As a student, Maki Motapanyane always believed she would end up in government, so she was surprised when she discovered her passion for women’s studies. She began teaching at Mount Royal University (MRU), hoping to have her students carry the values she teaches them around in their day to day lives.

For Motapanyane, immigrating from Johannesburg at the age of 12 made it difficult for her to relate to her peers. Her passion for humanities further set her apart from other kids, especially during class presentations.

“I would just go on and on, way beyond the amount of time allotted. I remember the kids in my class just looking at me like ‘oh my God, what is she even talking about?’”

This passion for humanities wound up sparking an interest in government. Motapanyane pursued that interest at the University of New Brunswick through her undergrad major in political science. She had planned on going into foreign affairs, until her third year, when the university hired a gender studies scholar from New York. Motapanyane registered in her gender and international development course and immediately fell in love with the concept of feminist theory.

“Completing coursework had always been a bit of a chore, but in her class it was actually almost a joy, and my professor recognized that and she really encouraged me to do my masters in women’s studies. So once I got to Dalhousie, that’s what I did,” Motapanyane said.

Once at Dalhousie, Motapanyane struggled to keep up with other students in her program who had already taken numerous women’s studies courses. “It was very intimidating because at that point I had only taken one women’s studies course, so everyone in my class would just nod their heads while I was furiously writing everything down,” Motapanyane said.

Not one to give up though, Motapanyane never fell behind the rest of her class. This wasn’t easy though. “That whole first year was me going to the library to catch up and you know see what I'd missed as well as complete the assignments for the course,” Motapanyane recalled. Despite struggling to keep up during her first year, she successfully completed her masters and went on to graduate with a PhD in women’s studies from York University.

Post graduation was a new struggle however. There were very few openings to teach women’s studies across Canada, so Motapanyane found herself accepting an opening at St Louis University in Missouri. While in Missouri though Motapanyane kept her eyes opened for any positions within her field at Canadian universities. After a couple of years, a posting for a professor of women’s studies at Mount Royal University came to her attention.

“I just kept my eyes open and saw my current position advertised and I applied for it and wound up being offered the job,” Motapanyane recalled.

Now in her position at Mount Royal for the past couple years, Motapanyane finds pride in the school’s general education program which allows her to teach students within varied fields about women’s studies.

“It’s nice to teach to such a wide range of people,” Motapanyane said, “it is my hope that students will find what I teach helpful, and carry it with them into whatever aspects of work they’ve planned for themselves.”

Motapanyane’s hope appears to be answered in the case of at least one student. Tamara Solomon, who is currently enrolled in Motapanyane’s race, femininity and representation class, has found immense value in Motapanyane’s teachings.

“By fostering a safe and respectful learning environment that encourages students to unabashedly share their vulnerabilities, it results in a true and holistic understanding of both their place in the world and how to affect positive social change,” Solomon said.

Similarly to Solomon, Motapanyane is also grateful to Mount Royal for all that its general education program offers to its students and professors. “The teaching that I do is much more rich because the institution affords me the kind of space and the kind of culture to be able to have an impact,” she said.

 

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