Dr. Brianna Wiens on Collaborative Feminist Research

Monday, July 11, 2022
by Sid Heeg

Dr. Brianna Wiens took an unconventional path to the Games Institute (GI), becoming one of its latest postdoctoral researchers. Her first experience at the GI was as a PhD candidate visiting from York University as part of a film crew. The purpose of the film was to document the members and experiences of qColalborative (qLab)—a feminist design research lab with members from multiple Canadian universities, including the University of Waterloo. Her interest in feminist research methodologies and practice had her see the GI as a place to bridge the gap between feminist research within digital environments and media. Bridging this gap would provide GI members the opportunity to interact with intersectional feminist theories and further build upon the interdisciplinary nature of the GI itself, so not long after Dr. Wiens' introduction to the GI, she would deliver a talk in conjunction with Dr. Shana MacDonald (Communication Arts) titled “Creative Methodologies for the Resistance. This is where Dr. Wiens' journey with the GI truly begins.

Dr. Wiens was first surprised that the talk was so well attended and received. In the past, many had reacted to her work as strange or unconventional. She soon realized that many people at the GI, like her, did work that she describes as “weird, but cool.” In seeking out community further, she began spending more time at the GI, participating in feminist reading groups and eventually creating her own lab group Feminist Think Tank (FTT) with Dr. MacDonald and several other GI members. The GI and FTT gave Dr. Wiens the stepping stone she needed after she successfully defended her PhD in 2021, title "Moving with Stories of 'Me Too': Towards a Theory and Praxis of Intersectional Entanglements".

As a postdoctoral researchers, Dr. Wiens worked under the supervision of Drs. Kristina Llewellyn (PI, Social Development Studies) and Oliver Schneider (Management Sciences), on the Digital Histories of Oral Reconciliation (DOHR) Virtual Reality (VR) project. DOHR is an oral history VR experience in which players experience the Nova Scotia Home for Coloured Children while listening to stories from the home’s survivors. Dr. Wiens had the opportunity to act as the liaison between the designers and researchers in Ontario and the community stakeholders in Nova Scotia, an essential and sensitive job.

This gave her the experience needed to understand how to navigate interdisciplinary research projects that involved sensitive materials with the care and respect they needed. These skills and experiences would serve her well on a cross-faculty research project about COVID-19 vaccine misinformation. As part of this project, Dr. Wiens worked with many others from the Faculties of Art and Health to develop methods of improving communication between healthcare practitioners and their patients about the COVID-19 vaccines which were rapidly being deployed at the time. This included looking into communicating sensitively while considering issues of medical racism and targeted disinformation campaigns about the vaccines in the Kitchener-Waterloo area. The team developed infographics based on community feedback and peer-reviewed research on the vaccine’s effects that are widely shared on social media as tools for healthcare providers, educators, and the general public to use when addressing vaccine hesitancy. 

These larger projects offered Dr. Wiens the ability to grow her skills in navigating larger project teams. She applied what she learned in the edited collection Networked Feminisms: Activist Assemblies and Digital Practices with Drs. Shana MacDonald, Michelle MacArthur (University of Windsor) and Milena Radzikowska (Mount Royal University) as co-editors. This series allowed for Dr. Wiens to return to her research roots of demonstrating how feminists use online platforms, practices, and tools  to create spaces of solidarity that rejects forms of individual, consumerist, white feminist empowerment in favour of collective, tangible action.

The three projects may seem very different, but they link together Dr. Wiens' varied research interests. She jokes that working on an online feminist archive, a VR experience, and a pandemic education project is “the sort of stuff that only happens at the GI.” After some challenging experiences in her PhD, being at the GI came with a “nice feeling of belonging,” especially when doing interdisciplinary work that may not belong in traditional academic spaces. She explained that she feels she “doesn’t have to be on the defensive all the time” now that she can be comfortable in her role as a highly interdisciplinary researcherThese skills have served her well, and, in the summer of 2022, she accepted a position as an Assistant Professor in the University of Waterloo's English Department.