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Jean Golden named Ryersonian of the Year

By Andy Lee

Jean Golden and daughter Jessica.

Jean Golden, with daughter Jessica, receives the 2009 Ryersonian of the Year Award from the Ryerson Faculty Association. Inset: Golden, holding Jessica, is honoured with her first RFA award in 1996. "It all comes back to my daughter," says Golden of her lifelong commitment to social justice.

When Jean Golden received her first award from the Ryerson Faculty Association (RFA) in 1996, she brought her five-year-old daughter Jessica to the ceremony. She wanted Jessica to understand why her mother wasn't always at home - she was trying to make the world a fairer place for her.

A sociology professor, Golden has been a social justice activist for several decades, both at Ryerson and in the external community. A former RFA vice-president and executive member for more than 20 years, Golden created the position of equity officer and was a founding member of the Ryerson Women's Caucus. She also co-authored Ryerson's first anti-discrimination and human rights policy.

Golden's commitment to social justice continues to this day. Recently, the RFA named her 2009 Ryersonian of the Year for her leading role in helping an international student in need. When Golden received her second RFA award, she was once again accompanied by Jessica, now a 19-year-old student in Ryerson's child and youth care program.

"It all comes back to my daughter," said Golden. "I want my daughter and her generation to recognize the human rights struggles that have gone on before them, which have framed their greater opportunities. I want her and her peers to continue these struggles to make things more equitable for others."

Last April, Golden quickly responded when one of her social work students, from a Maasai village in Kenya, suddenly lost her sponsorship and faced returning home with only two days notice. Golden rallied the Ryerson community to help the student remain in Canada and finish her program. Immediate financial assistance came in from the President's office, the Ryerson Students' Union (RSU), social work and sociology students, faculty and staff. Student Financial Assistance found her a partial bursary. International Services for Students (ISS) helped her obtain an off-campus work permit.

In the fall, Golden, with the assistance of students, staff and faculty, organized the Education for Africa benefit concert hosted by Ryerson, World Vision, Full Capacity Concerts, the RSU and Alterna Savings. All proceeds went to a trust account set up for the student.

Thanks to Golden's efforts in galvanizing the Ryerson community, the student now has the financial means to continue her studies. After graduation, she plans to return to Kenya to assist her village and be a leader and role model to young women. Golden is now working to establish a fund for international students in similar circumstances.
 
When the student's parents heard what Golden had done for their daughter, they called her "a mother to the motherless." They said they hoped to meet her one day to give her a female heifer, a gift of honour among the Maasai.

"Jean reminds us of who we are and what is possible," said Joanne DiNova, a professional communication professor who presented Golden's award. "She never lets us forget, as she never lets her students forget, that the ripples from one small pebble tossed into the water can bring about an enormous wave of change."

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