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Geography professor makes waves with radio show

Minelle Mahtani, an associate professor of human geography and journalism, is currently hosting a two-hour talk show in Vancouver that explores issues of identity and belonging in a post-colonial world. (Photo by Lauren D. Zbarsky)

Moving back and forth between the media and academia is nothing new for Minelle Mahtani, a UTSC professor of geography and journalism, but hosting her own radio talk show? It’s a completely new direction for someone who previously worked behind the scenes as an associate producer for CBC’s The National.

Luckily, public speaking comes easily to a professor who is required to hold forth in a lecture theatre packed with undergraduates. So, although there has been a learning curve, Mahtani is thriving as an interviewer who guides the on-air conversations during her two-hour talk show, Sense of Place. Mahtani, who is on academic leave, weaves her magic Monday through Friday on Roundhouse Radio, 98.3 FM, Vancouver’s newest radio station.

As a cultural geographer and a woman of mixed race, Mahtani is concerned with issues of identity and belonging in a post-colonial world, and the title of her show perfectly reflects those interests. She sees herself as a bridge between academia and the general public. 

“I can act as a conduit to people’s voices to create an anti-colonial radio experience,” Mahtani said. “I’m interested in unearthing stories that you don’t hear in the mainstream media, and everything ties back to how we create a sense of place in a dislocated world.”

Don Shafer, the chief executive officer of Roundhouse Radio, is thrilled to have a host with such a depth of knowledge.

“Sense of Place is a great example of how Minelle’s vision and academic experience allows us to reach deeper into our community and have many types of conversations in a safe environment,” Shafer said. “Her interconnectedness and warmth has had a profound on her guests." 

Mahtani interviews people from all walks of life, including academics, chefs, writers and public servants, and she thrives on the conversations that result. Perhaps it’s not surprising that authors Anne Michaels, Mohammed Fahmy, Ann Patchett and Lawrence Hill number among her favourites, since she, herself, is an author. Mahtani’s most recent book is Mixed Race Amnesia: Resisting the Romanticization of Multiraciality in Canada.

Mahtani studied at UTSC as an undergraduate and returned to the campus to help create UTSC’s journalism program. She teaches a course in anti-colonial journalism and says “my ability to teach journalism will be enriched by this [radio] experience.” In light of Canada’s 150th anniversary, one of the questions she poses to each of her guests is what reconciliation means to them.

 “I have a new wealth of research material to bring to class,” she says. “I’m looking forward to seeing students again. It will feel great to be back in the classroom.”

She is also a role model for her geography students who are seeking ways to make connections between their academic experiences and job possibilities.

“Working as a radio host seems to be an example of knowledge transfer at its best,” she says.

Professor Andre Sorensen, chair of UTSC’s Department of Human Geography agrees wholeheartedly.

“The interesting and important thing about Minelle's radio work is that she is using her program, Sense of Place, to interview and talk with a huge range of scholars and thinkers about contemporary issues, always informed by a geographical perspective,” Sorensen said.  “This will deepen and strengthen her teaching and research work in profound ways.”


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