Yorkville University’s Dr. Ellyn Lyle and Dr. Sepideh Mahani have just published a book that not only brings much-needed awareness to the unique experiences of female academics, but whose title also aptly describes the nature of their friendship – Sister Scholars.
Published by DIO Press earlier this month, the 25-chapter, peer-reviewed collection was the brainchild of Lyle, Yorkville’s Dean of the Faculty of Education.
“I remember starting to think about the notion of sisterhood and how we need to support each other and build communities so that we lift each other up, rather than the inverse,” Lyle said, noting that she immediately asked her Associate Dean, Mahani, to be her ‘sister’ on the project.
“It was interesting for us to be able to be academic sisters, as well as friends and colleagues, but also know that, demographically – despite our different contexts, different educational passions, and different research interests – we have a lot of similarities in our experiences.”
For Mahani, who also serves as Chair of Yorkville’s Master of Education in Educational Leadership program, Sister Scholars was a first foray into book editing – an opportunity she couldn’t refuse, especially because it meant working alongside a veteran author like Lyle.
“I had previously contributed to Ellyn’s other books, so I know she has a gift for really bringing writers together, where they share similar lived experiences or just passions for certain topics. So, when she sent me that email, of course I just couldn’t say no,” she said of working with Lyle, who previously published eight other books.
“It was a fantastic opportunity…I learned so much from Ellyn through this process. She was the guiding light and I followed her lead through most of it. It was just wonderful to be a part of it.”
After putting a call out for submissions for the book – which explores how female academics struggle to negotiate hospital professional spaces in an academic world long regarded as a male space – Lyle and Mahani then had to set about the difficult task of sorting through the “amazing response” they received.
From the more than 100 submissions the pair collected, only 25 would make the cut – including Lyle’s own chapter entitled, ‘Sisterhood and Solidarity: Fostering Equitable Spaces for Women in Academia’ and Mahani’s on ‘Renegotiating Motherhood in Academe.’
The other 23 chapters that ultimately made it into the book, Lyle explained, were selected based on a number of different criteria.
“There are a lot of things that go into creating the aesthetic of a collection: the feel has to be right, the tone has to be right, and I think the demographic of representation has to be a really important consideration, too,” she said.
“Representation is important to me in all of my collections, because, as people who have been privileged by virtue of having been able to gain access to voice, I think we have an ethical responsibility to ensure that all voices across a broad spectrum are represented.”– Ellyn Lyle, Dean of the Faculty of Education at Yorkville University
To those ends, both Lyle and Mahani ensured that, when making the final selection of which submissions would make it into Sister Scholars, they included a broad range of diverse female voices.
In the end, 55 women contributed to the book – including writers, reviewers and cover artists – all of whom represent a wide spectrum of different backgrounds, including women from the BIPOC community, those who are differently abled, and others who are not yet degree conferred.
“Just going through the proposals, it was quite obvious that we were getting diverse experiences,” Mahani said.
“We had women who were writing about their experience as academics in their home countries and then migrating to Canada and finding it challenging to navigate academia here. Then we had women who had been in academia here for 20 years and who still struggle with thriving in this space. Every experience was different, but they all had something in common.”
The end result is a book that’s earning rave reviews for tackling subjects ranging from sisterhood and scholarship, to white privilege and decolonization, to motherhood and feminism.
“This is the book that I wish I had when I began my career navigating my life as scholar, artist, and mother in the academy,” Simon Fraser University Professor Celeste Snowber wrote in her glowing assessment of Sister Scholars.
“It is packed with insights from diverse lived experiences and various methodologies, and brings forth radical ways of being attentive to one’s voice, while not sacrificing any parts of oneself…I celebrate this book with all my being and commend it as a pinnacle of finding a way to be a scholar that is deeply human and fully responsive to all the fabrics of our lives.”
The message of hope and solidarity Snowber seemingly walked away from Sister Scholars with, both Lyle and Mahani agreed, is precisely what they were hoping readers would take away from the book when they set out to write it.
“We hope people will be able to identify themselves on these pages, and to share in that experience and in that sense of solidarity and sisterhood,” Mahani said.
“If you feel that you are in a very lonely space, this book shows that there are other women who have your back – even if they’re not with you. I mean, we have chapters that are constant dialogues between professors from different universities in two different countries, and they still share experiences, and through this dialogue, that’s what’s keeping them strong, that’s what keeps them going.”
Added Lyle: “We wrote this as bunch of women, and we wrote it for all the women before us who suffered and didn’t have the sisterhood, and for all of us now who thank God for the sisterhood, and for all of those coming after us, to tell them, ‘We got you!’” she said.
“This is not just a woman’s book, or an issue for and about women, this is a social issue. And I like to think that we wrote it for humankind.”
For more information about Sister Scholars or to purchase a copy, go to https://www.diopress.com/product-page/sister-scholars-1
About the Editors:
Ellyn Lyle, PhD, is intensely interested in creating spaces for learners to engage meaningfully with their studies, and she is drawn to inquiries that seek to overcome compartmentalized, fragmented, or dehumanized approaches to education. Having joined the academic community full time in 2011, she is currently Dean in the Faculty of Education at Yorkville University. Sister Scholars is her ninth book.
Sepideh Mahani is the Associate Dean and the Chair of Education Leadership in the Master of Education program at Yorkville University. She holds degrees in Education Leadership (Ph.D. and M.Ed.), Political Science (BA), and Teaching English to Foreign Learners (TEFL). Sepideh has over 15 years of experience teaching at tertiary and K–12 levels in both traditional and online settings, as well as being a consultant to various government agencies. Sister Scholars is her first book.