Growing up, Simmi Dixit always knew she was different. Though Canada had always been her home, trying to make her Indian heritage fit in a Canadian context had her feeling that she wasn’t really “at home.”
Once she realized that it was her different background that was making her feel “out of sync” with everyone else, she started exploring it a bit more. She began taking courses in cultural studies during her undergraduate degree at Carleton University, sparking the beginning of her work to make a difference for those who feel different.
After graduating with a degree in human rights and philosophy, Simmi followed her interest in the world’s cultures to the Philippines where she interned with an organization involved with migrant workers.
Working with refugees and immigrants, she became fascinated with how people culturally communicate with each other across borders and how we grow as people, but also realized that there was so much more for her to learn about this field.
So, one year later, she headed back to school to earn her Master’s in migration studies and cultural behaviour at the University of Sussex and then went to India to work with rural communities.
When she returned to her home and native land and started her job hunt, she didn’t have a planned career path. She just followed the job openings that spoke to her and, when she heard tell of a position with a new government project devoted to increasing diversity in Canadian media, she voiced her interest. Simmi was intrigued at the idea of helping build a sense of belonging by building diversity into the news.
“When we watch the news and hear stories on the radio, the content we have is still very one-sided,” she says. “At the end of the day, we’re still getting a sensationalized idea of what multiculturalism is.”
Excited to help redefine what multiculturalism in the media means, Simmi applied and became the National Co-ordinator of Multimedia & Multiculturalism (M&M), a United Nations Association of Canada (UNA-Canada) initiative that is working to improve Canadian media so it better represents and includes all Canadians.
The three-year project, funded by the Canadian government, seeks to give cultural and visible minority youth a deeper sense of belonging by promoting media literacy and providing media internships for youth from traditionally underrepresented ethnic backgrounds. This year, M&M placed 21 youth from across Canada directly into media organizations such as film festivals, Scema magazine, campus radio stations, and CTV for six-week internships.
And it was Simmi’s job to make sure that everything not only went smoothly, but that these youth gained the inside knowledge and experience to enable them to understand how Canadian media can be more inclusive. From there, she helps coordinate dialogue surrounding the issues of diversity and multiculturalism that are highlighted by the interns and their media organizations and translates them into actions – like sending the youth into high schools to speak about their internships and what they learned.
“The role that media plays but also the role that youth play in creating that media is what can foster change in the systems and the institutions around us to be inclusive, respectful, and engaging,” says Simmi.
As Simmi works with youth and the UN Canada organization to help change media, she has found that she’s also changing on a personal level. Working with diversity issues is something that hits home for her. As she negotiates what it means for Canada to be a truly “multicultural” nation, she says she’s also had to find herself along the way and figure out what her identity means as someone who is a blend of Indian heritage and Canadian upbringing.
Each day is a lesson and Simmi says that while she studied diversity issues in the classroom, now at her job, she is continuing that cultural education. “It’s fair to say that I learn something new every day,” she says.