When Ana Villegas enrolled in the Faculty of Information’s Master of Museum Studies Program, after completing her BA in history, she was looking for ways to use history as a public service. As a specialist in 20th century history and the two world wars, Villegas wanted to develop skills beyond the type of research she had learned in her undergraduate years.
She hoped that acquiring skills, including curating exhibition development, would enable her to tell complex stories to people beyond the audience for history books. And she wanted to understand how to use writing and visuals to tell such stories as well as how advocacy and community research works in the cultural heritage sector.
At the beginning of the second year of her program, Villegas, who also completed a Collaborative Specialization in Jewish Studies, applied for the Faculty of Information’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Fellowship. Students receiving this award support the Faculty commitment to advance EDI initiatives and play a key role in building relationships among the different communities within the Faculty. The fellowship allows them to pursue their interests through the University of Toronto’s work/study program.
As an executive of The Museum Studies Student Association (MUSSA), Villegas wanted to help build its relationship with the Faculty’s EDI Unit, which was created in 2021. She used social media to introduce the Unit and its members not just to Museum Studies Unit but to the broader community as well.
Her largest project as a fellow addressed an issue of special importance to Villegas, who describes herself as “passionate about advocacy and community.” She wanted to help ensure “students leaders have a platform to speak out and a voice to talk to other student leaders and collaborate together.”
To that end, Villegas organized and moderated a panel of student leaders from the different GLAM – Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museums – streams at the Faculty to discuss building equitable, diverse and inclusive Spaces in the GLAM sector. Held in person in March 2023, the event gave attendees the chance to engage with each other and do some post-pandemic rebuilding of bridges.
The success of this event and her other projects had a big impact on Villegas, who graduated in the spring of 2023. “I had never worked in an advocacy-type situation,” she said. “I came into this position on an entry level basis. I came out of it a much more skilled professional.” Along with acquiring skills in video editing and graphic design, she also had to do interviewing, scheduling and project management among other tasks
Villegas says the Faculty’s EDI Director, Martina Douglas and its Program Coordinator, Awo Abokor, were key to the success of her fellowship. “When I had ideas I felt comfortable to voice them. I felt the people in charge gave me that support and advice on how to run these ideas.”
She was also grateful for the financial support the fellowship provided. While Villegas was lucky enough to have her parents pay for her degree, she said, “The fellowship allowed me to focus on my studies without the stress of money. I was able to give some money back to my parents.”
The flexibility of the work requirements for the fellowship also allowed her to organize her time so that she was able to manage the very busy final year of Museum Studies, including the capstone course in which students develop and stage an exhibition, working together with external partners.
Students interested in applying for the EDI Fellowship should keep an eye on the EDI Fellowship page for fall 2023 applications dates and deadlines