She has never worked as an academic in Canada. Yet for Lisa Henderson, there is an element of homecoming in her upcoming move to Western.
Her parents met as actors at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. Her mother was a local television celebrity on Panorama. She was born in nearby St. Marys and attended Ryerson Public School in London before her family relocated to Montreal.
In January, Henderson will begin a five-year term as the new Dean of the Faculty of Information & Media Studies (FIMS), following Thomas Carmichael to the position.
“I’m really connected to the region – the whole swath of territory between Montreal and southwestern Ontario. I’m rooted deeply there. To return to it as the place where I live and work is pretty moving,” said Henderson, who is a professor of Communication and a faculty affiliate in American Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
As an undergraduate student at Ryerson Polytechnical Institute studying radio and television arts, Henderson was looking for an avenue that would provide learning opportunities alongside practical skills she could apply immediately. She wanted “to learn and do things right away,” she noted, and started her career as a radio production intern in Toronto, producing educational spoken-word content for CJRT FM’s Open College.
When the time came to explore graduate school opportunities, she was drawn to The Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania because it married her production and liberal arts interests with sociological study.
“I’ve been studying, as an academic research area, the making of culture – first as a practitioner, then as a scholar – over the course of my whole career,” she said.
Her research specializes in cultural production, media and cultural studies, feminist and queer studies, class cultures, ethnographic research methods, textual criticism and research creation. Henderson has published 30 journal articles and book chapters and has delivered more than 50 invited lectures and juried conference presentations.
Among her academic honours and distinctions, she received the Roy F. Aarons Award for Outstanding Contribution to LGBT Education and Research in 2011 from the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, and her 2014 book, Love and Money: Queers, Class and Cultural Production, was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award in LGBT Studies.
At Western, Henderson saw a bridge between those interests in production and a scholarly examination of what is produced as part of culture.
“One of the things that drew me to FIMS is my current project in communication scholarship, which is about collaboration between scholars and makers, and trying to not be so separate,” she said. “In practical terms, people aren’t separate. Makers, artists and producers are asking about knowledge production, how we know things, how do we figure things out, they are asking theoretical questions; meanwhile, people with PhDs are asking questions about research expression, how do we do it outside of research and articles?
“I work on that convergence and it’s a conversation I hope to continue at Western.”
She added the new FIMS & Nursing Building is well-equipped to facilitate cultural production and a study for both its graduate and undergraduate students. She knows the faculty and its student body are fast evolving and keeping up with changing cultural practices and advancements in technology is just as important as learning from students.
“I’m someone who teaches popular culture. I’m 60 years old. If you’re going to teach pop culture with a classroom full of 19-20-year-olds, you better be accustomed to not standing still. You need them to bring things to you,” she explained, adding she hopes to develop her vision for FIMS as part of a collective.
“When it comes to vision statements, it’s something people need to produce together. What I look forward to is a conversation in which people with a history and stake in the faculty, as students, as staff, as librarians, can talk together in the most expansive way possible. We have a job to do – to occupy a research and advisory role at the cutting edge and be mindful of the history on which it sits,” Henderson said.
“We get to be the rock-solid group holding together the history and the future in information, cultural economies and cultural production, journalism, and our vexed relationship to truth with a capital T.”
She feels a pressure to learn quickly as “every day will be a steep staircase to climb as a new dean.” Henderson plans to ask lots of questions, keep in mind her accountability and the steep learning curve, even as she feels at home in a faculty that is her field.
“With gratitude, I also look forward to picking up where Dean Carmichael will leave off – in a state-of-the-art building and with a creative faculty culture, both of which enable so much, with brilliant colleagues recruited and appointed on his watch, with a recently reaccredited Masters of Library and Information Science program, and with a deep sense of stewardship in an epoch of information and cultural economy. We need FIMS now more than ever.”
Susan Knabe, FIMS Associate Dean (Undergraduate), will serve as Acting FIMS Dean from July 1-Dec. 31.