3M National Student Fellowship Profile: 3rd-Year Gender Studies Student Kai Jacobsen

Humanities / Social Sciences Student Hanna Jacobsen (Sociology / Gender Studies)
Kai Jacobsen (Gender Studies / Sociology)

Model student. Independent thinker. Industrious. Creative, caring, kind and generous. Quietly confident. Humble. Funny. Committed to making positive change in the world.

These are just a few of the ways that Kai Jacobsen has been described by faculty members in support of their nomination for the 3M National Student Fellowship, which they received last week.

“Kai wants to use all of their gifts to make life better for marginalized people who are struggling to find their strength and dignity in a world that has little regard for them. I have the utmost respect for Kai,” wrote Aaron Devor, chair in transgender studies and professor in sociology.

As a director of QVic Life, Jacobsen works with a tight-knit group of LGBTQ+ students to run events designed to create safer spaces for their community on campus. While the events may sound simple a photo booth station for Pride, a holiday event for LGBTQ+ seniors and youths, and so on they are a powerful means of connecting marginalized individuals and building a strong community.

“My work with QVic Life is one way that I help create space for LGBTQ+ youth to develop healthy networks of chosen family, practice supporting one another while taking care of ourselves, and honour our own resilience and courage with self-compassion,” says Jacobsen.

This work was directly influenced by their time working at Pride events and operating an information and referrals phone line for QMUNITY, a Vancouver-based non-profit organization that works to improve queer, trans and two-spirit lives.

“I witnessed individuals’ faces light up as they proudly took a photo with their chosen identity flag, affixed a pronoun sticker to their Pride outfit, and felt the comfort and safety of being in an all-LGBTQ+ space,” Jacobsen recalls. “I also listened to a young man tell me I was the first person he had talked to since fleeing homophobic persecution in Russia. I spoke to someone who had decided to come out as transgender; and I was the first person they had told. They thanked me—a stranger—over and over for believing and supporting them. All these little moments add up to big changes, as LGBTQ+ individuals find safety, community, pride, belonging and free expression.”

Jacobsen has also made changes big and small in the lives of others through their work as a student leader in the student life leadership program, a peer-based education program that empowers students to effect positive change at the university.

“Kai is an outstanding student and a strong leader, says Liam Green, curriculum assessment coordinator at the Office of Student Life. “I have witnessed Kai lead by example with truth and humility. They are able to asses the power dynamics of a space and act accordingly—speaking up when the have the power and see an injustice, and stepping back to include those who are marginalized.”

In the classroom, Jacobsen is equally formidable. As a straight-A student, they have received a plethora of scholarships and awards for academic achievement, including a 2019-20 Jamie Cassels Undergraduate Research Award (JCURA) for their research on transnormativity in transgender online communities. This work provided critical insight into the ways in which trans communities define the boundaries of their identities in a struggle for visibility, resources and respect.

The real-life stakes of Jacobsen’s work points also to their ability to connect academic theory with their own lived experiences. During an interview for a co-op placement at the Ministry of Advanced Education, Skills and Training, Senior Policy Analyst Jennifer Girard recalls that Kai “immediately stood out. They connected their experiences with the work we do and made a clear case for their contributions in the provincial policy arena.”

As a research assistant focusing on Indigenous education, sexualized violence prevention and first-generation post-secondary student experience, one such contribution included the drafting of a policy recommendation for the ministry’s response to the final report of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and Two-Spirit People Inquiry.

“What makes me most excited about Kai’s future career is their commitment to both outward change and inward authenticity. Kai has demonstrated not only the desire to create social change, but the willingness to start from within” says Ms. Girard.

This is a sentiment reiterated time and again when speaking with those who have witnessed Jacobsen’s leadership on- and off-campus. As Georgia Sitara (Gender Studies/History) summarizes it, “Kai’s work in community, in residence, with non-profits and for government amply demonstrates Kai’s versatility in bringing their critical practice, academic skills and activism across the spectrum – working carefully and lovingly to make the world better, safer, inclusive and equitable.”

Along with another Humanities student, Madeleine Kenyon (Philosophy), Kai Jacobsen is one of ten students in all of Canada to receive a 2020 3M National Student Fellowship, which recognizes full-time diploma and undergraduate students who have demonstrated outstanding leadership in their personal lives and at their post-secondary institution. A complete list of 2020 3M National Student Fellows can be found at https://www.stlhe.ca/awards/3m-national-student-fellowships/