Get Personal with Leila Atri: Victoria College Don

We are back with yet another beautiful Victorian! This week I interviewed the lovely Leila Atri who also happens to be my Don at Rowell Jackman. She is one of the most genuine human beings I have ever met: caring, hilarious, and passionate. 

Name: Leila Atri

Year of study: 5

Program: History major, Diaspora and Transnational Studies minor, and Buddhism Psychology and Mental Health minor

How has attending Victoria College allowed you to grow as an individual and as a woman?

In hindsight, I think when I came to Victoria College, I was intellectually immature. I had come from a high school that had deprived me of diversity of thought and a lack of social awareness, being all upper-class and predominantly white, and although I could have tried to expand my mind on my own, I hadn’t come matured enough to realize that’s what I wanted. When I came to Vic, my poorly-conceived plan was to do Life Sciences, try to do well, maybe go to medical school (I hadn’t really thought about how hard that would be) or, hopefully find a career in TV acting through extra-curricular pursuits. But, Vic introduced me to interesting minds right out of the gate, and predisposed me to exciting possibilities of an academic career of learning which was interestingly not really what I had come to school for. So in 2014, when I endured a major depression for a period of a semester, upon coming out of it, it was the people I had met that so interested me that inspired me to completely change my original field of study (after 2 years), and embrace the possibility of being in school to be a learner.

In regards to current American politics, there have been comments from Americans and Canadians that Hilary Clinton is the "lesser of the two evils". What are your thoughts on this? Do you feel that this is somewhat related to the fact that Hilary is a woman with an imperfect past?

So, I think that the American view of Hillary Clinton, especially from the right, is mostly unwarranted. I don’t think the email scandal should have turned into what it did. Although, as a strong Bernie supporter, during the primaries I was certainly hoping it would become a worse situation for her). I think for years Hillary Clinton has received, again, unwarranted bad press in relation to her husband and his involvements. With that said, Hillary Clinton still represents a political elite that believes in gradual change, backroom deals and a pragmatism that will disadvantage people in the mean time to achieve goals in the future. She has been a center-right, center-left at times, politician with a spotty voting record (for my taste!) and in comparison to Bernie. Well next to Bernie, most politicians would seem untrustworthy. I think the heat that she gets from the progressive left is not unwarranted. I think they go after her hawkish foreign policy and connections to big money, which are totally valid. But as a whole, has the fact that Hillary Clinton is a woman affected her? Yes, of course, but I think more so from the regressive right, that sadly is still very much present in the US.

Recently, there have been a lot of debates centered around the important of "political correctness". Some argue that we as a society have gone too far with this idea. In your opinion, do you agree that perhaps we have gone overboard with being political correct? Or, is this perhaps a reflection of Western culture and society?

I really hate the term “political correctness”, because I have always thought of what we now have termed “political correctness” as “social awareness” and “kindness”. Do I think we need to ensure we approach teaching how to speak respectfully, kindly and consciously, in a respectful, kind and conscious way? Yes I do. Often times, us progressives can get so upset when people use exclusionary language that we try ot silence those people. I don’t think long-term that is the correct approach. But do I think we should be striving for more inclusive and kind language? Absolutely.

How has your biracial identity affected you growing up? Did you struggle with your identity?

My parent’s marriage (or unity as mother and father), as an Iranian man and French-Canadian woman, was one of the most wonderful gifts they could have given to me. I never saw my dad as brown or my mom as white, I saw my dad as my dad and my mom as my mom, and that’s had powerful and positive repercussions. I could delve into how many students at my predominantly white high school did not entirely understand the way my parents expected me to live my life, but honestly, I don’t think interracial couples get the praise that they deserve for the gifts they provide society, so I will stick with that as my answer.

If there is one thing you could change about your undergraduate experience, what would you change? Would you keep things the same?

I would have tried harder to identify the areas I needed and still need help on, and sought out help. I’m doing that now, and it feels really good. In regards to my undergrad career as a whole, I am proud of myself for the drastic changes I have made that put me where I am today. I would not change any of that for the world because I expect the challenges that I’ve faced in university and the decisions I made to carry with me throughout the rest of my life.

What has donship been like thus far?

My favourite part of donship has definitely been getting to know the students on my floor, no doubt about it. I learn more from them than I think they learn from me, and im so grateful for it. And it's really interesting to be a witness to the formation of small communities and groups of friends, and the transition from uncomofrtability to comfortability.