Niveditha Sethumadhavan (BA ’20) and Keely Grossman (BA ’17, MA ’20) have made a point of standing up for others throughout their time at Brock University.
Both Sethumadhavan and Grossman have been recognized with 2020 Board of Trustees Spirit of Brock medals, which is presented to students who embody the values of leadership, courage, innovation, inspiration and community involvement.
For Sethumadhavan, an international honours student in Business Communication from Lagos, Nigeria, giving voice to her fellow students was always a top priority. She served as a Brock ambassador, an alumni relations ambassador, a building advocate for the Residence Action Council and volunteered with Brock International and at Orientation Week, as well as representing Brock as an assistant director and delegate at the National Model United Nations in New York.
But in spite of the “Plans for World Domination” notebook she toted around campus, the idea of trying out leadership roles herself was daunting at first.
“The biggest takeaway from my time at Brock is to fearlessly say ‘yes’ to new things, and proactively seek to venture out of my comfort zone,” says Sethumadhavan. “Not only did I follow my hobbies and continue doing the things I was good at, but I also sought opportunities that I was once highly intimidated by.”
For peers who know Sethumadhavan after her terms on the executive of the Communication, Popular Culture and Film Students’ Society, Vice President of Brock’s South Asian Student Alliance, and most recently Vice President, External Affairs for the Brock University Student Union (BUSU) and on the Board of Directors of the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance, this reluctance to take the lead may come as a surprise.
“I never imagined I would be elected to serve as the Vice-President of a non-profit consisting of 17,000 individuals at the age of 21, let alone generate a strong lasting impact by being an advocate for the needs of the institution, and most importantly, for the needs of my peers,” says Sethumadhavan, who also received a President’s Surgite Award for 2020. “However, constantly saying yes to new things and letting myself grow has taught me valuable lessons, both for my career and personal life, and I plan to continue doing so.”
For Grossman, advocacy for meaningful change for persons with disabilities has been a top priority throughout her time on campus, which is part of the reason she chose to pursue her master’s degree in the field of Social Justice and Equity Studies.
As a third-year undergraduate student in the Department of Child and Youth Studies, Grossman began devoting herself to foregrounding conversations around disability and accessibility. She founded the student club, A.B.L.E. (Awareness Breaks Limits for Equality), which created Brock’s first Dis/Ability Week, a series of activities to promote awareness and education about disability issues and create greater equality and inclusion at Brock. The following year, Grossman received Brock’s inaugural Accessibility and Inclusion Recognition Award in acknowledgment of the work she had already done.
But Grossman, who worked as both a teaching and research assistant during her time at Brock, was far from finished. As a graduate student, she drew on her own experiences at a residential school for the blind and visually impaired to write her thesis. Focusing on critical disability studies, feminist and queer theorizing, she examined the realities of girlhood as it pertained to residential school student life to create a critical analysis of the ways gendered and sexualized inequities are reproduced and resisted in residential schools for the blind.
With colleagues from her program, Grossman also spearheaded a collaborative effort that resulted in Ability Empowerment Day, which she describes as “an innovative, day-long forum for high school students experiencing disability to come to Brock to learn about post secondary education options.”
She credits mentorship from faculty, as well as her own perseverance, with helping her reach her goals. Both her and Sethumadhavan agree that the Spirit of Brock medal has special meaning for them.
“It is an honour to be recognized by the University for doing things that you love and are passionate about,” says Sethumadhavan. “I want to say a big thank you to the entire Brock and Niagara community for the impact they have had on me… I am extremely grateful for all the opportunities and the support systems I have been provided with.”
Grossman says she was “very surprised and excited” to learn that she been named as a recipient of the Spirit of Brock medal, noting that the University “gave me the chance to find myself in different ways.”
After graduation, neither student plans to rest on her laurels for long.
Sethumadhavan is now a mentor in Project Snapshot’s mentorship program, which aims to empower the next cohort of post-secondary in sparking social and global impact. She says she hopes to continue influencing others “by breaking barriers and advocating for inclusivity, accessibility and affordability,” and hopes to pursue a graduate degree after a short break in order to help forge the path to post-pandemic recovery.
“There is a unique opening to tackle systemic challenges and reshape accessibility and equity for those who were previously disadvantaged, and this is going to be my current focus,” she says.
Grossman is starting her PhD in Sociology at Carleton University, and hopes to use her master’s thesis to build on her research.
Ingrid Makus, Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences, has a message for Sethumadhavan and Grossman.
“Niveditha and Keely, congratulations and thank you for inspiring us with your accomplishments and your plans,” Makus says. “They demonstrate your extraordinary spirit — a match for these extraordinary times — and we as a Faculty are extremely proud to see you recognized with the Spirit of Brock medal.”