Tag Archives: annual awards ceremony

2017 Annual Student Award Ceremony

Photograph of Kathryn Church
Kathryn Church offers welcome.
Photograph of Kathryn Church and Lee Armstrong
Lee Armstrong M. K. Chant Disability Studies Award winner with Kathryn Church.

Lee Armstrong: Lee planned a degree in art history but found a more satisfying career path through a Developmental Service Worker diploma that led to Disability Studies. Working in a range of service settings “sparked the fire” in her to learn to think about disability in new ways which she has done through five semesters in our program. Based in an Ottawa hospital, her job in augmentative communication and writing services challenges her every day to apply classroom knowledge to advocacy for people’s right to a voice.

Photograph of Kathryn Church and Naleni Jacob
Naleni Jacob M. K. Chant Disability Studies Award winner with Kathryn Church.

Naleni Jacob: Naleni immigrated to Canada in the 1990s with her two sons, one of whom is disabled, and has been the sole provider for them ever since. It is through experiences of parenting that she has come to Disability Studies, specifically through fighting for her son’s rights to education. She knows intimately the struggles that immigrants, in particular, face in attempting to achieve substantive inclusion, and has been heavily involved in parental outreach, and addressing issues of long-term care. She has become an activist mother.

Joanne McQuinn (not present due to debilitating back pain): A new student to Disability Studies, Joanne is “incredibly excited and proud to be part of such an amazing program”. She is employed as an Educational Assistant in a high school program for autistic students. In this context, she is an advocate for rights, justice and change in what is still called “special education.” Her goal is to work in post-secondary student accessibility services or helping disabled students transition to post-secondary studies.

Photograph of Paris Master-McRae and Alisha Barfoot
Alisha Barfoot winner of the Harry E. Foster Memorial Award with Paris Master-McRae.

Alisha Barfoot travelled from her home in Owen Sound to celebrate with us today. she has dedicated her academic and professional career to the practice of inclusive education. It is her passion — even if it means being unsettled in a job where disabled students are denied the meaningful learning experiences. A 2017 graduate of our program, Alisha’s final independent study painted portraits of inclusive education based on accounts of actual practice provided by inclusive educators.

Photograph of Paris Master-McRae and Ryan Mcinally
Ryan Mcinally winner of the Harry E. Foster Memorial Award with Paris Master-McRae.

Ryan Mcinally is filling the routine periods of unemployment that he experiences in his job with courses towards his Disability Studies degree – which he expects to complete by 2019. He works in an alternative classroom supporting at-risk youth, many of who have mental health labels. In our program, he is thinking about the contradictions of his own role, and using those reflections to develop strategies for improving the lives of students. This award supports Ryan’s educational aspirations, and his growing advocacy as an educator.

Photograph of Paris Master-McRae and Ronnie Samarita
Ronnie Samarita winner of the Harry E. Foster Memorial Award with Paris Master-McRae.

Ronnie Samarita: As a high school student, a co-op placement in an adult day program for labelled people sparked Ronnie into a Developmental Services Worker program and from there to Disability Studies. As an Educational Assistant, speaking up for students is a daily part of practice. Ronnie is grasping the complexities of the “support worker” role and looking to broaden his work into a range of age groups and school settings.

Photograph of Kathryn Church and Nabeela Siddique.
Nabeela Siddique winner of the Harry E. Foster Memorial award with Kathryn Church.

Nabella Siddique is of Pakistani origin but was born on the tiny Middle Eastern island of Bahrain where she perceives a powerful need for disability rights activism and the voices of disabled people. Taking up disability from a Canadian perspective has caused her to think about marginalization and discrimination as a global issue. As a teaching assistant with the Peel school board, she can feel the impact of Disability Studies in the way she deals with her students. As the twin sister of a disabled woman, she has a personal stake in inclusive education, human dignity and peace.

Megan Suggitt (unable to attend) is a first year student in our program who reports that she is already perceiving the world around her in ways that are more culturally alert – whether it is to Indigeneous people in Canada, the Hearing Voices movement or students with learning disabilities in educational settings around the world. Her studies with us and with Child and Youth care inspired her to start a non-profit business which offers support services to disadvantaged youth.

Photograph of Kathryn Church and Sophia Owenya
Sophia Owenya winner of the Harry E. Foster Memorial Award with Kathryn Church.

