Carolyn Fast


Research adviser: Renee Lafferty-Salhany

Program entry date: Fall 2017

Research topic: The Un-Making of Difference: The Winding Road of De-institutionalization, 1960-2018.

In 1876, Ontario opened its first institution for people with a developmental disability, the Asylum for Idiots and the Feeble Minded in Orillia, which later became known as the Huronia Regional Centre. By the 1970s, the Ontario government operated sixteen large institutions however, growing allegations of abuse by self-advocates and their families forced the province to consider de-institutionalization. Yet the movement to de-instituionalize in the 1970s and 1980s, seemingly failed to change underlying societal attitudes toward those with a developmental disability and the result has been a persistence in institutionalization. An article in the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives stated that Canada still administers institutions of at least one hundred beds for almost a thousand individuals and, in some places, parents are revisiting the institutional model as a viable solution for ongoing care for their son or daughter. I believe that personhood is at the centre of this debate and hope to reveal how families, communities and government can better meet the needs of these individuals without continuing to settle on an institutional answer. Understanding the history of de-institutionalization confronts social stigma related to difference and has implications regarding the notion of citizenship within the context of what it means to be human.

What are some of the challenges you have faced as a graduate student, and how did you overcome them?

My experience as a graduate student is a bit unique in the sense that I am a parent and sole provider for three children. Balancing home, work and school is challenging so time management is key in making it all work! Having the support of good friends has been an integral part of the process.

What makes Brock stand out for you?

Brock has an established History department that offers a diverse range of courses. I prefer learning in a smaller class setting and appreciate the ‘open door’ approach that the professors extend to the graduate students.

What are your tips for thriving in grad school?

Grad school is difficult so I think it helps if you have a passion and persistent curiosity about the topic that you would like to research. Time management is really important, not only for keeping up with the work load, but also so you can be fully engaged in learning. Taking the lead in setting up times to meet and check in with your supervisor is critical as your research progresses.

What were the best parts of your experience at Brock? Why?

The best parts at Brock for me have always been learning and engaging in discussion with brilliant and insightful people whether that be professors or fellow students. I also really enjoy being in the classroom as a TA and facilitating discussions.

Do you feel your degree has prepared you for your plans academically and otherwise?

I decided to pursue an MA because I wanted to contribute to a body of work that hopefully will affect positive change in how society and government understand disability. The moment we segregate people physically or ideologically, based on ‘our’ perception of difference, we diminish our own humanity and threaten the sustainability and well being of our societies. My graduate research as an MA student at Brock is a piece of my broader life’s work.