Fellowship Program

Summer 2019

The Social Connectedness Fellowship empowers students and recent graduates to carry out innovative research that will inspire local and global action to build community and belonging.

Across the cities of Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, Nanaimo and Pretoria (South Africa), the 2019 Fellows engaged with over 250 individuals – researchers, policymakers, Elders, community activists and leaders, non-profit directors, youth and more. Through interviews and their community engagement initiatives, Fellows gained a deeper understanding of local realities and solutions, which are incorporated into their final outputs.

The 2019 cohort has now wrapped-up and final outputs are published below. Fellows were responsible for multiple outputs this year, including a policy brief, community engagement initiative and final report. Learn more about each topic below and the Fellow behind the work.

Fellow Outputs

Shaista Asmi | Indigenous Youth Restorative Justice

image of asmi

Shaista is Bangladeshi but was born and raised in Saudi Arabia and educated in an international school. She is currently finishing her degree at McGill University in Cognitive Neuroscience and International Development. Whether it be through voicing marginalized experiences or fighting for legislative change in court, Shaista is committed to understanding and tackling inequality and injustice.

Partner: Human Rights Watch

Policy Brief: Indigenous Youth Restorative Justice

Final Report: Indigenous Youth Restorative Justice

A defining feature of every stage in Canada’s Criminal Justice System (CJS) is Indigenous overrepresentation. An overlooked issue of national priorities is that this crisis continues to be ill-addressed. The youth context of Indigenous overrepresentation is of special concern because whilst comprising a mere 8 percent of the total Canadian youth population, a stagerring 46% of children behind bars are Indigenous. The continually increasing proportion of Indigenous youth admitted to correctional services indicates the CJS’s failure to mitigate Indigenous overrepresentation, thereby necessitating reconsideration of how to address the crisis. This report examines the impacts of colonialism, the CJS’s ineffective attempt to address Indigenous over-incarceration and failure of correctional services to sufficiently curb recidivism or aid reintegration of Indigenous youth. Consequently, recommendations for addressing the crisis through programs and policy focused on early prevention and culturally sensitive restorative justice are presented.

Keywords: Indigenous, youth, over-incarceration, criminal justice system, restorative justice, reintegration, Gladue, colonial legacy, intergenerational trauma, correctional services

Community Engagement Initiative: Healing Circles at Maison Waseskun

Quinn Barrie-Watts | Building Social Connectedness for People with Profound or Multiple Disabilities

Quinn graduated from McGill University with a Bachelor’s in Political Science and a minor in East Asian Language and Literature. She was adopted from Taizhou, Jiangsu, China at the age of 14 months old and has grown up in Montreal, Quebec. She is passionate about human rights and the politics of international law, and hopes to build a career in which she will affect people’s lives for the better.

Partner: Special Olympics International

Policy Brief: Inclusion for Individuals with Profound/Multiple Disabilities+ Infographic – The Future of Special Olympics’ MATP

Final Report: Building Social Connectedness for People with Profound or Multiple Disabilities

Final Report (East-to-read version): Building Social Connectedness for People with Profound or Multiple Disabilities

This report looks at the barriers to the development of Special Olympics’ (SO) Motor Activity Training Program (MATP). MATP is an adapted sports training program for individuals with profound/multiple disabilities (PMD). The findings of this report will aid SO in its desire to better foster inclusion for those with PMD and their families/caregivers. Barriers vary across regions, although some are common to all. Notable barriers include a lack of resources and the persistence of negative attitudes towards people with disabilities. Recommendations include adapting existing SO programs, increasing research and data output on the population with PMD, and raising awareness through campaigning and community-based interactions.
Keywords: disability, Special Olympics, sports, profound, multiple, inclusion, barriers, programs, policy, attitude, intellectual disability

Community Engagement Initiative: Camp Massawippi Olympics
Quinn organized a mini olympics for youth who are part of Day Camp Massawippi. The event encouraged the collaboration and interaction between individuals with and without a variety of disabilities. Athletes had the opportunity to participate in a warm-up and compete in five sport events: target shooting, javelin, shot put, bowling and relay.

Danielle Cherpako | Indigenous Led, Land-Based Programming

Born and raised north of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Danielle is currently completing the pre- MA program in the department of Political Studies at the University of Manitoba. She hopes to pursue her MA with a focus on International Relations at the University of Manitoba in the following year. Danielle is particularly interested in exploring human rights law, Canadian foreign policy, and collective identities.