Sophia Owenya is a teacher and educational assistant from Windsor Essex who has spent more than 20 years providing support to children and adults with intellectual disabilities. Involved with charity organizations locally and internationally, she has done volunteer work in Rwanda and Tanzania. She is passionate about Disability Studies and determined to complete the program on schedule. This award upholds her hopes.

photograph of Michael Foulkes and Nicole Cadwallader
Nicole Cadwallader winner of the Beth Foulkes Award in Community Living with Michael Foulkes.

Nicole Cadwallader: In her application, Nicole tells us that Disability Studies has shaken her world. She started this program with zero knowledge about disability as social and political – but after three years, she is critically examining the world through potent new theoretical lenses. She works in the educational sector where disabled children and their families are still fighting for their rights. She knows what it is like to question the programs and systems that employ her but this program has given her tools to analyze how those systemic issues are being created. This award supports Nicole’s refusal to accept educational gaps as “normal” – and her pursuit of purposeful education for disabled students.

photograph of Peter Tench and Melissa Rideout
Melissa Rideout winner of the Karen Tench Award in Community Inclusion and Advocacy with Peter Tench.

Melissa Rideout: For the past four years, Melissa has worked as a Teaching Assistant for the Peel District School Board. She came to Disability Studies to increase her knowledge and become a better advocate, to know how to speak back to demeaning comments in the face of the powers that teachers wield in classrooms. As her course work deepens, she reports that she is “gaining backbone”, getting fueled up to be the advocate she wants to be. She has learned that being a disability advocate means you are an advocate for every race, class and gender. She writes: “The job I may get after this program is not as important as the knowledge I foster and the leader I become.”

Photograph of Miriam Edelson and Francis Pineda
Francis Pineda winner of the Jake Edelson Award in Community Organizing with Miriam Edelson.

Francis Pineda: From first-hand experience as a racialized student, Francis can testify to the barriers that students face in completing post-secondary education – starting with high tuition fees. For several years he has been active in student politics and marked his third term with the Continuing Education Students’ of Ryerson by being elected its president. Through a range of collective projects, he tries to center marginalized voices such as those of disabled students. In Disability Studies, Francis finds support for deconstructing, challenging and unpacking the dominant system. His engagement in this program is shifting the pathway he will take after graduation.

Photograph of Miriam Edelson with Darlene Murrain.
Darlene Murrain winner of the Jake Edelson Award in Community Ogranizing with Miriam Edelson.

Darlene Murrain: Darlene has always wanted to be involved in community organizing for the inclusion of disabled people. Her final independent study was about placing disabled people in the anti-black racism movement. But Darlene’s big aha! moment was learning about Inclusive Design from Charles Silverman in DST 614. “That was it”, she writes, “I had found my calling!” Now, as a graduate, she feels that she has tangible ways to apply her learnings. Her aspiration is to follow her passion by pursuing graduate studies in the field of Universal Design and education.

Photograph of Ron Goldsmith, Maggi Redmonds and Meghan Hogg.
Meghan Hogg, winner of the Bill and Lucille Owen Award in Public Policy, with Ron Goldsmith and Maggi Redmonds.

After a decade in the sector, Meghan Hogg is grounded in a feminist social justice approach to counselling and support in response to violence against women. In 2009-10, for Nellie’s Shelter, she co-researched and wrote a position paper on the intersections of trauma and violence, picking up on the ways that women’s voices and experiences are pathologised through systemic medicalized responses to trauma. In conference presentations and training workshops she draws upon the work of Mad activists/scholars, and describes the conversations that ensue as “sticky, profound, emotional, illuminating and deeply relevant” for professional practice.

Photograph of Marsha Ryan with Ron Goldsmith and Maggi Redmonds
Marsha Ryan, winner of the Bill and Lucille Owen Award in Public Policy with Ron Goldsmith and Maggi Redmonds.

Marsha Ryan: Originally from Moldova, Marsha brings to Disability Studies a political consciousness drawn from the confluence of Romanian, Ukrainian and Russian identities, languages and cultures. In Canada, Disability Studies has become her second home – a place where she encounters people who demonstrate leadership around injustice in a complex world. Last year, for her final independent study, Marsha spent most of the winter shadowing AODA activist David Lepofsky in his relentless pursuit of a provincial Educational Accessibility Standard. Using visual mapping, word walls and Twitter analytics, she teased out the ways that he builds community, shapes and disseminates ideas towards a more inclusive society.

