Dr. Satwinder Bains of Abbotsford is the 2021 recipient of the University of the Fraser Valley’s Faculty Service Excellence Award.
Bains is an associate professor in the department of Social Cultural and Media Studies. She spearheaded a $2.25 million donation drive crucial to establishing the BC Regional Innovation Chair in Canada-India Partnership Development and, with it, UFV’s South Asian Studies Institute, which she has guided as director since 2006.
In presenting her with the award, UFV described Bains as “a visionary leader with an unshakable commitment to equality and cultural justice.”
“As a woman of colour, not only is she smashing glass ceilings of patriarchy within academia, but also in conservative cultural spaces,” said Anita Lal, co-founder and director of the Poetic Justice Foundation, and one of Bains’s many nomination references.
“With each win, she brings down barriers for future generations of women.”
Bains’s early association with Abbotsford Community Services led to connections at UFV, inspiring her to join the university more than a decade ago.
Bains also worked closely in the establishment of UFV India, powered by the efforts of DJ Sandhu. She served as director of UFV India from 2013-2017 before ascending to principal through 2019, making frequent trips to the campus in Chandigarh, located down a winding drive from her picturesque hometown of Shimla.
“I never dreamt we’d have a campus in India, that we’d have international students constantly coming, and that’s been such a beautiful extension of our ideas,” says Bains, a 2015 recipient of the Order of Abbotsford.
Even with her days and nights packed with meetings, mentorship, research, and teaching, Bains never loses focus on effectively collaborating across boundaries, contributing to engaging learners, transforming lives, and building community.
“At the South Asian Studies Institute, we’re trying to be very relevant to society. We aren’t just barriers and a moat; we’re a porous space that has to allow ideas to filter in and out and we spend time studying those ideas. My own personal motivation is to be relevant, to be in the here and now, to be current, but while understanding my past.”
That intergenerational connectivity drives Bains’s tireless study of South Asian Canadian experience in Canada, including a diaspora with uniquely continuous ties to India — but her focus isn’t simply backfilling the past.
“We haven’t spent the right amount of time, or studied the right kind of history. I feel the study of Canada is so important, because within Canada we call on multicultural communities of people to understand each one as a link to each other. So if I’m strong, and there’s somebody else who’s strong we’re a better society. But if I’m strong and I pull others down and weaken others then society is weakened.”
Bains has also collaborated with The Reach Gallery Museum on Abbotsford’s Sikh Heritage Museum, the Abbotsford Community Foundation, the Fraser Valley Indo-Canadian Business Association, the Vancouver Maritime Museum, the Royal BC Museum in Victoria, and Hockey Night in Canada.
She has also served as a commissioner of the BC Agricultural Land Commission and as a bencher on the Law Society of BC.Bains and her husband Parm and family also operate a successful blueberry farm.