Dr. Silvia Tenenbaum is a clinical psychologist and postdoctoral fellow at the Waakebiness-Bryce Institute for Indigenous Health, which is a part of U of T’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health.
She discussed her research in psychology, clinical practice, and challenging the gender status quo in an interview with The Varsity.
Tenenbaum previously completed her PhD at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, where she studied applied psychology and human development. The focus of Tenenbaum’s research has been on the intersection of public health and Indigenous reconciliation.
For her doctoral thesis, she researched the experiences of Indigenous Latino border-gender youth with accessing mental health services, which she wrote was the “fastest growing refugee seeking population in Canada,” with a decolonizing approach.
Currently, Tenenbaum runs a private practice in clinical psychology as the chief psychologist.
“My passion,” she wrote, “is to advance a non-traditional approach to psychological treatment and healing, from a global viewpoint.”
Challenging the status quo
Tenenbaum wrote that she has “absolutely” faced challenges based on her identity.
“That is the white elephant in the room at U of T,” she wrote.
“If you speak with an accent, professors prefer to believe that you also probably think with an accent; if you are Queer but not part of the old visible club, you are the Other; if you don’t buy their justifications for using/abusing their privilege, and you claim your Otherness, you are met with a glass ceiling and are unlikely to be offered tenure in the long term, and are likely to encounter hostility in the short term.”
The advice she would give to students navigating sexism in academia is threefold: “To name the problems, to denounce them, and to generate community.”
Tenenbaum wrote that “challenging the status quo comes with a price, which I was willing to pay, and I did.”
She explained that that the “traditional view of an academically successful woman has been that of an upper class, straight, able-bodied, cis[gendered] woman that reflects a masculine model of competition, aggression, and individualistic aim.”
“This is the status quo, and [it] not only fails to represent today’s diverse society, but is not committed politically and ecologically to current pedagogical needs.”
As an example, she pointed to the misperception that women and non-binary people of color are in the minority.
“Minorities are majorities,” she wrote. The perpetuation of this misperception explains how those who are actually minorities silence those who are in the majority. According to Tenenbaum, these mischaracterizations are harmful because they solidify the status quo.
On mentorship and advice for students
Tenenbaum expressed that she has grown with the guidance of two woman mentors, but wrote that it is telling that she has only had two woman mentors in her two decades at U of T.
Her advice for undergraduate students is to “find your niche by searching for academics with similar ethical values.” Her advice for graduate students is to “make sure you still have a life.”
“Academia is not a life,” she wrote. “It is a preparation for achieving credentials, and perhaps a job after.”