Paris Master-McRae with Marsha Ryan.
Paris Master-McRae with Marsha Ryan.

KATHRYN: Disability Studies has an active Student Advisory Committee working with Kim Collins, our Student Engagement Facilitator to demonstrate community engagement strategies for/amongst part-time learners at a distance. This year, the committee wishes to recognize Paris Master-McRae for her powerful contribution to their work and the life of the School. Marsha Ryan will speak for the committee.

MARSHA: Paris Master-McRae is the gold standard when it comes to the School of Disability Studies. She knows the system from within. She knows it both as the Student Affairs Coordinator and as a program student, now Graduate and Alumni, Class of 2015. She is also an award winner, the recipient of the Malcolm Jeffreys Leadership Award. To Paris, “disability studies is not just a job or a program it is a community, a family.” She is a change-maker and a tireless advocate for values of the school, faculty and university. Guided by the Disability Studies motto “Vision. Passion. Action” her day-to-day work propels the work of equity, inclusion, and diversity. She will do whatever it takes and more to support staff, faculty and students, to offer encouragement and to explore new ideas. Paris’s welcoming smile, infectious laughter and open door create an environment that cultivates collegiality, camaraderie and solidarity in seeking disability justice.


Photograph of Rukiyah Ghani with Melodie Cook
Rukiyah Ghani, winner of the Malcolm Jeffreys Memorial Leadership Award, with Melodie Cook.

Rukiyah Ghani: Rukiyah is a first generation post-secondary student whose experiences reflect the challenges and joys of both immigration and disability. Close in age, Rukiyah and her brother navigate their community together, as he faces both discrimination and institutionalization. Much of her knowledge and skill in disability advocacy is gained from this lived experience. An accomplished student, she makes powerful links between the classroom, community and professional practice. Described as “exceptional” by her instructors, she is serving as a member of School Council where we benefited from her gentle intelligence.

Laura Mele with Melodie Cook.
Laura Mele, winner of the Malcolm Jeffreys Memorial Leadership Award, with Melodie Cook.

Laura Mele: Laura’s application came in with two shining letters of reference: one from the mother of a young woman who is designated Medically Fragile and with whom Laura has worked for 18 years. The other came from Dr. Chelsea Jones, an instructor in our program who writes that “Laura’s work revolves around the task of improving the lives of others – from small gestures to large strides in various fields of study.” A resident of Sarnia, Laura identifies as a disabled rural woman, and often pulls the geographic peripheries into class discussion. She is making her mark through participation on the Student Advisory Committee and relationship-building in its many projects.

David Reville with Dawnmarie Herriott.
David Reville with Dawnmarie Herriott.

DAVID: In its attempts to “change the conversation” around mental health, Disability Studies at Ryerson links social movement issues and actions with the fresh scholarship of Mad Studies. To mark my 70th birthday, some friends paid the tuition fees for someone to take Mad People’s History – the course that I helped to create and taught here for many years. That gesture has become a yearly ritual as has the involvement of Working for Change, the community organization from which the recipient is selected and where I am pleased to be a member of the board.

We regret to tell you that last year’s recipient, Adrienne Mageenis, passed away this year. Adrienne was a graduate of the Women Speak Out Leadership Training course at Working for Change and a passionate advocate on issues related to mental health. She participated on numerous committees and Boards of Directors for non-profit mental health agencies. She was very committed to furthering her education in the field of mental health. Our community misses her strong voice, perspectives and wisdom.

This year’s recipient is Desiree Bowen. Desiree is a graduate of En Route to Employment and is now working as a Program Assistant at the Centre for Addictions and Mental Health CAMH. She has a keen interest in Peer Work. Mad People’s History will provide her with a strong background and understanding of the history of the survivor movement.

Erin Poudrier with her children and Lindsay Campbell.
Erin Poudrier, winner of the Helen Henderson Writing for Disability Activism Award, with her children and Lindsay Campbell.

Erin Poudrier: Erin graduated this Spring. In reflecting on her time in the program, she is most proud of her development as an academic writer. Her application included course papers on cultural representation, and bioethics, as well as her final independent study titled Precarious Terrain: Narratives of American Sign Language Interpreters. She explained that her disability consciousness “did not happen overnight. Rather it was a journey through reading and writing about learning” with feedback from professors that overcame her skepticism and uncertainty. Erin had the pleasure to get to know Helen in the summer of 2014 when they both took the community building course.” I am thrilled to accept”, she wrote. “I feel truly honored to receive this award in Helen’s name.”

