June Larkin, a lecturer in Women and Gender Studies and Equity Studies and vice-principal of New College at the University of Toronto, is a 3M National Teaching Fellowship recipient for 2013. Maclean’s On Campus is profiling all 10.
Before June Larkin ever attended a university class, she was engrossed in the intricacies of social justice as a primary-school teacher.
As a “mature student” balancing her undergraduate studies in psychology, feminist studies and education with her teaching job, she saw firsthand the interplay between gender and social equality on the playground as the children fought, played and formed peer groups. When she went on to do her PhD, she used her background as a teacher to write her doctorate about sexual harassment in high schools. “Working as a teacher was one of the things that attracted me to equity studies,” she says, “Now, as a professor, I have always tried to bridge theoretical concepts with practical, community-based application.”
Now a senior lecturer in Women and Gender Studies and Equity Studies at the University of Toronto and the vice-principal of New College, likes to get her students out of the lecture hall and into the community as often as possible. Many of her classes include a community-outreach component, often of the student’s choosing. First-year students in particular are encouraged to attend outside lectures, participate in debates or protests, and take part in any lesson or group that helps deconstruct notions of gender, race and class. The idea is to teach students to think divergently in class, and then encourage them to apply their new ways of thinking in the real world. “I have been so inspired by my students,” she says. “So many have taken the theories from my classes and used them to pursue different passions and really make a difference.
“What stood out for me the most about Dr. Larkin is how committed and passionate she is. Her commitment really transcends the classroom,” says Jessica Khouri, a former student who is now pursuing a master’s in Women and Gender studies at Memorial University in Newfoundland. Khouri had never taken a women’s studies course before she transferred to the University of Toronto in her second year, but after taking Larkin’s introductory course, she decided to specialize in it. “I had done some of my own readings on feminism, I guess, but June’s class totally changed my way of thinking.” She is now writing a dissertation on women and body image, which was inspired by a project with Gendering Adolescent AIDS Prevention, a research and community outreach group that Larkin manages through New College. While Khouri is not entirely sure what she will do when she finishes her masters, she hopes her future career will be related to her work in social justice. Whatever she does, she knows that she has an ally in June Larkin. “I think the bottom line about June is that she is her students’ biggest supporter,” says Khouri. “She is the sort of teacher who goes beyond lectures and office hours to really listen to you, and who will help you—academically, professionally, personally—throughout your life.”