Long before she had the language to understand what she was witnessing, Amie McLean (UCC ’02) was deeply affected by the oppression and violence that surrounded her. Through education, privilege and perseverance, McLean pulled herself out of the poverty she was born into. However, her experiences and ongoing connections to impoverished and marginalized family members and communities shaped her future.
“From a really young age, I was bearing witness to a lot of gender and class inequality, and racism — specifically anti-Indigenous racism and violence — integrated within our society,” McLean says of growing up as a white child in a small BC community within St’át’imc territory. “I began to find the language to talk about things that I had already witnessed and seen throughout my life in terms of harm and power and systems of oppression. . . . (At University College of the Cariboo, now TRU) there were these really brilliant people who were also incredibly accessible.”
McLean described the awe she felt as she crested the hill coming into Kamloops, driving a beat-up car filled with all her possessions, feeling like she had finally arrived in the big city. The first of her family to attend university, she faced adversity and financial hardship as she attempted to navigate post-secondary school on her own. She persevered and completed a double major at UCC, receiving a Bachelor of Arts in sociology and English. Following graduation, she headed to Seoul, Korea, to teach English to save money, pay down her student loans and further her education.
Grateful to earn an income while seeing a new part of the world, McLean says the experience also showed her how culture is tied to systems of repression, including English as an imperial language and language of power.
“It is a language that carries with it privileges but also oppressions,” she says. “(Working in Seoul) was a really great experience, but an eye-opening one as well.”
PhD and beyond
Following her stint in Seoul, McLean went on to obtain her Master of Sociology and then her PhD from Simon Fraser University (SFU). After receiving her doctorate in 2017, McLean accepted a contract position at TRU as a second intercultural co-ordinator, working alongside faculty member and Intercultural Co-ordinator Dr. Kyra Garson.
“It was a phenomenal experience to be able to work with Dr. Kyra Garson but really to work with a lot of students, faculty, staff, admin across the university in all kinds of different capacities. Folks who were working to advance social justice at the institution — but within the community as well,” she says. “Some of my favourite work at TRU was having the chance to lead the redevelopment and reimplementation of the Intercultural Ambassadors program and to pilot it in its first year was incredibly rewarding.”
Circumstances changed following the onset of the pandemic in 2020, and McLean accepted a position at SFU as the justice, equity and inclusion (JEI) project manager in Work Integrated Learning. SFU granted McLean a human rights exemption that allowed her to work remotely. She describes her work at SFU as exciting and inspiring, dealing with a range of initiatives that provided support to marginalized students involved in applied and experiential learning.
Recently, she took a leave from SFU and is again part of the team at TRU.
“Secwepemcúlucw has been a place of sanctuary to me and my family, and I have a responsibility to do social justice work here, where I live as a settler and uninvited guest. I’m at TRU on a two-year faculty appointment as intercultural co-ordinator in the CASA (Counselling, Academic Supports and Assessment) department within the Faculty of Student Development,” says McLean. “In that role, I will be developing curriculum, doing research, teaching, taking a lead on the Intercultural Ambassadors Peer Mentorship program and supporting a range of projects and initiatives associated with EDI and intercultural engagement.”
McLean will again be working alongside Garson, who says she, her colleagues and the student ambassadors are thrilled to have McLean back.
“She is a highly intelligent strategic thinker, trained as a sociologist and yet also trained in the school of life. Amie is empathetic and humble while at the same time being a fierce advocate for those who are underserved or underrepresented,” says Garson. “We look forward to the future with Dr. McLean back at TRU.”