creative solutions to local and global challenges people face in accessing justice. I have studied peacebuilding abroad in Pristina, Kosovo, conducted fieldwork on the rule of law in Tbilisi, Georgia, and now I am researching issues of inclusion and justice in the global city aspirations of my hometown Tirana, Albania. As a Fellow in the School of Cities Urban Leadership Fellowship and Academy Program, I have been able broaden my understanding of justice by examining how it closely relates to urban transformation, international connectivity, and city planning.
What has motivated your interests and journey? How do you hope to make a difference?
As an Albanian immigrant to Canada, I have always been intellectually curious and passionate about global access to justice. The stark contrast in opportunities afforded to citizens in Albania and Canada has inspired my interest in pursuing an education where I can advance positive change on a global scale. This informed my undergraduate studies in International Relations, Political Science, and European Union Studies as I knew these programs combined could help me develop the tools and confidence to begin tackling complex problems of global significance. I am grateful and thrilled to begin my legal education at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law this fall, where I hope to make a difference as an aspiring legal advocate.
What’s the latest project you have been working on that you would like to share with the SofC audiences?
This past academic year, I was part of the inaugural cohort of the Youth Advocacy Network for Social Cohesion (YANSC), an educational and leadership program between UNHCR Canada and CultureLink. To help raise awareness of refugee issues in Canada, my peers and I launched the three-part Building Bridges podcast to facilitate peer-to-peer conversations between Canadians and refugees. Inspired by the New York Times 36 questions that lead to love, our podcast and set of questions is intended to create shared learning experiences between participants as well as our listeners. I am excited to share the podcast with the School of Cities audiences, and I hope it helps convey how we are all more alike than different: https://anchor.fm/yansc-building-bridges.
As a student, researcher and or activist, what have you learned from the COVID-19 pandemic and its global impact? How do you envision post-pandemic recovery? What do you hope for?
The COVID-19 pandemic and its global impact have blurred the lines between being a student, researcher, and an activist since the effects of the pandemic have been felt by all sectors of society and have disproportionately impacted marginalized communities. It has been heartening to witness the rise of mutual aid networks across Canada as community members have come together to support one another, but this has also underscored how governments and policies have failed their citizens. I hope the post-pandemic recovery prioritizes the needs of the most vulnerable communities and tackles underlying inequities to build more inclusive, just, and sustainable societies.
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?
Being part of the School of Cities Urban Leadership Fellowship and Academy Program has been an incredibly rewarding and formative experience. Although my research project has introduced me to entirely new literature on global cities and urban planning for the first time during my undergraduate studies, the School of Cities has provided me with a welcoming, supportive, and interdisciplinary environment to explore new scholarship and perspectives without it being daunting. I have felt continually inspired during meetings with other students in the program, and I owe a debt of gratitude to the School of Cities faculty and staff for providing us with this opportunity to make a difference in both research and praxis.
Any final words or message?
The School of Cities Urban Leadership Fellowship and Academy Program is a testament to the fruitfulness of interdisciplinary learning. I highly encourage students reading this to seek out opportunities that allow them to broaden their worldview and engage with new perspectives. As someone engaging in urban-focused learning for the first time during my undergraduate studies, I have already gained indispensable knowledge and experiences that I will undoubtedly carry with me in my future studies. If an opportunity comes your way that can help you explore and develop new interests, my advice is to go for it!
Foti Vito is a fourth-year student completing a double major in International Relations and Political Science with a minor in European Union Studies and Global Scholar designation. A diligent student leader, Foti has served as Executive of the Arts and Science Students’ Union, Vice-Chair of Arts and Science Council, and Student Head of Trinity College. He is passionate about global justice and conducted fieldwork on peace-building in Kosovo and judicial reform in Georgia. Throughout his studies, Foti has led community-driven advocacy and research initiatives with the Mosaic Institute, UNHCR Canada, G7 Research Group, CCR2P, and founded Balkan Commons.