CANDID: Q&A with grad student Claudyne Chevrier
Roughly 3,800 students are enrolled in the University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Graduate Studies. They come from around the world to study here and UM Today is getting to know some of them on a more personal level. We want to know who they are and why they chose the field they did, and about their hobbies, regrets and musical tastes — anything, really, that comes up in the conversation.
This will be an occasional feature that brings our remarkable grad students to the fore. Enjoy!
UMT: Where are you from?
CC: I’m from Montreal. I moved here three years ago for my PhD so I feel like I have my “Winnipegger” card. I was here last year, so after that, I was like, ‘You guys, I’m in.’
UMT: Do you miss anything about Montreal?
CC: I miss everything about Montreal.
UMT: Did anything strike you as weird about Winnipeg?
CC: Yeah, there are a lot of things about Winnipeg that are weird. Maybe the weirdest thing is how it grows on you in the weirdest way. Now I love Winnipeg and I get angry when people make jokes about Winnipeg. I’m like, ‘What!? You can’t. You don’t even know.’ It’s funny.
UMT: What brought you here?
My background is in anthropology — social and cultural anthropology. I moved into public health somehow for my master’s and then the person who was my master’s advisor was Rob’s post-doc advisor — so I kind of just stayed in … the academic family, and moved here.
UMT: In a nutshell, what do you study?
CC: I do a lot of things in global health. But for my project, I am doing an ethnography of sex workers in Winnipeg; so I work on access to social services and health services for sex workers in this city. That’s the short answer. But then there’s always questions when I say this to people.
UMT: You have a tattoo of a circle on your wrist. Can you tell us about that?
CC: I actually got it in Winnipeg. Two years ago now, maybe. It’s stick and poke, so it’s imperfect.
UMT: What is ‘stick and poke’?
CC: It’s done just with a needle. The reason it’s stick and poke is that I wanted it to be imperfect. That’s the significance for me. Imperfection is perfect. And I needed it on my wrist so I see it everyday.
UMT: What did you want to be when you were a kid?
CC: I wanted to be writer. Very clearly. I also wanted to be a veterinarian. But I wanted to be a writer; I love reading and writing. And I get to still read and write in academia but it’s not the same thing. I still read and write most days.
UMT: Are you reading anything for pleasure right now?
CC: I did start a book for pleasure about a year ago. I’m still working on that. It’s Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits. It’s about the revolution in Chile; it’s very bloody and mysterious and ridiculous. And I’m reading it in Spanish because I’m trying to improve my Spanish, which is maybe why it’s taking me so long.
UMT: So you speak French, English and Spanish. Any other languages you speak or wish to speak?
CC: If they could pay me to learn languages, that’s what I would do. That would be my favourite. I love languages.
UMT: Considering your work with this research group, Hindi would be good to know.
CC: I would love learn Hindi! I’m trying to learn Hindi. I suck at it. I have some books I open once in a while.
UMT: What is the best part of your job?
CC: My research project. I changed it maybe a year and half ago so it would better reflect my values and the work that I do; I’m also an activist. I do a lot outside of academia. I changed my project so it would relate to that, so that’s been really really good.
UMT: What sort of activism are you involved with?
CC: Well, right now, it is mostly in relation to my project because there is only so much you can do. I’m a sex workers rights activist. I work with the Winnipeg working group; we’re working to fight against Bill C-36. We have been working against it, as part of the Canadian Alliance for Sex Workers Law Reform…. In Manitoba, our humble goal is to challenge the ideas of the sex trade, especially the idea that it’s only sexual exploitation and that it is inherently violent, which is normally the only thing you hear. It’s more complicated than that.
I definitely believe in a harm-reduction perspective. Let’s give sex workers the resources they need without judging them. If they want out, they should have access to all the resources in the world, but if they want to stay in, let’s not judge them. Let’s say, ‘Hey, what do you need?’
UMT: So it sounds like you enjoy the qualitative research?
CC: Oh yeah. I’m a qualitative person all the way.
UMT: Do you listening to music or anything while studying?
