Despite the necessity, it’s not very often that open discussions surrounding topics such as race, gender, religion, and sexuality take place in our day-to-day lives. However, last Wednesday, the Living Library event allowed such dialogues to take place.

Facilitated by UTM’s Student Life department, the Career Centre, the library, and Student Housing and Residence Life, the object of the event is to give students an opportunity to “borrow [a] human book for up to 25 minutes and engage in free-flowing conversation”. These “human books” were graduate students and alumni as well as professionals who shared personal stories and specific advice to the participating undergraduate students.

Among the variety of human books available were Kate Malisani and Nicolina Lanni.

Malisani currently works as an executive director at a family health clinic. Prior to her career, Malisani completed two master’s degrees: one in bioethics and another in critical disability studies.

Lanni, on the other hand, is a Toronto-based filmmaker. Notably, Lanni has worked as a director and producer for award-winning programs such as Nazi Hunters & Manson.

Both individuals gave an in-depth description of how they entered their careers.

For Malisani, an ethical debate regarding Dr. Nancy Olivieri, a hematologist who was involved in the evaluation of a blood disorder treatment drug called Deferiprone, was brought up in her high school biology class. Malisani described being intrigued by the controversy surrounding the approval of the drug, and related how she had felt strong support for Olivieri; so much support, in fact, that Malisani decided to write a letter to the hospital in which the drug was disputed. Since then, Malisani marked the event as the start of her fascination with bioethics.

When asked for the advice that she would give undergraduate students, she joked, “Don’t drop biology.”

Explaining, Malisani said that the initial culture shock experienced by students transitioning from high school to university is overwhelming. She advised students to continue taking their chosen courses despite the challenges, and that undergraduate years provide a rare opportunity to experiment with lifestyle changes.

“I wish I hadn’t [dropped biology]. I always wonder […] It’s the one thing I kind of regret,” she said.

Despite her stable career and illustrious academic background, Malisani said to students that being uncertain about the future is natural.

“I still don’t know what I want to do for the rest of my life,” she said.

For Lanni, the inspiration to pursue journalism and filmmaking also began in high school. In her sophomore year, Lanni volunteered for a local cable station in Niagara.

“I was an honorary reporter—this was years and years ago, it was in the ’90s when we were on tape to tape,” Lanni said, recalling how she covered stories involving organizations such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving. “I [also] jumped out of an airplane once,” she said.

One quirks of the job that interested Lanni was the ability to interact with her interviewees. “I always loved the process of interviewing. I was really […] captivated by sitting with someone and hearing their story. How they came to be where they are, and part of it was my own research for life. How do people exist?” she said.

Soon, Lanni became passionate about journalism and covering such stories, and she eventually applied to a journalism course at Carleton University. For her master’s thesis, Lanni traveled to rural South Africa to work on a documentary that focused on the AIDS crisis at the time.

“I wanted to tell a story about how I thought that combating the AIDS crisis in rural South Africa was very different than combating the crisis in urban South Africa,” she said. “I passed my thesis but it was a terrible documentary. I learned the lesson the hard way. It was good in an academic setting, but […] it was awful-looking.”

Recently, Lanni has been involved in the production of Lost & Found—a documentary that features the lives of five beachcomber families and their discovery of Japanese items that washed up on shore following the devastating 2011 Japanese tsunami.

“I found out about [these families] through the news and I started reaching out to them, [asking] ‘What are you going to do with these items?’ A lot of them started to research these items to see if they could figure out who these items belong to,” she said.

The documentary follows these individuals as they attempted to find the original owners of the items, which ranged from a “Harley Davidson motorcycle to a volleyball or a sandal with a girl’s name on it”.

While not every owner was reunited with their belongings, Lanni says that “the film ended up becoming a story of these really crazy friendships that were formed between families in America and in Japan in the wake of the [tsunami]”.