Shif Gadamsetti is the Former President of the Students’ Association of Mount Royal University, Support Staff for the Calgary Communities Against Sexual Abuse, Former Chair of the Board of the Canadian Alliance of Students’ Associations and a Member of its Alumni Council. Here we look into her life, work, and views.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What was family background regarding geography, culture, language, and religion?
Shif Gadamsetti: I was raised by both my parents, people I would consider traditional Christians, and quite involved with the church during my upbringing. We regularly attended Sunday service, and I was actively involved in my teen years through the youth group, outreach, teaching Sunday School and with the church’s worship team. My family immigrated to Canada from India in 2001, and settled in Calgary almost immediately. There was a certain gap in terms of finding cultural community to bridge with once we had moved. We only had one extended family in the city, and our primary social network was through the church, which did not have a significantly diverse cultural congregation at the time.
Jacobsen: How did this influence you? Did this impact the professional trajectory as a kid growing into a young woman?
Gadamsetti: I had often sought out positions of leadership throughout my youth, and I believe that I learned a lot from seeking leadership opportunities through my church. It allowed me to be socially involved with peers my own age, as my parents were quite restrictive and traditional, likely influenced by their position as immigrants. It was a safe place for them to allow me to integrate with Canadian culture while still maintaining engagement with our religious roots.
Jacobsen: As a nurse who works in the operating theatre or operating room, what tasks and responsibilities come with this position?
Gadamsetti: I work with an interdisciplinary team – we always have at least one other nurse, an anesthesiologist, a surgeon, and other physicians, who either assist or residents that participate in our surgical cases. My responsibilities include a pre-operative assessment, including looking for any potential risks that could compromise the surgery – these range from substance use, underlying health conditions, something as simple as the patient ingesting food or drink prior to the surgery (which could complicate their intubation and present a choking hazard if they were to vomit), etc. During these cases, I either “circulate” ( the nurse who is not sterile) and assist the surgeon and scrub nurse with opening tools, maintaining sterility, documentation, and monitoring of supplies needed during the case. If I am scrubbing in on the case, my primary role is to assist the surgeon with their procedure, which can range from anticipating their needs, positioning, preparing tools such as sutures or drills to be used, and tracking any of the materials used to ensure that we maintain the integrity of the procedure and don’t accidentally leave something in a patient, for example.
Jacobsen: What is the motivation to work for women’s rights through the Calgary Communities Against Sexual Abuse organization as a support staff?
Gadamsetti: I have always been interested in learning more and supporting areas of gender-based barriers, and violence. I personally am very motivated in this position because sexual violence is a nuanced issue, and there is much that goes into understanding why sexual violence is perpetuated (often long-standing histories including lack of education, ancillary mental health and relationship issues, etc), and how to best support victims of sexualized violence. There is so much that broader communities don’t understand, it is often considered a taboo topic, communities feel unequipped to have conversations that wholly support the victim, and the work is difficult – not everyone is cut out to handle such matters, which I do not fault them for. There’s a very difficult way to gauge my responsibilities – a “good” day includes having a collaborative team, a client that feels supported, autonomous, and well managed for both the social and administrative work that goes into processing a case, but its never really a good day because my clients have been victims of sexual assault. Someday, I hope to involve myself in broader-based approaches to sexual violence prevention and support, including policy development and education, but I also know that I need to understand where our clients come from and what they need. I’ve learned so much and challenged many assumptions, despite how much work I’ve put into understanding the issue, and I’m very grateful to have the opportunity.
Jacobsen: As the president at the Students’ Association of Mount Royal University (SAMRU), what are the benefits and difficulties of the work there?
Gadamsetti: I am now completed my term as President with SAMRU, but I would vouch for the endless possibilities that come with the role. It’s an incredible honor to be elected and serve students to represent their best interests, the experience with leadership, management, and so many other valuable skills is never-ending, and the connections you build with other student leaders and people across your networks are ones that last a lifetime. A lot of us would agree that we have a common vision and work so hard to achieve those results through internal and external advocacy. I learned a lot about myself and what I was capable of throughout my time there.
Jacobsen: What tend to be the issues for women on postsecondary campuses in Canada? What is being done to help solve them?
Gadamsetti: I wouldn’t want to generalize – but perhaps, the ones that most students face are common across women as well – financial precarity, employment, etc. I would, however, point out that the common issues amongst students are exacerbated by gender-based barriers – sexualized violence can sometimes be a prevalent issue amongst women on campus for a variety of reasons – lack of education around consent in an environment where young people are discovering and establishing boundaries, lack of institutional policy and supports available to help those who experience it, a lack of consent culture, perpetuation of toxic behaviours that develop into patterns that are harder to address when they become systemic or cultural. There’s also the insidious types of issues that women face – increased violence and risk to their safety, those who are marginalized amongst their different intersectional identities, be it race, sexuality, etc, are often the most unsupported. Employment trends continue to show gender-based barriers in their patterns, and addressing these issues culturally can also take a long time. Any root problem that sees women as less qualified, less equal, subservient, will perpetuate patterns of discrimination and violence, including sexualized violence.
I believe that institutions need to become bolder and take hard-line stances on the matter, while demonstrating their commitment to resolving these issues with comprehensive policies that support all students’ safety, regardless of how these opportunities might seem risky to the institution’s reputation. The largest barrier to addressing sexualized violence on campus in the past 10 years has been the inability for those in leadership to admit there’s a problem, admit they are part of the problem, and rally behind an overhauling of support systems. Culture is important – when a zero tolerance stance without allowing loopholes or technicalities to exist is implemented, those perpetuating violence might think twice, and evaluate their own behavior before choosing to victimize someone in that way. At the same time, being transparent about problems and choosing to address issues by prioritizing victims over the institution as a whole would complement the approach well. It takes a community to implement real change, and once that change occurs, institutions need to ensure that proper support systems are in place for those seeking help and are continually funded, aren’t tokenized, and can meaningfully support the community long-term. It really does require a multifaceted approach.
Jacobsen: If a senior in high school or a first-year woman student in postsecondary education wants to become involved in student politics, how can they start? Who should they contact? What should they bear in mind about the potential responsibilities that they will be taking on?
Gadamsetti: The best place to start is likely your own students’ association. It’s a great place to learn more about what your interests might be as you transition to university, meet new people, find the niche spaces you feel comfortable in, and familiarize yourself with student politics, and the “politics” of the institution as well. Student association spaces have always provided me with great insight into what students care about, need, celebrate, and champion. I started getting involved with my faculty club, and branched out to others that suited my interests. You might not be interested in running for a position as a student executive after it’s all said and done, but I guarantee you that it will enrich and support your university experience like no other.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Shif.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-books, free or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com.
Do not forget to look into our associates: Godless Mom, Nice Mangoes, Sandwalk, Brainstorm Podcast, Left at the Valley, Life, the Universe & Everything Else, The Reality Check, Bad Science Watch, British Columbia Humanist Association, Dying With Dignity Canada, Canadian Secular Alliance, and Centre for Inquiry Canada.