CC: I listen to a lot of really embarrassing pop.
UMT: Like Justin Bieber-embarrassing?
CC: Oh no. Like Beyoncé.
“I’m in a 90s moment, like I re-discovered Counting Crows. They are so whiney. I love them.”
UMT: That’s not embarrassing.
CC: Thank you. I also think so.
Or I listen to Songza, like anything from the 90s. I’m in a 90s moment: like I re-discovered Counting Crows. They are so whiney. I love them. Or I listen to a lot of folksie French music from Quebec.
UMT: Are you a Habs fan? A hockey fan?
CC: No. But yes. Don’t say anything against them because I will have to get angry, but I don’t really care. (But I do.)
UMT: Why sex workers? Why this population?
CC: I always wanted to work with things related to gender because that’s sort of my thing. I’m a pro-choice feminist, which for me means that women can do whatever they want with their bodies, including selling sex if they want to. Or anyone, not just women.
I was going to work on fertility in India because that is something that really really matters to so many women I know there. And then I was offered to go and do a project for a sex workers organization in Southern India. I ended up changing everything since it was community-based research. It mattered more to them that I focus on something different so I changed my topic. And then from there I just started to open up a space around me where I started to talk about sex work differently and I met new people who were sex workers. And I learned that people I knew had all sorts of experiences in the sex industry. And eventually it became a thing where a lot of people I love are sex workers.
I constantly hear horrible things being said about sex workers or see people treating them like victims or like they are disposable or it doesn’t matter what happens to them. It becomes very different when you start thinking about those things being said about people that you know and love. You shouldn’t have to go through that to care, but I guess that’s the world we live in, and that’s what comes with having as much privilege as I have.
UMT: What do you parents do? Are they scientists?
CC: My dad was a helicopter pilot. Well, he’s alive, but he retired from that and eventually he started selling helicopters, which sounds like a lie. But it’s a thing. And my mom is a nurse. So the health part comes from that a little bit.
My parents are very adventurous people. They are awesome. They are much cooler than I will ever be. It’s very hard to live with. My parents, for their retirement … were in Vancouver for 10 years and they bought a sailboat and they sailed a boat down to Mexico. And that’s what they do for six months a year. How do you compete with that? They are winning.
UMT: How old are you?
CC: I’m 31.
UMT: Do you have any hobbies?
CC: Not really any more. I work too much.
I guess a journal. How sad is that? I liked biking and may start biking again. I have a winter bike; it’s just so cold. And one of my plans for this winter if I don’t hate winter is to get into cross-country skiing.
UMT: Have you received any good advice from your advisors?
CC: Yes, I receive all sort of good advice, although I don’t think I take all of it. What I like about Jamie [Blanchard] … [is that he’s] very pragmatic. He understands complex ideas and I’m an over-thinker. It’s kind of my superpower, for better and for worse; it’s what I do. And he’s very good at seeing how that makes sense in the real world. And I love that.
My other advisor, Rob [Lorway], helped me out a lot when I was doing my master’s — and one of the things he told me that I repeat constantly to people who are writing is, ‘This is not the work of your life. It’s just words on paper. Just do it. Just do it.’
I love that. It’s true. Because you get stuck. Just do it. Just write words on paper. You will re-work it a million times but just do it.
“Go Team Feminism. Je t’aime. Je t’aime.”
UMT: Do you have any strange mementoes on your desk?
CC: I do, and I’m so glad your not seeing my desk right now. It’s a good reflection of who I am; it’s a mess of books and art.
I shouldn’t say this, but I really don’t like Justin Trudeau, at all. And I always make jokes about that because everyone loves him. And my colleague, another PhD student, printed out a photo of him — he does this regularly— but this one I kept because it’s a photo of Justin that’s just impossible to not laugh at. He has this overly intense look. It’s just too much. And he wrote on it, “Go team Feminism. Je t’aime. J.T.” And now everyone thinks I love Justin Trudeau.
‘Go team feminism.’ I love it so much.
UMT: What’s your favourite country of the ones you’ve visited?
UMT: Thanks for your time.