News & Events


September 15, 2015

Valli Kalei Kanuha, PhD, Visits IWRI

There is something profoundly moving about the way that University of Hawai’i at Mānoa Professor Valli Kalei Kanuha commands a space. For days after having heard her speak on Wednesday, May 18, the memory of Dr. Kanuha’s powerful opening words continued to reverberate in my mind: “We walk as guests except in places where our ancestors come from…. The implications of our behaviors predate us by centuries and our identity is grounded in place and ancestral family.” Her introduction was gracious and humble and in it, too, there was an acknowledgment of and greeting to those long gone. In just a few breaths, my mind was utterly blown by this perfect historical contextualization of the land on which the University of Washington was founded.
ValliKanuhaThe primary focus of Dr. Kanuha’s lecture was the process involved in her work combatting issues of intimate partner and sexual violence against women. Dr. Kanuha and her team implement community-oriented interventions to address this issue and she shared with the audience examples of her commitment to grounding her work in a deliberate (almost obstinate) intersectionality of race, gender, and sexual identity. Her examples did the most elegant somersaults back to those poignant opening statements that highlighted the importance of knowing where we come from. One such example featured a personalized phone call to a participant who was struggling through one of her interventions. In the call she called upon their shared culture as an anchor for shattering the researcher/researched binary and for more effectively communicating with the participant. Dr. Kanuha shared how, after the call, an invisible barrier had come down and they both grew and thrived because of it.

Researchers young and old filled the room with their inquisitive minds and Dr. Kanuha offered this as the researcher’s guiding principle:

“Know who you are and how you situate yourself in the work that you do. Work every day at understanding who you are as a researcher and as a member of various groups. And inhabit spaces in the margins and hyphens of who you are.”

This striking axiom punctuated the final waves of Dr. Kanuha’s lecture. Never before had I been told that my ability to do sound research was contingent upon better understanding my own positionality and intersectionality. But with this poignant sign off, Dr. Kanuha challenged everyone in that auditorium to do better work by recognizing and honoring all of the contradictory things that make us who we are.     Hearing Dr. Kanuha illustrate her impactful, highly aware scholarship and interventions was a powerful, turbulent and convincing experience to say the very least.