Alumnus of the Month - Jessica Khouri

Jessica Khouri completed her undergraduate degree in women and gender studies at the University of Toronto and her graduate degree in gender studies at Memorial University. She is currently the community fundraising specialist for the Canadian Cancer Society office in Renfrew County, Ontario and has started her teaching career this semester, teaching a course on contemporary social issues in the police foundations program at Algonquin College's Waterfront Campus. In the fall 2015 semester, she guest lectured on feminism and feminist issues in a social work class at Algonquin College. Prior to accepting the full-time role with the Canadian Cancer Society, Jessica also coordinated an anti-bullying and community inclusion program in Deep River, Ontario.

Jessica moved to Renfrew County two years ago and has been an active volunteer in the community. In summer 2014, she developed and coordinated a program for young women, in conjunction with Children and Family Services, called Love My Life. The program focused on body image, mental health, and health at every size and worked with young women to get them to think critically about messages of beauty, weight and health. She has also presented on body image to youth groups and students across Renfrew County.

Jessica is originally from Bowmanville, Ontario and currently resides in Petawawa, Ont. with her partner and their two dogs, Sawyer and Finn.

How and why did you decide to attend Memorial for your degree?

I attended MUN as a graduate student in the Department of Gender Studies. I decided to attend Memorial for my master’s degree because of the incredible experience it had to offer. I wanted the opportunity to work with Dr. Natalie Beausoleil and Dr. Sonja Boon and the experience of living in and exploring St. John’s and the province of Newfoundland and Labrador as a whole. Visiting and exploring Newfoundland had always been a dream of mine, so when I was given the opportunity to move and study there, I couldn’t have been more excited.

What drew you to do a degree in gender studies?

I have always identified as a feminist. The parts of my classes that I found most engaging were those sections on gender studies, feminism, and women’s issues. I wanted an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of feminism and gender and a way to study the issues that I cared about most. A degree in gender studies allowed me to do that and provided me with the tools to look critically at the social issues and communities around me, and encouraged me to find practical ways to apply theory in my everyday life.

Do any particular memories stand out from your time here as a student?

I have so many incredible memories from my time as a student at Memorial, many food related, many not. Academically, my research seminar on body image and critical obesity studies with Dr. Beausoleil stands out. I also have very fond memories of the graduate feminist community I was a part of in my first year at MUN, particularly the time I spent working on my coursework and thesis with my cohort (Christina Young). I also remember the department had feminist Fridays and on one particular Friday we had feminist colouring. I coloured a page that said something to the extent of “Nobody wants to fight the patriarchy alone. Make friends” which I think perfectly sums up my time as a graduate student in the Department of Gender Studies. And, I was lucky enough to travel quite a bit in my two years at MUN. All of the places I visited in Newfoundland will always leave me with a desire to return.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?

Probably everything and anything my undergraduate placement supervisor, Dr. June Larkin, ever told me.

That, and you always have your feminist friends. Community is so important. My New College feminist pals taught me that.

You’re currently teaching a first year police foundations course at Algonquin College. Can you tell us a bit about it?

The course is called Contemporary Social Problems: Community and Social Services. It explores contemporary social issues, particularly those that students entering the field of community service and justice might encounter. These include issues of gender, race, class, mental health, violence etc. The course also provides students with the opportunity to learn about community services and resources available when dealing with these issues. I look forward to bringing a critical, feminist analysis to the course.

In what ways has studying humanities and social sciences affected your world view? What do you say to those who question the value of an arts degree?

The humanities and social sciences have given me the tools to critically examine the world around me and allow me to have a deeper understanding of my experiences and the issues that affect me. Particularly because of my time in women’s and gender studies, I am able to have critical conversations and form opinions on the issues I care about. I also think there is an emphasis on social practice and community in the social sciences that is invaluable. I wish that everyone who questions the value of an arts degree could really examine the amazing work that so many arts graduates are doing and see the incredible and diverse places an arts degree can take you.

What’s your favourite place to visit?

Of course St. John’s. I’m always trying to plan my next visit back. However, having lived there for two years as well, I will always have a place in my heart for Chicago.

What would people be most surprised to learn about you?

I am completely obsessed with my dogs. I have two Labrador Retrievers and fully identify as a dog mom (although it doesn’t take long for people to figure this fact out about me).

What are you reading and listening to these days?

Telling the Flesh by Dr. Sonja Boon! It’s pretty cool to read a book that was written by your supervisor. Listening to? Whatever acoustic song my Songza playlist tells me to.

What are you most looking forward to within the next year?

I’m looking forward to teaching my first full course at the college level and to bringing my feminism into the classroom. I’ll also be visiting Finland and Norway this summer with my partner and I am counting down the days!