Right on track


- Philip Cox


As they prepare to cross the convocation stage in June to receive a bachelor’s degree in history with a minor in Spanish, Navarra Houldin is on track to complete what has been by all measures a remarkable journey during their time at the university.

Although they moved to Victoria to pursue their passion for open-water swimming just four years ago, Houldin will graduate as an accomplished researcher, experienced language instructor, seasoned accessibility advocate and improbable website remediator.

“I’ve been busy,” Houldin says with a friendly laugh, as though this were the first time they had stopped to reflect upon their experiences at UVic. “But I’ve been learning a lot and I’ve really been enjoying it.”

Inside the classroom, Houldin’s learning took place on both sides of the lectern. As a student, their interests in history and Spanish language, cultures and gender studies found common ground in the study of Latin American history — with an added, idiosyncratic passion for the early modern history of gender and sexuality in British naval traditions tucked in on the side.

Since 2020, they have also been working as a teaching assistant in Hispanic studies, supporting and providing language instruction in first- and second-year Spanish language courses. It was here that Houldin learned how to design lessons of their own, which started when they noticed non-binary gender inclusive language was only taught in upper-year courses. 

“I had found that, for me, it was useful to know how to correctly use non-binary inclusive language in Spanish,” Houldin states. “When I received feedback that it was also important for some of my students, I did a pile of research to figure out the best and most appropriate ways to teach them how they could describe themselves or the people they’re talking about respectfully while still following the grammatical rules of the language.”

Houldin’s focus on inclusivity extends to their work advocating for and informing the implementation of accessibility standards across the city. In 2019, they were hired by Victoria’s Fringe Festival to evaluate and make recommendations for the accessibility of their theatres and outdoor spaces. This translated into consulting work for other local groups, such as Theatre SKAM, and into regular work with OneAbility, a Victoria-based network of 50 organizations working together to provide sport and recreation opportunities for people with disabilities.

For Houldin, this is as much a labour of love as it is a personal understanding of how accessibility—or a lack thereof—can impact an individual’s lived experiences.

“I’m disabled and I have chronic illnesses, which can be a challenge when working three jobs and taking classes full-time,” they say. “It was too much, and there were days when I physically couldn’t get to class on time because of accessibility challenges, but I was doing what I loved so I made it work as best I could.”

When accessibility is not an issue, it’s quite likely that Houldin will be the first to reach their destination. An accomplished competitive athlete, they have been wheelchair racing throughout their degree, training with local, provincial and national teams in races ranging from 100 to 1,500 metres—highlights of which include a trip to Daytona, Florida for a Team Canada training camp in 2019, where they were invited onto the car racing track to train and leave their mark. 

Among all of the experiences that came out of their degree, Houldin admits that their role as a website remediator with Linked Early Modern Drama Online (LEMDO)—a UVic-based, online editing and anthology-building platform for the publication of early modern dramas—was the least likely to have occurred and most likely to prompt laughter from their family, given their self-described lack of technological know-how.

Nevertheless, they will continue work with LEMDO full-time over the summer while preparing for a program in instructional design this fall and applying for an MA in history that would begin the year after. 

Although their path may look winding from the outside, it’s clear that Houldin is right on track to succeed no matter what direction they choose.

Navarra’s journey through the Faculty of Humanities is a celebration of intellectual vitality and embodied knowledge. A truly remarkable student, Navarra brought their wide-ranging interests and lived experiences to their studies, making outstanding contributions to the faculty and helping us grow as a community along the way.”

—Marina Bettaglio, Associate Professor of Hispanic and Italian Studies


In this story

Keywords: convocation, student life, history, languages and linguistics, athletics, diversity, inclusivity, gender

People: Navarra Houldin

Publication: The Ring

Related stories