An Invitation to Brave Spaces

We live in tumultuous times. With the countless challenges of this past year, we still celebrate moments of levity, of togetherness, and of shared success. Today is one of excitement for the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation, as we officially launch our Scholarship, Fellowship and Mentorship competitions and embark on our path to discover which Scholars, Fellows, and Mentors will join our wonderful community in the coming year.  


While the pandemic will require that the process be much more virtual, the Foundation will seek the brightest emerging Scholars from Canada and abroad to receive this remarkable Scholarship, as has always been the case. Through the Foundation’s leadership development program, these Scholars will learn from a new cohort of Fellows and Mentors, leading lights in their institutions and communities, under the scientific theme beginning in 2021, Language, Culture & Identity. 


In preparation for the upcoming launch, we have considered the lessons of these last few months. We have learned about isolation, about injustice, about loss. The cracks in the foundation of our society are exposed now more than ever before. We have learned that the challenges before us are increasingly complex and multilayered. As we look to rebuild, it is those who look to build bridges and build trust who will find the nuanced and interdisciplinary solutions to these challenges.  


academic freedom


Through the lens of the pandemic, the interdependence between people has been accentuated. Our interrelationship has never been clearer. We have learned that fighting fire with fire does not lead to constructive dialogue. Now is not the time for the politics of division, rather, it is an opportunity to invite those holding a multiplicity of views to the table to discuss what comes next and how to build better.  


The selection criteria for 2021 ushers in important changes rooted in the Foundation’s Strategic Plan 2019-2024. Importantly, these criteria are built upon the definition of diversity outlined in the plan, including the commitment to a diversity of perspectives, now under the banner Plurality of Perspectives. We continue to seek scholars with the greatest intellectual capacity, while also looking for those committed to deep listening, profound curiosity, exploring grey areas, and demonstrating a willingness to engage with a diversity of people, cultures, ideologies, and perspectives. In tandem with this development, the Foundation is pleased its programs will bear the emblem Brave Spaces, accountable and democratic spaces where a multiplicity of ideas may be expressed and debated in an open and welcoming fashion. This commitment to Brave Spaces, privileging robust debates while offering a safety net of policy, empathy circles, and mutual respect, recognizes that challenging and sometimes uncomfortable discussions are important steps on the road to becoming an Engaged Leader. 


In making these important changes, the Foundation consulted multiple committees and would like to thank the members of the Executive Committee of the Board (chaired by Patrick Pichette), the Strategic Advisory Subcommittee (chaired by Tom Axworthy), the Advisory Committee on Diversity (co-chaired by Mary Anne Chambers and Romeo Saganash) and, finally, the Application and Nomination Review Committee chaired by Canada’s Chief Science Advisor, Dr. Mona Nemer, which ultimately approved the criteria in accordance with our Funding Agreement and will recommend the upcoming selection of Scholars, Fellows, and Mentors.  


Also, of note, all eligible candidates must now apply to the Foundation directly. In the past, universities selected a shortlist of nominees, a step that will no longer be part of the process in 2021. Universities will remain a vital partner in our selection process, however, this open application will allow far more candidates to be considered for the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation Scholarship. We look forward to applicants who demonstrate the greatest academic excellence and intellectual capacity, leadership and engagement, agility and resilience, and, importantly, a commitment to engaging with a plurality of perspectives.  


As we look at the current debate in the academic world, universities are becoming houses divided against themselves. The two sides of the argument over free speech have become fully entrenched, no longer able to hear or engage with the opposing view. The intellectual community must reassure its members: it is possible to be inclusive, courageous, humble, and free. To encourage critical thinking while exposing, unpacking and deconstructing the words that reify structural injustice. To ask difficult questions about meaning, subversive reappropriation, and injury. To allow human beings to embody what they hold most dear, most precious, and most noble: their ability to think in relational ways, combining emotion, reason, and relationships. In this era of profound disorientation, may we accept and embrace the tensions, the anxieties and the fear of speaking of the past while dreaming together of a better future? 


Today, the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation makes one promise: developing a critical understanding of the world only comes with the difficult willingness to destabilize words, narratives and discourses. Through our Brave Spaces, we invite you to be part of the conversation, to have a seat at the table, to articulate power in multiple and perhaps paradoxical ways. This journey will be paved with empathy and respect. But it will also bear the marks of uncertainty and plurality. May the many histories emerge! If anyone can enter these Brave Spaces and come through better equipped to bring greater understanding, not only to language but also to important national debates, it is Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation Scholars.