For Ritesh Narayan, the need to help others has always come naturally. He started out by standing up to bullies at his school, but now, he now fights for justice as a member of Chestermere city council while teaching at MRU.
As a young kid, Narayan would often return home with the buttons of his shirt attached with tape, as a result of standing up for others.
“I never fought for myself; I was always fighting for others,” said Narayan. “My job was basically to go and protect those kids and represent them.”
When it came time for higher education, Narayan started off studying in the sciences but quickly figured out that it was not for him. While trying to figure out what to do next, a few clicks on the TV remote changed his life forever.
“I watched a movie called A Few Good Men with Tom Cruise and I was very inspired, as cheesy as it may sound,” said Narayan. “I was very inspired after I saw Tom Cruise’s performance and I’m like, ‘hey, I think it would be cool to become a lawyer.’”
After discovering his new interest, Narayan pursued further education in law and criminology. Starting off with a certificate in criminology, he then obtained a diploma, a bachelor’s degree, finished law school and got his master’s degree in criminal justice and corrections.
Currently, he is finishing up his PhD in criminal justice.
As of now, Narayan finds himself in the classrooms of Mount Royal University (MRU), teaching law and criminology. When he is not at MRU, he can be found governing the city of Chestermere as a member of city council.
“Education is the key to everything,” Narayan explained. “Everything is so political. In order to really make a significant change, it has to be at a higher level, at a government level, where I could do something in making good policies, making good laws.”
As the first elected non-Caucasian council member in Chestermere, Narayan expresses the importance of having a diverse government.
“We are a diverse country; we treasure that. Multiculturalism is embedded into our constitution,” he said. “Therefore, I think that the government should reflect the people it is serving. It should be made up of the demographic it is serving.”
In the summer of 2019, Chestermere passed a new bylaw about bullying. Narayan made a point of reaching out to the community as much as possible while emphasizing the importance of connecting with visible minorities.
“Rather than just expecting the people to come to the government, we need to move so that we go to people,” Narayan explained.
Not only does Narayan ensure to go out of his way for individuals in his community, he continuously practices the act of supporting others, wherever he may be.
When a student started showing mental health concerns in his class, Narayan approached his colleague Scott McLean, who specializes in the field of psychology and social work.
“He wanted to know some strategies to support this learner, he really has a great deal of empathy and regard for others,” said McLean.
As an educator, Narayan emphasizes the importance of informing the upcoming generation.
“We need education, we need educated people. We need people to have the qualifications to get a good job, to create jobs, also to create different sectors in different industries in this province,” said Narayan.
Criminal justice students tend to focus on lectures and textbooks as their main source of learning. By being a part of The Canadian Association of Criminology and Legal Studies, Narayan is able to extend the learning from the classroom and help his students apply it in the real world.
“I think that there is a massive difference on what is in the textbook and what really happens outside,” said Narayan. “Rather than sitting in class and describing what a prison looks like, we take students into the field and we take them to prisons, police agencies and crime labs.”
Students are able to experience firsthand how the justice system runs through interactions with judges, lawyers and police officers inside and outside of Canada.
Brynn Weinkauf, a fourth-year criminology student at MRU, recalls her first experience of travelling to Ottawa with Narayan and the rest of The Canadian Association of Criminology and Legal Studies organization.
“Our first night in Ottawa, a bunch of us gathered and ended up playing Bean Boozled,” said Weinkauf. “I had the joy of watching him eat disgusting flavoured jellybeans like dog food, spoiled milk, stinky socks like a champion.”
As Weinkauf approaches the completion of her degree, she mentions how Narayan has been able to support her on numerous occasions, even during the semesters that she was not taking his class.
“I have come to realize that it is rare to have a professor that is entirely devoted to the success of students,” said Weinkauf. “Narayan goes above and beyond for his students. He is a very busy person, yet still makes himself available and responds to the needs of his students promptly, which makes all the difference in the life of a student.”
- By Astrid Cunanan