Dr. Tina Chen is a distinguished professor of history at the University of Manitoba. She holds a PhD and MA in History from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a BA in History and Chinese Studies from the University of Toronto. Tina is a specialist in modern Chinese history, with research interests in the social, political, and cultural norms and practices that structure people’s engagement with society. She has held visiting scholar positions at New York University, University of New South Wales, Sichuan University, and Beijing University.
Passionate about collaborative learning and empowerment for social justice, she works with various organizations promoting action for anti-racism, equity, access, diversity and cross-cultural understanding in sport (figure skating), post-secondary education, and within/amongst Asian communities.
Q: You’re a distinguished professor of history at the University of Manitoba and sit on The Winnipeg Foundation’s board and Centennial Institute advisory committee. What is it that draws you to the study of history, and why is it important for the future?
A: I am drawn to studying history because it allows us to analyze and understand the complex operation of power and knowledge. It’s an opportunity to understand the ways in which everyday lives in the past and present are lived in relation to systemic, institutional, community, and individual belief systems. At the same time, history requires that we interrogate how we come to know and understand the past, including who, how, where, and for what purpose particular stories and materials of ‘the past’ become valued in our present. For me, understanding the work done to keep systems in place – and studying how power and privilege is maintained and challenged – is also a reminder that each moment and set of relations has within it the political potential to be something else. So, I guess history gives me hope.
“Because community fosters relationships for listening, empowering, and making change happen.”Dr. Tina Chen, Winnipeg Foundation board member, Centennial Institute advisory committee member
Q: You’re involved with Skate Winnipeg as a certified Skate Canada coach and volunteer. You’ve done interesting work looking at racism in sport – what have you found?
A: I’ve been involved in figure skating since a child. It’s a sport I love, and one that I recognize is deeply implicated in exclusionary systems of oppression, including racism, sexism, able-ism, and gender normativity. In 2020, skaters began to build community for conversation, sharing stories, and activism as many challenged the myth that sport is ‘escape’ from broader social issues and is a place of opportunity, meritocracy, and belonging. I’ve been energized and inspired by those who have embraced a process of un-learning and re-learning what we know about skating, and who have made their love of the sport the basis for holding skating institutions and the skating community accountable.
Q: How does your commitment to anti-racism show up in the contributions you bring to your volunteer work, including as a Winnipeg Foundation board member?
A: In the past few years, I have started to hold myself more accountable for the comfort previously found in keeping parts of my life relatively separate. This has meant trying to be more actively anti-racist in the everyday. Like so many others at the current moment, I find the words of Ibram X. Kendi a strong reminder of what this means: first “being an anti-racist requires persistent, constant self-criticism, and regular self-examination”; and second, “One endorses either the idea of a racial hierarchy as a racist or racial equality as an anti-racist. One either believes problems are rooted in groups of people as a racist, or locates the roots of problems in power and polices, as an anti-racist. One either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequities as an anti-racist.”
This story is featured in the Fall 2021 issue of our Working Together magazine. Download or view the full issue on our Publications page.