Zaren Healey White

Zaren Healey White is a writer, activist, and communications professional from Conception Bay South currently living in St. John’s. Zaren graduated from Memorial with a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in English (2010) and a Master of Gender Studies (2016). She also earned a MA in English from McGill University (2012). Zaren works as Director of Communications for the NL NDP Caucus and has worked as a broadcast journalist and web/social media editor. Zaren is a co-founder of the Feminisms {Re}Framed: St. John’s feminist art show and is also very involved with small animal rescue and fostering.

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

Growing up near St. John’s and being already familiar with Memorial, it was an obvious decision. Attending Memorial allowed me to start my university studies and get involved in new communities while embarking on the experience with friends who were doing the same. Social and family support is a valuable aspect to consider that can help students make the leap and adjust successfully. For me, university was never just about getting the degree over with, so once I got involved at Memorial it quickly became another home to me.

What drew you to do an undergraduate degree in English, followed by a graduate degree in gender studies?

Writing and reading literature were already passions for me – I had always been encouraged to pursue writing and literary studies, so deciding to do the English Honours program was a natural evolution. I honestly never doubted that English would be extremely useful for me. I did change minors a few times, though, and discovering women’s studies closer to the end of my degree had a huge impact on my future studies. My upper level undergrad and graduate work in English became entangled in gender and feminist theories.

After completing a MA in English, I returned to the province and started a new field of work in radio and web news. I decided to continue academic studies while advancing my work experience and Memorial’s Master of Gender Studies program allowed me to take my academic work in a new, vital direction. I chose gender studies because it is an ever evolving, compelling, and necessary field that connects feminist critical analysis with action and advocacy. Gender studies has changed how I see everything and the program helped shape my sense of myself as a feminist and as an activist. Gender studies continues to feel ever more timely and urgent.

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

Getting to meet both David Suzuki and Margaret Atwood while volunteering for different campus events is very memorable. I sought out volunteer experiences early on and I had no choice but to work throughout in order to fund my education. Volunteering for student orientation and CHMR-FM led to becoming coordinator of the Student Volunteer Bureau and copy editor for The Muse. By years four and five of my undergrad I was working about 50 hours a week. By the way, you don’t need to finish your undergrad in four years, especially if you’re gaining valuable skills and experience through paid and volunteer work.

If you could do any course over again, what would it be?

Not Modern English Structures, because I already did that one twice in order to get a satisfactory grade! (You can repeat a course and the world will not end). I would love to re-experience the courses I did through a study abroad program at the Harlow Campus in 2008. I was fortunate enough to participate in the Literary London program with Dr. Don Nichol and Mary Walsh and it was the absolute most fun you can have learning about satire, theatre, and British literature in one non-stop month. And I’d repeat the course that’s entirely on The Lord of the Rings – I’d waited my whole life for that one.

You’ve had considerable career success already in the nine years since graduation and you have also given seminars in job hunting. To what do you attribute this success?

It’s been almost nine years since I finished my BA (Hons.) and just over two since I finished my MGS. I was fortunate to find meaningful, rewarding on-campus positions that allowed me to learn a lot and position myself for employment after graduation. I try to push myself to embrace change and the unknown. After returning home from Montreal, I entered a completely different field that drew on earlier interests in radio and media. Later, I returned to student services and advising. Then I made a move to communications by taking a role with Memorial’s Harris Centre. That led to my current communications position working for a political caucus in the House of Assembly. Find a way to balance a desire for security with a curiosity for where different paths will take you. With work, I’m not non-committal, but rather over-committal; I do, indeed want to try almost everything.

What’s a typical day like for you?

My role with the NDP Caucus involves a lot of quick turnaround writing and editing, creating social media posts, providing communications advice, and usually having a minimum of 20 browser tabs open, of course. When the House of Assembly is in session, the day is especially packed and involves a lot of simultaneous-tasking on several projects. I really enjoy media relations and working with reporters. My partner and I also foster and adopt small animals with Hoppy Homes Rescue, so my day likely also includes trying to bathe a disgruntled hedgehog.

How did your arts/HSS degree prepare you for your life and career?

Learning to read a lot – and quickly – and digest and remember what I read is key to my work in communications. Becoming a strong and consistent writer and editor helped me immeasurably while working in the media and serves me well every day. My arts degree also gave me many opportunities to learn to articulate my ideas verbally, through presentations and class discussion, and I use those skills in everything from public talks and radio commentary to presenting an idea in a work meeting.

What in your opinion is something the province of NL can do right now to improve the situation for people under 30?

Invest in affordable post-secondary education and make education accessible. We need to fund our post-secondary institutions adequately and ensure every student can access needs-based grants. It can be very challenging for young people to stay in NL – we need to give them reasons to stay and we need to enable it. And let’s raise the minimum wage so everyone, no matter their age, can earn a living wage. Not least of all, here and everywhere, we need to face climate change and figure out a way to steward our Earth for the future.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

Possibly doing something new! In the last five years, I’ve moved from broadcast and web news media into student advising then onto university communications and now political communications! A lot of change, but consistent interests and values thread all these roles together. I am always excited by feminist media criticism and understanding digital culture and how we shape, and are shaped by, technology and media, so I definitely see my future work continuing to include engagement with media, culture, and social justice. I never rule out continuing my formal education. Hopefully I’ll still be surrounded by animals.

What do you say to those who question the value of an arts degree?

Critical thinking skills are a bedrock that will serve you well in any field, in any career, ever. To be able to develop a nuanced, self-reflexive, and empathetic understanding of the world and your place in it is increasingly important. I think the humanities and social sciences teach you how to think, how to learn, how to grapple with and care about different viewpoints and lived experiences.

What would people be most surprised to learn about you?

Because I am known as artistic, whimsical, and a bit zany, people are often surprised to learn that I was in the sea cadet movement for nine years as a cadet and then an officer. It’s a life-changing program and I learned a lot about leadership, teamwork, and personal resilience through my training courses and teaching experiences as a cadet leader. Cadet scholarships also paid for a few semesters of university.

What advice would you give a student who is unsure of what to study?

Don’t be afraid of something that you’re interested in and excited by just because you can’t draw a neat line from the degree to an obvious career. I promote exploring different careers and readying yourself for effective job seeking throughout your degree, but it’s also important to try different subjects in order to figure out what really matters to you. Try not to pre-determine exactly where something is going from the outset – how all the pieces connect is an incremental process. Let the path emerge as you try different things.

What’s your favourite place to visit?

I managed to get myself to Lisbon, Portugal for a conference presentation during my Gender Studies program, which was amazing. I’ve also made a couple of trips to Scotland and finally got to the Highlands and Loch Ness on my most recent trip, last summer. I also have a lot of family on Vancouver Island, and love visiting – I even tried falconry at a birds of prey centre there.

What are you reading and listening to these days?

Some recent fiction reads that I’m raving about are The Power by Naomi Alderman and Red Clocks by Leni Zumas. Two contemporary, feminist works of dystopian science fiction in worlds that feel very close to ours or that speculate about a possible not-too-distant future. Other than that, I am perpetually re-reading Harry Potter. My playlist tends to have a lot of Lana Del Rey, Allie X, and Buck 65.

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

I’m looking forward to continuing to learn a lot in my current job while pushing myself to develop personally and professionally. One 2019 goal is learning to do the splits. Oh, and I’m getting married this summer!