Two student leaders striving for wellness in marginalized communities were honoured for their leadership, courage and community involvement during Brock’s 114th Convocation on Friday, Oct. 13.
Raadhiyah Zowmi (BSc ’21, MA ’23) in the Faculty of Social Sciences and Ashley Giroux (BRLS ’23) in the Faculty of Applied Health Sciences both received the Board of Trustees Spirit of Brock medal during the morning Convocation ceremony.
Zowmi completed an undergraduate degree in Medical Sciences with a minor in French at Brock before enrolling in the interdisciplinary Master of Arts in Social Justice and Equity Studies (SJES) program. She says the personal growth she experienced as an undergraduate engaged in student leadership and social justice initiatives shaped her path — as did personal challenges.
“Finding myself in a mental health crisis at the end of my fourth year forced me to confront many uncomfortable realizations about how I had sacrificed my own well-being in the pursuit of my academic career,” she says.
With a reframed mindset, Zowmi focused on her deep commitment to improving the lives of others through social justice activism, supporting and uplifting fellow students, creating educational opportunities and deploying her skills to complete her graduate research on barriers to adequate mental health care in the South Asian diaspora.
The 24-year-old from Scarborough worked as a research assistant and as a teaching assistant for first-year students in Women’s and Gender Studies. As a Student Representative on the SJES program committee, Zowmi advocated for colleagues attempting to navigate graduate studies through the global pandemic. Upon receiving the Social Justice Research Institute Fellowship, she helped organize a public event on Black history in Niagara.
A coveted co-op placement with Global Affairs Canada in the South Asia Division ultimately resulted in a contract position as a Junior Analyst and was central to Zowmi’s time as a master’s student — but she says she is equally grateful for the aspects of her Brock experience that are harder to quantify.
“There are so many more enriching and intangible experiences that are often overlooked, such as learning more about myself and my interests, meeting incredible people who are very active within our communities, and learning so many concepts and lessons that have been integral to my activism and outreach,” she says. “I am so grateful for the experiences I have had at Brock.”
Giroux, whose Bachelor of Recreation and Leisure Studies degree includes a concentration in Therapeutic Recreation and minors in Women’s and Gender Studies and Music, is a President’s Surgite Award recipient, noted for her student leadership and community commitment. She served as the President of the Recreation and Leisure Studies Council, the Vice-President of the Faculty of Applied Health Sciences Student Association and as frequent volunteer at student recruitment and orientation events.
She was actively involved in organizing and supporting Ability Empowerment Day, an annual Brock event designed for disabled students to learn about accessibility and inclusion tools and how to succeed at university. She also took part in many community-focused committees and programs, including the President’s Advisory Committee on Human Rights, Equity and Decolonization (PACHRED) while maintaining exceptional academic achievement and completing an undergraduate thesis on intramural sports and student well-being.
The 23-year-old, originally from Tavistock, Ont., says she knew the minute she arrived that Brock was where she would hit her stride.
“Growing up, I was a participant-ribbon kid — I always got the ‘thanks for coming out’ ribbons and signifiers of avid participation and efforts, but I never experienced fitting in and having a place that I felt authentic and able to flourish,” says Giroux. “The minute I set foot on Brock’s campus, I knew it would be home, and I knew everything fit here.”
She credits experiential education placements at Recreational Respite and Royal Rose Place with shaping her journey and reinvigorating a passion for working with older adults she felt since childhood.
“The practicum placements helped me recognize my love for advocacy and research around older adults and their lived experiences with disability/disablement,” she says. “They helped me rekindle that passion of recognizing why I came into the field in the first place, and their team and organization helped me remember my ‘why’ as I found my next chapter at Brock as a graduate student in the Applied Disability Studies program.”