Busy waiting outside offices and translating ideas into plans, little did UTM students Selina Azizi and Maleeha Iqbal know that the following winter, their dream of producing an undergraduate Women and Gender Studies journal would transform into reality. Now in the process of reviewing student submissions, the upcoming Women, Culture, & Society Undergraduate Review (WCSUR) is being produced by Azizi and Iqbal, under professor Joan Simalchik. Early into the afternoon on International Women’s Day, The Medium sat down with Simalchik to learn more about what inspired the journal, and why this work is important.

“Let me tell you. The Women Culture and Society Journal is the idea and enactment of Maleeha and Selina. It was their idea, their effort, their initiative, and they came to me to see how it could come about, and they had the idea that there needed to be a way on this campus of highlighting work by undergraduate students about women, and males and non-binary folk are not excluded,” says Simalchik.

Maleeha Iqbal, one of the co-editors for the journal says to The Medium in an email, “The Women, Culture, & Society Undergraduate Review is a new interdisciplinary undergraduate journal being released in April 2018.” According to Iqbal, the purpose of this journal is showcase leading scholarship about women’s issues produced by undergraduate students at the University of Toronto.

Speaking about the inspiration behind the journal, Iqbal says, “In 2016, I was taking quite a few gender-related courses within the Sociology Department. I had also presented some research with a professor at The Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community Involvement (MIRCI) conference in downtown Toronto, and I was beginning my own qualitative research study which dealt with differences in the way male and female professors are treated within the classroom.” Through her research, Iqbal says, “I was learning so much about the issues women face today and wanted to share this knowledge with my peers. This was also around the end of the U.S. Presidential Election, when there was a lot of talk around the way female politicians are treated. All of this and knowing that there was no journal dedicated to women’s issues on campus inspired me to start a journal dedicated to women’s issues.”

Selina Azizi, a co-editor for the journal says to The Medium in an email, “because UTM didn’t have quite have an interdisciplinary venue where students would be able to discuss gender and how it interacts with different facets of life.”

Azizi also says, “I appreciated the fact that this journal would allow students to shed light on valuable topics that may not have been explored before.” The idea, according to Selina, also came at a time where gender-related topics were being discussed more and more in classes at UTM. “The fact that more classes were focusing on it made me confident that students would be interested in a journal like this. We also both had editing experience previous to this, and we thought our background would be useful,” says Azizi.

Simalchik recalls, “They came to me last year and they worked on it over the summer, and through the fall did a schedule, then devised a call for papers that went out across UTM, and also to women and gender studies students and sociology students and right across the disciplines.” Welcoming submissions across different fields of study, Simalchik says, “There were anthropology entries, there were science entries, so you can see that work on women and gender is being done in multiple departments. And so, it’s not just confined to this program.”

According to Iqbal and Azizi, one of the biggest challenges they faced was pitching the journal to professors. “A lot of professors are quite busy working on projects; so, we had to make sure that our proposal was strong and concise. We were lucky to have the assistance of professor Neda Maghbouleh who looked over our proposal and gave us suggestions,” says Iqbal, and continues, “Eventually, after many meetings with quite a few professors—who were all very supportive, we successfully pitched the journal to professor Joan Simalchik who became our faculty advisor.”

According to Azizi, another challenge they faced was trying to find professors to review the papers. “These reviews are voluntary on the professors’ parts, and we emailed numerous professors from several disciplines to help us in the process,” says the co-editor.

Simalchik also says that another reason she way happy with this initiative was because in regard to the papers she reads and receives in her courses, she says, “It’s just a shame that I mark them and give them back and nobody else has an opportunity to read them and I always feel badly about that. So in this case, I was thrilled that there would be a vehicle to have this good work showcased and also accessible and available to a much wider audience than the professor marking the essay.”

Elaborating upon the support available to the journal, Simalchik says, “Professor Chris Petrakos, who is in history, heads up the departmental undergraduate journal called Prandium, and was extraordinarily supportive and we’re all very grateful to him for sharing the Prandium’s electronic platform for producing this journal.”

After the electronic setup and the establishment in place, according to Simalchik, the call for papers went out and they received more than 30 papers from across campus from different departments, “And I think that’s really important students [who] work hard on papers and it just sits in their drawer or is stored on their computers. So, this way, they saw the opportunity to present their work to a wider audience.”

In the publication timeline, Simalchik mentions they are approaching the point where articles will be under review by a group of professors after which selections for publication will be made. “For now, we’re aiming for six or seven [articles and they] will be peer reviewed because professors are reviewing them. So, this is a peer-reviewed journal, and when the articles are published, students can put this on their resumes—that they have a peer-reviewed journal article, which not many undergraduates have, and as sole authors,” says Simalchik.

According to Iqbal, “There are quite a few reasons why this initiative is important. It’s a great way to talk and learn about the many problems women are facing,” and continues to say, “It’s also a great way for students to contribute to discussions on gender issues through their own scholarship. At the end of the day, it’s primarily about building an interest amongst students in discussing these issues.”

Again, highlighting Azizi and Iqbals’ work, Simalchik says, “It’s really their effort, their initiative, and their good sense. And we also want to make sure since both students are graduating this year, that after their foundational work we can find a way to sustain the journal in future years.” Simalchik mentions a new Women and Gender Studies Society, which is the student group associated with the Women and Gender studies program, “And so they are going to have conversations this year to see if they could take it on.”

The publication will focus on a gendered view of culture and society, and as Simalchik says, “within it then it’s quite open-ended […] it would all show how work around women and gender is being produced in multiple disciplines.”

Speaking about scholarships regarding women’s issues and their place in society, Simalchik laughs, “It’s international women’s day today and you’re asking the director of women and gender studies,” and continues to say, “So my expected answer would be that women’s roles and their work in society is often invisible or erased, and we even find that less and less but still, in academia. So, it’s a way to highlight those achievements and to remedy the erasures of women scholarship and not only by women. Because, like I said, scholarship concerning males or non-binary folks can still be accepted to the journal.”

In the context of remedying erasure, Simalchik also says, “I mean look at the article at the invisibility of trans people in the past, it’s now breaking open a little bit so we want to include those ideas.” Simalchik then references a March 8th, 2018 op-ed in The Globe and Mail by Denise Balkissoon titled “This International Women’s Day, feminists should—finally—accept transgender women,” which speaks about including trans women in women studies, “And I mean [this is in] The Globe and Mail? Well you know, that’s because of the agency of trans women themselves.” The professor continues to say that now, through the journal at UTM, “We have a vehicle for how ideas shift and change and become more inclusive as time goes by, and a publication like this is central to debate and marks a change,” therefore centering the introduction of this publication on inclusion, diversity, and visibility.

“We are in a very new place and space and time where the possibilities of change are present,” says Simalchik, and in the context of the current sociopolitical change underway, she adds, “We could be in for a real significant paradigm shift and it will be important that the effort to make that change permanent doesn’t end here.”

The undergraduate review, according to Simalchik, is a product of student agency, “And the efforts of students to make it possible.” She also says, “I think every student should think of things they can do and accomplish. Maleeha and Selina were quite persistent in finding support, so students should know that they can accomplish their dream and they should take it up and not feel that there are so many barriers for whatever that might be, and that’s an important lesson, because it’s so significant that two students have achieved this.”

Additionally, as Azizi says, “In the era where there is more dialogue about things like the #MeToo Movement, white feminism, and gender and sexual equality, I think this journal is a great compliment,” and she continues to say, “We hope that it will inspire current and future UTM students to engage with these critical issues. I also think it’s a great opportunity for some of UTM’s students to showcase their scholarship and get published early in their career.”