Maria Tersea Larrian  with Robert Hardie with Cole Bonathan
Maria Tersea Larrian, winner of the Emma Hardie International Disability Award with Robert Hardie with Cole Bonathan.

Maria Teresa Larrain: A mature student in our program, Maria Teresa is a Chilean Canadian film-maker and community organizer. She has just released Shadow Girl, a film that follows her journey into blindness and her encounter with a group of blind Chilean street vendors from whom she learns a different way to look and to see. Maria spent several years making this film – some of it shot on the Ryerson campus during one of our summer institutes – and much of the past year in its international promotion. The film has been recognized by the Circle of Chilean Art Critics (Best Documentary), DIVA Film Festival (Best Film, Best Director, Best Sound), FEDOCHI Film Festival (Best National Documentary), DocsBarcelona Valparaiso Festival (Best National Film Audience Award), FIDOCS Film Festival (Audience Award) and the Vogyakarta Film Festival (Special Jury Award). We are so pleased in Emma’s memory to recognize Maria Teresa and to support her ongoing work.

Jerusalem Bet with Melanie Panitch and Deirdre Boyle.
Jerusalem Bete, winner of the David and Sylvia Pollock Entrance Award with Melanie Panitch and Deirdre Boyle.

Jerusalem Bete:  A recent graduate of the Developmental Service Worker program at Centennial College, Jerusalem is looking to increase her knowledge and her impact as a worker. Member of a family who migrated from Ethiopia, she and a brother who is autistic grew up in the diverse Toronto neighborhood of Flemingdon Park. She knows the many challenges that racialized disabled people face in life. With educational challenges herself, she is keen to expand her capacities to support others.

Hedy Ng (not present): Resident of Markham, Ontario, Hedy works as an Adult Education Literacy Program Assistant. Unable to complete her early studies, she is now a single parent raising a son who has been diagnosed with ASD. She regained her educational pathway by taking any seminars or class she could find. Her path to our program began with the Accessibility Practices Certificate which, after seven courses, she used as a platform for launching into program admission. Great stamina, Hedy.

John Okot, with Melanie Panitch and Deirdre Boyle.
John Okot, winner of the David and Sylvia Pollock Entrance Award with Melanie Panitch and Deirdre Boyle.

John Okot: Following his completion of the Developmental Service Worker diploma at Fanshawe College in London, John comes to us with a strong desire for further education and a broader range of job opportunities. Prior to returning to school in 2013, he drove transport truck for almost eight years – which was a living but one that did not allow him to make the kind of difference he wants to in other people’s lives. One of his long-term goals is to use the skills he develops to educate young people in his country of origin, South Sudan, Africa.

Ann Beatty with Celeste Richards.
Ann Beatty, winner of the Canadian Foundation for Physically Disabled Persons Disability Studies Award, with Celeste Richards.

Ann Beatty: With connections to disability in her personal life and her job as a support worker, Ann enjoys learning new theoretical frameworks, risking challenging topics, connecting her coursework with her personal life and generally thinking through the complexities of how disability is understood in society. Since 2005 when she started the program, she has completed nearly all of the DST courses and is poised to begin her final independent study towards degree completion in April 2018. Having faced challenges as a working student, this award will provide very meaningful assistance to her in completing her studies.

Christina Devlin with Celeste Richards.
Christina Devlin, winner of the Canadian Foundation for Physically Disabled Persons Disability Studies Award with Celeste Richards.

Christina Devlin: Christina started her Disability Studies program in 2014 as a self-advocate who was running a support group for Autism Ontario (London chapter). Being a co-researcher on Esther’s parenting possibilities research introduced her to Disability Studies and this program has given her greater confidence as an autistic person living in a neurotypical-dominated society. Christina draws direct connections between course materials, assignments and her growing activism including leadership with a grassroots, intersectional, user-led, peer support and advocacy organization that is run collectively by autistic people. She is headed into Research Methods this fall, pressing towards degree completion and savoring a dream to work for the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

Andriano Aguiar  with Esther Ignagni.
Andriano Aguiar, winner of the Nancy C. Sprott Disability Studies Award with Esther Ignagni.

