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UMass Associate Professor Lisa Wexler wins Fulbright Fellowship to do research in Canada

Peter Macdonald/Flickr

Peter Macdonald/Flickr

Greeted by a large banner reading, “You’re the bomb, mom,” University of Massachusetts Associate Professor Lisa Wexler arrived home last spring to celebrate with her husband and children on her recent accomplishment.

Wexler had just been notified she was awarded a $25,000 fellowship from the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board and the Canada-U.S. Fulbright Foundation for Educational Exchange.

With the fellowship, Wexler will travel in spring 2016 to Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada for a project called “This is What I Wish You Knew.” The project is aimed at raising awareness for indigenous people to let their voices be heard.

It will focus on constructing a large clay mural and short documentary films at the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre. Local artists and approximately 50 indigenous people will head the construction.

“It’s about indigenous identity, and as you can imagine if you’re a people that’s been erased, then identity becomes much more of a political statement,” Wexler said.

The Fulbright program is a prestigious education organization that funds foreign research and is designed to increase mutual understanding between people of the United States and other countries.

According to the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, over 300,000 people have participated in the program since its origination in 1946, including 82 Pulitzer Prize winners and 53 Nobel Prize winners.,

Wexler was invited into the project by Dalhousie University researchers due to their interest in her Intergenerational Dialogue Exchange and Action research method.

Wexler, along with her fellow social workers in the Arctic, created the IDEA method while studying emotional resilience in indigenous people in the Arctic north. The method focuses on identifying what targeted youth want to learn and who they want to teach them.

Her IDEA method, as well as her research into resilience, earned her multiple National Science Foundation awards in 2007, 2008 and 2012.

“We do these interviews but they’re more like public talks, where people are asking older people questions about their lives and whatever the object that they want to learn about. And it worked really well,” Wexler said.

Before she found herself working in the community health education program at UMass, Wexler followed her husband – who was then her boyfriend –  to Alaska after receiving her master’s degree in social work. There she focused her social work on how indigenous people reacted to the emotional traumas that come with being part of a marginalized group, and later decided to relocate to Canada, where she will return with the project.

But for now, Wexler hopes the “This Is What I Wish You Knew” project will give her another perspective on what people should advocate for within the United States.

“[I hope to] create connections where I can bring young people from Northwest Arctic down into Canada, to see a different way of being and doing,” she said.

Stefan Geller can be reached at stefangeller@umass.edu.

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