By Ellen Tsaprailis
Photos by Lindsay Ralph

Sneha Sumanth has won a 2022-2023 Fulbright Student Award.

A PhD student in Geography, this award has given Sumanth financial support to be able to live and study at the City University of New York (CUNY) for a nine-month academic year. Fulbright awards are given to students enrolled in a graduate program at a Canadian university that wish to conduct research in the United States that will support their Canadian degree.

Sumanth’s focus is on researching redevelopment projects of public or community housing in cities with an emphasis on the mechanisms of finance and privatization used to enable those projects, and what it means for residents living in these buildings.

“I am interested in understanding the geographical and socio-political patterns of these processes and how they impact residents,” explains Sumanth. “There is also an issue of hierarchy in race, gender and class in terms of who benefits and who doesn’t.”

With an unprecedented speed of redevelopment in public housing across Canada, Sumanth says there are good case studies to review using models of privatization already in play in New York public housing projects.

She is particularly interested in the multitude of ways in which both public and private finance is used as a means and a rationale to make these projects happen. Sumanth hopes to use the information she will cull from New York public housing projects to understand parallel shifts in public housing in Ottawa.

With her mentor and influential geographer, Professor Cindi Katz, Sumanth is hoping to soak up the culture at CUNY and be exposed to topics she has only read about to bring back to Carleton and her research.

Geography PhD student and Fulbright award winner Sneha Sumanth

Architecture Roots
Having grown up in India, Zambia and Oman before arriving in Canada as a teenager, Sumanth has always been inspired by the built environment and urban phenomena.

With the intention of becoming an architect, Sumanth pursued a bachelor and master’s in architecture but her interests shifted into the political and economic framings of how urban life works. After graduation, Sumanth started working for an architecture firm in Toronto that focused on socially-relevant projects which intrigued her.

“Most of the projects I worked on were shelters and social housing projects. I started getting exposure to a side of architecture that has a lot of social and political context to understand,” says Sumanth. “I visited shelters, spoke to staff and people who lived in the shelter system. I was exposed to root issues of homelessness, housing insecurity and the institutional nature of the publicly-provided shelter.”

Those experiences led Sumanth to pursue understanding the social-political context within which people experience housing issues. This growing curiosity led her to look into the field of geography and the avenues urban geography provides to study these conditions.

Sneha Sumanth

Carleton Experience
Sumanth has high praise for Carleton’s Department of Geography and Environmental Studies.

“Receiving this Fulbright award has in large part to do with the support of my supervisors and members of the urban geography lab who took the time to read and help improve my application,” says Sumanth. “Because my background is not in geography, my supervisors spent a lot of time making sure what was on my reading list were not only formative for my actual research but for the longevity of my career if I were to pursue academia.”

Associate Professor David Hugill is one of Sumanth’s academic supervisors.

“Sneha’s work is animated by technical expertise and theoretical sophistication. But it is also shaped by a political commitment to building a different kind of world. We’re fortunate to have her at Carleton,” says Hugill.

At CUNY, Sumanth will have an opportunity to work with and think alongside some of the leading scholars in her field says Associate Professor Jennifer Ridgley, who is also an academic supervisor to Sumanth.

“Sneha’s research in New York City will trace the very real impact of financialization on people’s everyday lives and home spaces in the city. This kind of in-depth, on-the-ground research is critical to addressing the housing crisis in North American cities,” says Ridgley.

“Building international opportunities for dialogue, research collaboration, and knowledge exchange on critical issues such as the housing crisis is one of the strengths of the Fulbright program. Housing insecurity is shaped by international processes, and addressing the crisis requires international collaboration. Sneha’s research will help reveal the ways systemic inequalities such as race, class and gender shape global processes of financialization while being attentive to local experiences of housing insecurity in North American cities.”

Fulbright Canada
Fulbright Canada is a joint, bi-national, treaty-based organization created to encourage mutual understanding between Canada and the United States of America through academic and cultural exchange. Fulbright Canada is supported by the Canadian Government, through Global Affairs Canada, by the United States Government, through the Department of State, and by a diverse group of corporate sponsors, charitable trusts, and university partners.

Monday, September 26, 2022 in , , ,
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