Desirée de Jesus
Kirsten McIlveen
Suzanne Dunn
Vivian Tsang

If you wish to be in contact with any of the winners please e-mail chair@soroptimistfoundation.ca.

Desirée de Jesus
PhD Candidate in Film and Moving Image Studies, Concordia University MA (with Distinction) in Christianity and the Arts, King's College London Hons. BA (magna cum laude), Film Studies and Special Honors Curriculum, Hunter College (CUNY)

Desirée de Jesus is a Film and Moving Image Studies PhD candidate in the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema at Concordia University. Her doctoral research focuses on representations of displaced girls and marginalized women in popular culture. It examines how the treatment of narrative spaces in contemporary films about precarious girlhood provides new and more inclusive ways of understanding how girls develop and experience their identities.

Desirée is an experienced and dedicated researcher, enthusiastic about cultivating knowledge, demonstrating the continued value of film and moving images for society, and serving the needs of diverse audiences. She has curated games and interactive artworks about women and organized events exploring diversity in games and the intersections between feminism and humour. Her dedication to extending film education beyond the traditional classroom is also evident in her involvement with the adolescent unit of a mental health facility, where she designed and facilitated discussions around popular films. Prior to this, Desirée worked full-time as a mentor for at-risk, inner city youth and enjoyed seeing girls become empowered through this work.

In 2017, Desirée became the only Fine Arts doctoral student selected to join Concordia University's Public Scholars program. During her tenure, Desirée taught an undergraduate film course about girlhood that drew on her doctoral research. She also began producing a series of video essays that helps film lovers think critically about female-driven films and the ways these films speak to broader cultural issues affecting girls and women. While this volunteer video work aims to expand our perceptions of a film canon, it continues Desirée's desire to impact the way people see the world and themselves, thus bridging her academic work and previous service with vulnerable communities.

Desirée's writing has been published in Another Gaze, The Montreal Gazette, Synoptique: An Online Journal of Film and Moving Image Studies, The Journal of Popular Culture, The Journal of Religion and Film, and others.

Kirsten McIlveen
Doctoral student in Geography, University of British Columbia, current; MA in Geography, Simon Fraser University; BA in political studies, Simon Fraser University.

In 2015, following more than two decades of engagement in prisoner advocacy, as a university instructor, Kirsten established an education connection at the women’s prison in British Columbia. Kirsten developed and taught university level Social Sciences classes, which was well-received by prisoners and administration. Subsequently, at the request of the student-prisoners, Kirsten developed a semester-long interdisciplinary educational project with different instructors to teach within the prison. Kirsten has just completed a third iteration of the teaching series: – a course on poverty and social exclusion, which included outside students outside students learning alongside prisoner students in a prison classroom. For both inside and outside students, stereotypes have been challenged, and valuable community connections have been built.

While basic education and literacy are major issues in prison education discourse, gaining access to postsecondary education in women’s prisons can transform lives at both the individual and collective scale. Not only does higher-education in prisons reduce recidivism, it also promotes self-esteem, new ways of communicating and offers the student-prisoner an alternative identity complete with potential social networks, new languages and new values.

While student-prisoners can establish new learning and personal pathways through these classes, there are tremendous limits to this model. The model of educational delivery with which Kirsten has engaged is limited by both the confined (spatially, socially, emotionally) environments of a prison and the structures of higher education itself. Thus, Kirsten’s core research question concerns the exploration of existing or potential higher educational strategies to determine which are most effective in helping to empower women to identify their own learning capacities within the prison system.

Despite the benefits, prison-education programs exist in only a few Canadian prisons, and are vulnerable to the arbitrary application of prison administration and to the often tenuous support of the universities with which they are affiliated. Teaching post-secondary courses in prisons means to enter these specialized environments with little to no pedagogical or emotional support and at a personal cost. Instructors must negotiate complex relationships and navigate the politics of teaching in prisons, creating safe learning spaces for imprisoned women to challenge the disempowering environment of their confinement. This work is ongoing.

This work builds on Kirsten’s activism within the prison reform movement. This recent education outreach is the continuance and deepening of long-term relationships Kirsten has formed with federally sentenced women; these in turn have immeasurably informed her personal and academic trajectories. In 1990, Kirsten joined Joint Effort, a women prisoner’s support group comprised of prisoners and nonprisoners and started attending meetings. While with Joint Effort, Kirsten worked with prisoners to establish a program of creative writing classes, poetry slams, music nights and so forth. It was essential that the women themselves determine the types of workshops that would be held. Given the food insecurity that prisoners face, Kirsten helped to identify strategies to bring nutritious food ‘inside’ in order to help the women host pow wows and prison socials. To mitigate the isolation that prisoners face, Kirsten helped to build connections between the ‘outside’ community with the prison community by organizing events such as Japanese Taiko drum workshops with the Native Sisterhood drummers and baseball tournaments. Kirsten continues to build bridges between prisoners and the outside community.

