By Danise Simpelo, April 1 2021—
On March 8, 2021, International Women’s Day, an article written by the UCalgary Student and Enrolment Services Staff was released that presented the three recipients of the 2021 Women’s Resource Centre (WRC) Awards for Excellence. Sue-Shane Tsomondo, Leda Stawnychko and Jessica Revington were the proud UCalgary alumni to be recognized this year.
In interviews with the Gauntlet, each recipient talked about the impact of receiving this award, representation as UCalgary alumni and advice for others looking to follow their journeys in the work they do.
For Tsomondo, she describes winning this award as a full-circle moment. Having opportunities to volunteer with the WRC previously and receiving the Sheila O’Brien award for Excellence and Leadership in 2018, gave her a community that helped support her in what she was able to achieve. She admits that even in her volunteering experience, she felt scared to enter the real world after university.
Stawnychko says that it is a huge privilege to be able to honour women by receiving this award. Her nomination came from her friends from the Calgary International Women’s Association (CISA) and said that from her mentor-to-mentee relationships, they have transformed into friendships that she values.
“To receive an award for something I love doing — it’s more than anything a huge privilege. I am an immigrant woman myself — just someone who needed a hand, a little bit of kindness. It just felt natural to fall into that role, ” Stawnychko said.
As for Revington, she took the time to recognize that although her name was on the award, her achievement is a reflection of those who had mentored her, shared their stories and experiences and supported her. For her, it is important that her work paves the way for others in leadership.
“I am deeply grateful for this recognition. There are so many incredible women who have received this award and it is a sincere privilege to share this honour with them,” said Revington.
Revington said the impact as female leaders should go beyond themselves as individuals. She emphasized that words and actions should have meaning. Female leaders have the responsibility to both amplify and empower voices that are missing.
“It’s really important the work that I do paves the way for others to take on roles of leadership in their communities and on campus to make sure their voices are heard,” Revington said.
Stawnychko suggested raising awareness in what people can do for others such as promoting equality and promoting advancements for women and girls. She encourages this by doing something small, providing an example of how she participated in International Women’s Day this year with a post on social media. Stawnychko emphasized the little things that one can do to contribute to the bigger piece that might potentially make someone’s day better.
Tsomondo took the opportunity to share that she does not label things such as her accomplishments by her womanhood. She feels that, because of her work, the space that she occupies with her achievements as a Black woman shows the impact of her work on the community.
“The fact that I am a Black woman doing these things, is enough of a legacy on its own,” said Tsomondo.
As these distinguished recipients all graduated from the University of Calgary, they were asked how they felt representing U of C as alumni.
With 20 years of experience as a staff member, Stawnychko says that being an alumni is a way to promote the university and all it has to offer.
“Alumni is one of those words I’m very proud to have attached to me — I just love supporting women who want to further advance their careers and promoting programs of the university whether it’s just a seminar or network,” Stawnychko said.
As for Tsomondo, she does not really consider herself as one of the U of C’s representatives. She believes that the university is such a large and vast place, and that there are so many other people in the community at the university.
“I’m surrounded by so many people who still do amazing work — I see it more as a community than an institution that I am representing,” said Tsomondo.
From Revington, she says that she has a role as both an alumni and student which she holds dearly as she sees it as an incredibly special connection. She says that what makes the work that she does special is the chance to represent the U of C to the wider community.
“The university has a very special place in my heart — I’m incredibly proud to be an alumni at the U of C and I think that is something that will carry with me through the rest of my career,” Revington said.
To end the interview, each recipient was asked, what advice they would give to an individual who wants to get into advocacy or is passionate about a social issue but didn’t know where to start.
Stawnychko encourages individuals to begin with something simple such as talking to their friends. She started by appreciating the impact of small things in life and began to apply them to her everyday life. For example, she shared how on campus she would offer help to students before they asked and how it unknowingly led to the talk about her wanting to continue to contribute in any way she could. She added how networking allowed her to create relationships with others that led to opportunities that gave her the chance to get her foot in the door. To conclude, she talked about how the support for girls and women by just being there for others speaks volumes even when it isn’t vocalized.
“Because sometimes, as women, we are proud and we don’t want to say when we need something,” said Stawnychko.
Tsomondo suggested volunteering on campus as a place to start to begin building relationships with others and building your network. On the advocacy portion, she answered by identifying a gap pertaining to something you are interested or passionate about, and finding a solution to implement it. As for where to begin, Tsomondo encourages having a conversation and to openly seek out people who are doing similar things in the area where one is interested. From there, she says that we begin finding people who have information and we can carry on from there.
“I’ve had the amazing opportunity to collaborate with organizations so far — really just about trying to see people aligned with what you’re doing and from there relationships just get built,” Tsomondo said.
Revington shared how the experiences of a student leader can be rewarding, especially when one is able to move forward on projects that have an impact on students. She noted that as a society there is a price to pay when entering public service that comes in the forms of racism, harassment and misogyny. Her advice to combat this is to call out this type of behavior when one sees it, develop leaders and create spaces for voices to be heard. In reference to the U of C, she advocates for continuing to be champions for marginalized voices on campus as all students hold the potential to show leadership.
“Don’t let anything stop you from taking that step and making a difference,” Revington concluded.