Adriano Aguiar – Life measured in feet: An arts-informed inquiry

Linh Chau with Kathryn Church.
Linh Chau, winner of the Nancy C. Sprott Disability Studies Award, with Kathryn Church.

Linh Chau – Illness and disability in the workplace: Living the organizational experience

Nadia Lembo, , with Kathryn Church.
Nadia Lembo, winner of the Nancy C. Sprott Disability Studies Award, with Kathryn Church.

Nadia Lembo – Disability as a story that connects us: Exploring the impact of narrative moments

Karine Roy – (not present ) Critical Discourse Analysis of InVitro Fertilization (IVF): “Your embryos are not grade A”!

Brittany Van Beilen with Esther Ignagni.
Brittany Van Beilen, winner of the Nancy C. Sprott Disability Studies Award, with Esther Ignagni.

Brittany Van Beilen – ABLLS-R Activated: The invisible connections within ABA: An institutional ethnography

Photograph of all award winners
Congratulations to all the 2017 Disability Studies Award winners.
photograph of all of the donors
Thank you to all of the donors who make these awards possible.

A Students’ Perspective: Thoughts from a graduating student

This post was delivered as a speech at the 2012 Student Award Ceremony by Kaori Hiruta.

A graphic of a black square with multi-coloured  squares in which is written, A Student's Perspective

I would like to thank the School of Disability Studies for granting me this award and giving me the opportunity to speak today. When I received the letter from Kathryn, I didn’t believe it was true. I thought that it had to be some kind of a mistake. So I emailed Paris to confirm that the award wasn’t for someone else. I was that surprised and doubtful. It is such an honor, and I am thankful that I’ve been given the opportunity to feel so proud of myself.

The award I was granted honours the memory of Emma Hardie, who passed in a car accident almost 4 years ago. I was reading about Emma. And the more I read about her life, the more I felt honored to receive the award. People who knew her describe her to be full of love, warmth and kindness. She was a dedicated disability advocate, international traveller, a new mom, a yoga instructor…. She was committed to academic excellence, looked at disability in a global context. She aspired to mutual respect, peace and inclusion, and was always willing to help others to be the best they can be. I feel strongly that I should demonstrate and live up to the award that honors her memory.

I enrolled in the Disability Studies program in 2006. I wanted to further my education partially because I felt lost without a goal. A part of me wanted to prove to everyone including myself that I could do this in my second language. A part of me thought having a university degree sounded nice and sophisticated. And of course I thought a degree was an easy way into a better career. Looking back, it was silly and quite superficial. At first, I was not sure if I could pass any course with the amount of homework and assignments that were expected of us. I was able to take only 1 or 2 courses at a time because school in English didn’t come easy for me. Even today, I do okay on day-to-day conversations and somewhat ok on writing, but reading at university level is very difficult and takes a long time. Sometimes I don’t understand anything at all. So, the weekly Black Board discussions were my life savers. Other students in the class posting what they got from the assigned articles really helped me to understand the course much better.

Then I took a year off to travel Asia including Laos, Mongolia, Nepal, and India. This experience and seeing how disability is perceived in different regions of the world gave me a new perspective on the disability, poverty, mutual respect, marginalization and more. When I returned to Canada, I moved from Niagara to Toronto so I could concentrate more on school. I felt like I had to give a bit more commitment to this, or I would lose my focus and quit before I saw the finish line. Quitting school was too easy and tempting otherwise. It took me long 6 years. And 6 years didn’t just happen in a vacuum. It was a lot of actively working at it. I just had to keep chipping away at it. There were times when I considered giving up. I wondered why it had to be so much work. I felt like saying “I’m giving you enough tuition, so just give me the degree”.

I wondered why our instructors always wanted us to “think about it” and “let’s discuss and tease this apart” rather than just giving us the answer.  That would have been much quicker and easier. But I understand now that the answers weren’t what was essential. It was the process of getting to the answers that was more valuable. To initiate, to question and to challenge what we saw on the surface was important. My time and mind consumed in thinking about the given topic was the real prize.

There are some courses that stuck out in my mind more than others. I liked the moments when I learned something that was genuinely interesting and mind blowing. When I was engaged in materials like that, I didn’t care about my grades or if I was going to earn better salary after finishing the program. When I was engaged in that kind of material, I was in university to learn, because gaining different knowledge and ideas are the primary purposes of pursuing further education. Moments like that reminded me why I was really in this program – to make myself more knowledgeable so I could be a better advocate for people with disabilities.