Many of the issues prisoners face mirror struggles on the outside, but their experiences are magnified by isolation. The women in prison are the most marginalized of society and the prison experience is an extension of the trauma that pervades their lives. Their voices are often ignored. In order to amplify and echo prisoners’ voices, Kirsten helped to organize print outlets for women prisoners. These included “Broken Silence”, a collection of prisoners’ writing and artwork, facilitated by local authors and distributed to all women’s prisons in Canada. Kirsten also helped to publish “The Word is Out, A Women's Community News Service”, an ongoing newsletter written by and about women in prison. Kirsten is also engaged in more direct prisoner advocacy in order to establish connections between the ‘outside’ and the ‘inside’ including contacting the Office of the Correctional Investigator regarding a transgendered prisoner kept in segregation for too long, as well as the death of a former studentprisoner and calling attention to the lack of medical treatment for a prisoner with a complicated pregnancy.

Through this work, Kirsten has learned about freedom, feminism, punishment, non-traditional learning, First Nations’ traditions and politics, about speaking one’s mind under surveillance and about the capacity of the community to support each other with limited financial resources. These values and ideas continue to shape Kirsten’s approach to education in the bricks-and-mortar system, as well as Kirsten’s past and current research interests. For Kirsten’s doctoral research, she will be more directly engaging with prisoner education experiences. UBC Geography is one of the few geography departments in North America that has faculty with interest and expertise in the new sub- disciplinary field of carceral geography; it is to this sub-discipline that Kirsten can bring a wealth of first-hand experience and knowledge. UBC is also engaged in new explorations in higher educational delivery, some of which may accelerate opportunities for post-secondary educational attainment among imprisoned women. With deep and enduring commitments to women in prison, Kirsten will continue with advocacy work alongside her doctoral work.

Suzanne Dunn

Suzanne Dunn is PhD student at the Faculty of Law at the University of Ottawa. Her research focuses on the intersections of gender, equality, technology and the law, with a particular focus on technology facilitated violence. She completed her Masters of Law in 2017 with a focus on the non-consensual distribution of intimate images and was awarded the Shirley Greenberg Foundation Scholarship for feminist legal studies. She currently works as a research fellow with The eQuality Project where she researches how corporate data collection can impact the privacy, identity, and safety of young people. She is also a policy advisory with the Digital Inclusion Lab at Global Affairs Canada where she advises the federal government on issues related to technology facilitated violence against women. She was called to the Ontario bar in 2016.

As a volunteer, Suzanne is the co-chair of the Feminist Alliance for International Action where she advocates for the implementation of women's international human rights in Canada. She also sits on the University of Ottawa's faculty of law committee on ending sexual violence where she has assisted in the development and implementation of a mandatory bystander intervention program for first year law students.

Prior to her legal studies, Suzanne worked with victims of gender-based violence in British Columbia and facilitated workshops for northern youth in her home territory, Yukon.

Vivian Tsang

Vivian Tsang is a medical student at the University of British Columbia where she was also recognized as a National Schulich Scholar, Major Entrance Scholarship winner, and Canadian WE Day ambassador for the Canada150 Celebrations. Her vision for the future of healthcare is one that is inclusive and accessible to all Canadians no matter their past or current circumstances. Vivian is also a WE Day speaker and TEDx presenter and hopes to dedicate her life to improving healthcare accessibility and reducing social inequalities for vulnerable population groups.

Making strides in this area, she founded and serves as the Director of the Humanitarian Organization for Providing Empowerment (HOPE), a non-profit organization that empowers students to work alongside marginalized community groups in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver through mutual aid and interpersonal humanitarianism. She dedicates her time to organizing various events for Vancouver's homeless community including the Vancouver Street Store - the first rent-free, premises-free pop up store along with community partners. She also organizes the HOPE for Success program in the lower mainland helping over 300 students every year in their transition into post-secondary education. In recognition of the importance of girls' education and the need for positive role models, she also served as a peer academic coach and initiated city-wide workshops for girls coming from inner-city schools to consider post-secondary education. For her work, she has been awarded the City of Vancouver's Award of Excellence, UBC's Premier and Wesbrook Scholarship, and was nominated as a YWCA Young Women of Distinction.

Vivian is also heavily involved in paediatric patient advocacy through her positions as Team Lead of KidsCan at BC Children's Hospital in Vancouver, co-lead on the national Child-Bright Youth Advisory Panel Steering Committee, and on the Board of Directors on the International Children's Advisory Network- an advisory group that collaborates with researchers and clinicians around the world to improve paediatric research. Since starting medical school, Vivian has taken the lead as Co-Chair of the Medical Undergraduate Society's Political Development Committee and recently represented the Faculty of Medicine in advocating for improved youth mental health with the Minister of Health in BC. Vivian is working on advocating for improvements to mental health resources for BC youth in this capacity along with her role on Vancouver City Council's Children, Youth, and Families Advisory Committee.

This summer she will be working in South Africa to learn about HIV/AIDS infection prevention for populations living in low-resource settings. She will supplement this field work with an internship in Switzerland at the World Health Organization (WHO) working in the Tropical Diseases Research Unit - a special task force focused on combatting diseases of poverty jointly supported by the WHO, World Bank, United Nations Development Program, and UNICEF. Ultimately, she hope that these diverse experiences will equip her with tools and facilitate the integration of new skillsets and knowledge back to her work in the Downtown Eastside with local women and girls. With any spare time, she serve as a mentor with UBC Women in Science Club, and with the YWCA in Vancouver.

Ultimately, in today's fast-paced world where efficiency and quantitative achievements reign supreme, she hopes to inspire young girls to have courage to embrace their learning not only in classrooms, but also to utilize its many facets to tackle critical issues in society- caring for the broken and hurting, and helping other women be their best.

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