Friends, students and colleagues are remembering University of British Columbia professor Sinikka Elliot for her warmth, advocacy and research contributions.
The professor of sociology and mother of two was found dead on Salt Spring Island on May 15, many days after she unexpectedly went missing.
Her companion and UBC colleague Kerry Greer says Elliott’s kids and husband were together when they received the news that her body had been located.
“They continue to be together,” she said.
RCMP have not released the cause of Elliot’s death, but claim no crimes are suspected. Elliot had been missing for four days when her body was found by search crews who combed hard terrain where her car had been located.
An independent person
Elliot’s independence and support of others is paramount when honoring her, said Greer.
“Her autonomy and her ability to act and do things in the world is so important to her story,” Greer said.
“She used her position (as a teacher and researcher) to support others. But she started with where you were at and what you were doing,” she said.
“She wasn’t breaking the ice for you, she was helping you figure out how to break the ice for yourself.”
Elliot completed her PhD at the University of Texas at Austin in 2008 and was hired at UBC in 2017, where she finally achieved tenure. Greer said Elliot’s research was outstanding, partly because she looked at how individuals responded to being marginalized.
“She looks at how they use their power, how they use their voice, how they get things done,” she said.
“She’s not saying that, ‘Oh, these poor children are victims of bad policy.’ She’s saying, ‘Look at how these kids respond to these situations. These kids have a response, and we need to understand their response.”
Greer, who spoke to the media from her house in Point Roberts, Wash., said she will be mourning Elliot from a distance because of the COVID-19 restrictions limiting travel.
“I’ve been lighting candles and thinking of her in the past week,” Greer said.
She said that Elliot had been living with her husband, building a house on Salt Spring Island when she disappeared. The mid-sized island has a buzzing community and is situated between Vancouver and Vancouver Island.
“I was holding her in my heart. And now I’m holding her family in my heart, and mourning my loss, my sweet friend,” Greer said.
‘She was the best’
Umay Kader, one of Elliot’s PhD students says that prof. was the best supervisor she could have asked for. In the trials and tribulations of doing her doctorate, Elliot was always supportive and reassuring, says Kader.
“I always asked for advice all the time,” she said. “And there was no single time that she let me down.”
Kader, who has been working closely with Elliot for the last 3 years, said she will remember her for her work as an activist academic who cared deeply for her research participants.
Elliot supported Kader both personally and professionally, helping her feel more confident about her future in academia and additionally supporting her in taking time off to see family.
“She always encouraged me to be hopeful to move forward with my research … she was the best,” Kader said.
“I sincerely feel that I lost one part of me that will never come back, that will never be replaced.”
The head of the sociology department at UBC issued a statement on Saturday, saying that Elliot had a “deep-felt commitment to social justice and equality for all” and who mentored her students.
“Sinikka was particularly devoted to her students in Sociology, helping them to learn and grow personally and intellectually,” reads Guy Stecklov’s statement.
Elliot was largely respected in her field for her research on families as well as equity-seeking groups, and scholars from across North America have shared their grief across social media.
Mignon R. Moore, president of Sociologists for Women in Society and a professor at Columbia University, shared condolences on behalf of the group.
“Sociologists for Women in Society mourns the sudden loss of our community member, professor Sinikka Elliott,” she said on Twitter.
“Our sincere condolences to her family, friends, colleagues and students.”
Another professor, Kate Cairns of Rutgers University, called her a “kind and generous person, in addition to a brilliant powerhouse.”
“(Sinikka was) a breath of fresh air at conferences. I thought of her as a colleague and friend and a model of feminist scholarship.”
Search crews were numerous
Over 130 professionally trained yet unpaid crew members were involved in the search for Elliot, as per the Salt Spring Island Search and Rescue unit.
The team posted to Facebook on Sunday, saying that the crew members had come from 21 different search and rescue teams from across the province. Residents and local businesses lent logistical equipment, as well as prepared food, and many hotels and inns offered mutual aid accommodation to search team members.