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Graduate student receives Women of Distinction Award for trades work

Posted on 2018-06-20 in Students & Campus Life

Devin West, who is completing a master’s degree in Women, Gender and Sexualities Studies, was the recipient of the inaugural Leadership in the Trades Award at the annual YWCA event on May 31 in Saskatoon. (Photo by Chris Putnam)

By Shannon Boklaschuk

A College of Arts and Science graduate student—who is also an accomplished carpenter—was honoured for her work in the trades and for her activism for women at the recent 2018 YWCA Women of Distinction Awards.

Devin West, who is completing a master’s degree in Women, Gender and Sexualities Studies at the University of Saskatchewan, was the recipient of the inaugural Leadership in the Trades Award at the annual YWCA event on May 31 in Saskatoon. The new award recognizes leaders in the skilled trades, industry or service sector whose achievements have broken down barriers and inspired positive change, and who are role models in their careers and community involvement.

West has mentored women and girls to acquire trades skills and to build their confidence. As an artist, carpenter, academic and former social worker, she has used her roles to inspire women to participate in male-dominated spaces.

In her YWCA award acceptance speech, West acknowledged there were times when she didn’t think she had “the steam to tolerate one more single moment of breaking down barriers in trades.” However, she found strength in her partner and in other supporters, and acknowledged that history was made with the development of the Leadership in the Trades Award.

“Women apprentices comprise only four per cent of the trades workforce in Canada and, by the time a woman writes her Red Seal exam, that number decreases to two per cent,” said West in her award acceptance speech.

 “You make history every time you build a house, every time you plumb a new hospital, every time you weld a fire escape, every time you wire a new mine. Take a moment on occasion to be proud of yourself for what you have accomplished and continue to accomplish, for continuously making history,” she said.

In an interview, West—who began working as a carpenter in 2004—said it was “super exciting” to receive the award.

“There was a lot of great energy because there were a lot of tradeswomen in the crowd,” she said.

“It was really great—just because I don’t feel like it’s the end of my career as a carpenter, but I’m moving on to other things. It was a nice way to cap it.”

West is exploring female masculinity in her master’s work at the U of S. In May, an exhibition of her artwork was also shown at AKA artist-run, a local art gallery. Entitled Distillation of Resistance: Female Masculinity in Form, West’s interactive installation explored gender identity and the resilience of female masculinity.

West has enjoyed her time as a graduate student at the U of S, where she has studied topics such as gender roles.

“I think what I liked the best about it was it was a small program where you could get to know everyone and it was pretty intimate, so it felt like a really supportive environment,” she said.

In the fall, West will attend Queen’s University to begin a PhD program in cultural studies. She will use a series of art exhibits to explore topics related to female masculinity or queer identity.


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