It felt quicker once I started seeing the finish line and started talking about the thesis. My professors kept on telling us to work on a thesis topic that was close to our lives. Almost to the end of it, I didn’t understand why. I just wanted something that was fairly easy to do. But I am glad I followed that instruction and followed my passion.  Yes, it was much easier to stay focused and work on it when the topic is of your interest. It is a long and lonely journey so if it is not something that is interesting to you, it is very hard to keep the drive to work on it.

But more than anything, I am glad because now the thesis is the biggest graduation gift from me to me. It has every inch of my soul in it. It is my determination in a tangible form. It is all my devotion finally into words. A degree is a degree, but this piece of work that I poured my heart into is much more than just a final assignment in university. It was more than how I saw my career in the future, or how I saw the disability community. It was about how my life will continue to intertwine with, and how I can keep my life in the midst of disability issues. I am extremely thankful that all the professors drilled the idea of passionate thesis. They gave me this gift that is now bound and sits on my book shelf making me proud and telling me to keep on fighting.

I’d thought I would get to relax now that I don’t have the school work. But my experience in this program has given me the fuel to apply my passion to practice. This is just the beginning. There is no way I would slack off my performance. I am too much of an advocate now. I thrive to make a difference in people’s lives and question the existing marginalization and inequality. Because now I see that things can be improved and that can be done by us. I may not be able to change the social policy entirely. But I can most definitely help a few people with disability and their families toward better quality of lives.

Kathryn asked me to provide some advice for the current students. And I wish I could, but unfortunately, I don’t have good tips other than to tell you to just keep chipping away at it. Eventually, the end will come.

The issues I encountered during my undergrad were mainly due to my own poor time management. I used to say that school puts additional stress on my life but I could have avoided a lot of it. I had financial issues because I couldn’t work as much as I used to before I started school, I didn’t have enough time to spend for myself, and when I was doing something fun, school was still always at the back of my head. I was always stressed out about exams and deadlines…. But most of this was because I would sit in front of the computer to do some homework but browse on the internet instead, or anything else I could get my hands on that allowed me to procrastinate. Had I not have dilly-dallied like I had, I would’ve been just fine.

I also realize that I could have finished in less than 6 years. I failed to plan my courses well. I should have paid more attention to which courses were offered at which semester, rather than just taking whatever I felt like taking at that moment. But I didn’t know any better. It was my first university experience. Also, if you haven’t yet, I recommend you to take the tutorial for writing essays and doing research at Ryerson library. My research and the final write ups were much more organized once I understood how those things worked.

Ryerson’s professors are great. If you need to communicate outside of class for advice or clarification on the course material, they will help you. Especially our program itself practices the acceptance of diversity. They recognize that the students come from all walks of life. They are flexible and accommodating to our needs. They want us to learn and do well, and they are willing to help us along the way as long as we are up for it. Keeping close communication with your professors also help you stay focused and motivated to do well. Review your assignments and exams that are marked by the instructors, because the comments they give you will help you on the final exams and assignments.

And above anything, put your heart into it. Try to remember why we are here and what we are thriving for.

I believe programs like Ryerson’s Disability Studies are important. Our program does not teach about disability, but rather, examines our society using disability as an entry point. We take multidisciplinary approach with the emphasis on community, leadership, culture, social justice, politics and more. We stay connected to the hearts of disability rights movement; the fight for equality, inclusion, respect and recognition.

Most of all, our professors have the strong vision that our program is not for the people with disability, rather, it is with the people with disability. I believe doing a degree like this is vital because we will then become the advocates. The program is for the students to learn, but the existence of a program like this itself is a form of advocacy.

This program shows us not only the traditional question of what must be done, but also, who is to do it. And that is us. We are in this field and in this program because we want to better support and advocate for people with disability. We must thrive to enhance the quality of lives for those who are marginalized. We have to stay fighting, not just some days, but every day. It takes a vision, it takes a passion, it takes small and big actions.

A Student Perspective 2014

This post was written by Sheena Vert.

Sheena Vert standing at a podium holding sheets of paper.
Sheena Vert giving the 2014 Student Perspective speech at the Annual Student Award Ceremony.

