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What do an MIT prof, an esteemed journalist and an NBA star have in common? They’ve all worked with UTSC’s Diana Fu

Diana Fu standing next to former NBA star Yao Ming (Photo courtesy of Diana Fu)

Diana Fu had a lively winter.

Late in 2016, the assistant professor in political science was part of a panel selecting Chinese Rhodes Scholars. Then early this year, her research on contentious politics in China was featured in The Economist.

Her research, which is on contentious politics in contemporary China, is a joint project with Greg Distelhorst of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Working with Greg Distelhorst of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Fu and a team of students collected and analyzed a national representative sample of over 8,000 letters sent to “mayors’ mailboxes,” an online service that allows Chinese citizens to address their political concerns to the government.  One of the students working on the project is Grace Lin, a fourth-year Political Science student at U of T Scarborough.

Fu is also in the process of publishing a book with Cambridge University Press which examines how people organize under conditions of oppression using the case of labour organizations in China.

“You really try to have an inductive understanding of people’s lived experiences and I think that’s what qualitative methods can contribute to politics,” says Fu. “It’s because it sheds light on the lived and subjective experiences of people in a way that you can’t really measure [with] a survey.”

Fu’s roots and upbringing led to her interest in studying Chinese politics.

“I think coming from a background where I’m a first generation immigrant from China…I’ve always been interested in people who…are disadvantaged by the system, and how they…try to organize and mobilize and gain power,” says Fu.

As a past Rhodes Scholar herself, Fu sat on the panel for the Rhodes Scholarship in China, which was launched in the country just two years ago. The other panelists were award-winning American journalist James Fallows and former NBA star Yao Ming.

Having been selected as a Canadian Rhodes Scholar from the prairies region in 2006, Fu is determined to get more students from U of T Scarborough to apply for the Scholarship. “It’s an amazing experience,” she says. “Not only is the scholarship opportunity good academically, it also puts you in touch with people you would never otherwise meet.”

Fu notes that the last student from U of T Scarborough who was awarded The Rhodes Scholarship was Wojciech Gryc in 2007.

“I really want to encourage our students to apply,” says Fu. “The scholarships should be for…students in general, regardless of background, but the reality is that sometimes students with more privileged backgrounds just to tend to know these opportunities more than other students that maybe do not have the same social capital, connections and networks.”

Fu held a workshop in 2014 encouraging more students on campus to apply for the Rhodes Scholarship and hopes to hold more in the near future.


© University of Toronto Scarborough