Good afternoon everyone, I am honored to have been asked to come up here and say a few words to you today. I feel a bit bittersweet as I realize that this is my first summer in the last three and half years that I will not be attending the summer intensive, which means my time here at Ryerson is done. I look back and remember at the start of my journey thinking that perhaps I wasn’t cut out for university and that I would not be successful, I wondered if the program would be the right fit for me. A Sign Language Interpreter that was also teaching in the interpreter-training program had told me about the program and I thought that it seemed to be something that would complement my training. Interpreting is a small field and often is very solitary and I wondered if I would have much to talk about in the program. However I realized once I started that I would have an opportunity to learn so many new things and at the same time be able to offer some insights into the wonderful community that I work in, the Deaf community.

I had started in the winter term so I had to take electives before I could take the first core course and I was feeling unsure of my decision. One of my first courses at Ryerson was “Mad People’s History” and after I started this course I was hooked and knew I had found the perfect fit for me. David was superb and the course was so engaging and thought provoking. I had taken university courses before and nothing was like this one. I felt David’s passion on the subject and knew that he wanted all of his students to be connected with the material. I had some experiences working with Deaf individuals that were also experiencing mental health issues so I felt that I had gain some insights into struggles that they were experiencing and being doubly oppressed. After taking this course I was on a mission to recommend it to every student in the program! I feel sad that new students will not have the opportunity to have you as an instructor David.

At my first summer intensive I had the opportunity to sit down and meet with Paris. I am certain that no other department can say that they have a person as committed as Paris. She sat down with nearly every student that came that year and walked us through what we needed and the path we should take in order to get our degree, no small task as each of us comes to the program with different academic histories and each of us had set our own goal as to what and when we wanted to achieve it. Throughout my time here she has been a wonderful resource and sounding board for all of my questions.

Summer intensives although are difficult for some to include because of work and family obligations allowed all of us students to come together and meet face to face. Black board is a wonderful tool and permits us to continue with our studies and at the same time continue with our other jobs but nothing can truly compare to sitting down and talking and debating on the material. Coming from my background, which is fairly narrow in scope I had not really had the exposure to the work that all of my fellow students are doing in the community. I feel so lucky and honored to have travel these last three years with these people. Some are still finishing up some have graduated before me but all of them I can count as friends. Each person in this program comes from a different setting and each has taught me something new. All of these students are a wealth of knowledge and strong advocates for the people that they work with. We are fortunate to have such excellent professors in this program but we are also fortunate to have the learning that we gained from each other. We share our stories and learn things from different perspectives only making us more well rounded in the end. The intensives are a great opportunity to do this face to face. I read our Facebook page just the other day and past students are all agreeing on the importance of it as well as saying how they will miss not going this year.

Some of the past graduates comments were – “summer intensives, my favourite, summer intensives are some of my favorite memories from the program, “It’s always one of the best times I have!” These are from past graduates. Obviously the program has made its mark!

Finally I must say something about the professors that I have been fortunate to have. All from this department are exceptional and we are so very blessed to have such a high degree of passion and commitment from them. Esther and Kathryn have had a strong impact on me through the last three years. Esther you started me off in this program in 501 and you laid the strong foundations of what we strive to bring back to our work places and emulate in the social model theory. I also was lucky to have you again and always enjoyed your courses as they were so organized and well planned out as well as you gave us a lot of opportunities to debate and discuss the issues.

Kathryn you have given me the tools to take my learning and my story and to share it with others. I think every student dreads DST 99 but you made it a great experience. I loved when we had our on sites and sitting and just talking with everyone, hashing out the process and realizing that we all could do it differently and that it was okay to do that. You always had an encouraging word for each and every one of us even when we were ready to throw in the towel. Those presentation days were fantastic as you could see how everyone’s work had come together; mind you we all looked like we had gone through the wringer. I could have never imagined being able to produce a body of work that I did on completing this course without your guidance and support. I was so proud of being able to say that I had done it and so proud for my fellow students.

For all of you students that are just embarking on your time here at Ryerson know that you made the right choice and that this place will become your second home. Know that you will grow through your learning and your interactions with everyone here and that you will change in wonderful ways. We all leave here and go out to our new futures with everything we need to make positive changes in our larger communities. I will continue on now in another learning institution and I am afraid I have been spoilt here and nothing will quite compare or measure up to what I have learned here in the Disability Studies program. For that I thank everyone. Continued good luck to everyone and know that I will be coming back to visit and I will be sure to send more people your way.