Partner: Misipawistik Cree Nation

Policy Brief: Building Trust Between Manitoba Hydro and Grand Rapids  + Infographic – Building Trust Between Manitoba Hydro and Grand Rapids

Final Report: Indigenous-Led, Land-Based Programming

This report explores the many ways in which Indigenous-led, land-based programming in Misipawistik Cree Nation, Manitoba addresses disruptions to connection to the land such as settler-colonialism, hydro-electric development and the climate crisis. Misipawistik’s programming includes the Misipawistik Pimatisiméskanaw land-based learning program, and the MCN kanawenihcikew Guardians program. Together, these programs foster social connectedness between Elders and youth, rebuild connection to the land, and revitalize Cree culture, while addressing effects of the climate crisis and health issues in the community. Misipawistik can serve as a model for other Indigenous communities facing similar disruptions to connection to the land, as well as for urban schools interested in implementing land-based programming. It is argued that land-based education has profound benefits for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth, and increased funding and support from the Provincial and Federal governments is necessary to expand this programming.

Keywords: education, land-based, resilience, climate action, community, programming, spirituality, resource development, Hydro-impacted, stewards, Indigenous

In addition to the final report, Danielle created a Land-Based Education Pamphlet that explores the benefits of Indigenous-led, land-based education programs and how they align with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, as well as the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action, and Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls recommendations. See also a map of Land-Based Learning Programs in Manitoba.

Community Engagement Initiative: Youth Leadership Workshop

Alexis Gardner | Empowering Youth in Leadership Initiatives

Alexis completed her Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology and Studies of Women and Gender from Vancouver Island University. She grew up in Abbotsford, British Columbia and has a strong passion for helping people, specifically children and youth. Alexis hopes to pursue a Masters of counselling with a specialization in couple and family therapy and to one day own and run a wellness centre that offers multiple services for low-income families.

Partner: TakingITGlobal

Policy Brief: Supporting Youth from Underrepresented Demographics in Leadership Initiatives + Infographic – Supporting Youth in Leadership Initiatives

Final Report: Supporting the Empowerment of Underrepresented Demographics of Youth in Leadership Initiatives

This research explores how youth-serving organizations can adapt their outreach strategies to better support the empowerment of youth from underrepresented demographics in leadership initiatives. Key findings of this research identified what main barriers contribute towards the social isolation of underrepresented demographics of youth, common challenges, common successes, levels of community support and supports needed. Additionally, this research explored the current outreach strategies of five youth-serving organizations across the country and was able to identify current strategies working well for supporting underrepresented demographics of youth, room for improvement and additional barriers youth encounter. The findings of this research also identify recommendations moving forward to better support the empowerment of underrepresented demographics of youth in leadership initiatives at both the policy and program level.

Keywords: underrepresented demographics, youth, community service, empowerment, leadership, civic engagement, Montreal, youth-serving organizations, non-profit, charity

Community Engagement Initiative: Celebr’Action
Alexis organized an event called #Célébr’Action, which consisted of a storytelling session with former #RisingYouth grantees, food and a collaborative graffiti art session. Watch the video below to learn more about the event and other grantees’ initiatives across Canada.

Mallory Lowes | Addressing the Multidimensional Barriers of Older People

Mallory Lowes grew up in Grand Coulee, Saskatchewan prior to attending Vancouver Island University to pursue a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology. She has a passion for local community engagement and raising awareness of social issues pertaining to mental health, poverty and homelessness. She aspires to obtain a Master in Community Development to continue on the journey of conducting community-based research and addressing social needs.

Partner: The Stop Community Food Centre

Policy Brief: Addressing the Multidimensional Barriers of Older Toronto Residents

Final Report: The Urban Age of Aging

As the aging population in Canada is on the rise, it is critical that urban areas adapt its services and built environment for this demographic change. Insight into the current livelihood of older adults can help prevent the growth of aging-related issues in the future. This project examines challenges of multidimensional poverty, social isolation and food insecurity among older adults in the city of Toronto, specifically among older individuals who reside in the St. Paul’s and Davenport federal riding areas. Within this focus, the impact of rapid gentrification and an austerity-driven government on the lived experiences of older adults is explored. This research aims to provide the potential for community programming and governmental actors to create opportunities to best address the challenges faced by older adults and foster social connectedness in the Toronto area.

Keywords: seniors, aging, social isolation, poverty, food insecurity, older, gentrification, austerity, Ontario, Toronto

Community Engagement Initiative: Older Adults and Seniors Community Consultation

Priya Nair | The Post-Migrant Mental Health of Asylum Seekers and Refugees in Quebec

As an Indian who grew up in Japan and then returned to her home country as a foreigner, Priya grew up oscillating between different worlds. Passionate about bringing these worlds and the people in them closer together, Priya aspires to build community and bridge social inequity. She graduated from McGill University with a joint honors in History and Middle East Studies and developed an interest in narratives, conflicts, and representation through media and education. In the future, Priya hopes to work towards conflict prevention and resolution through an interdisciplinary approach.

Partners: SCSC (under the Common Threads Project) and Médecins sans Frontières Urban Spaces

Policy Brief: Addressing the Mental Health Impact of Forced Migration + Infographic – Welcome Hive

Final Report: The Post-Migration Mental Health of Asylum Seekers and Refugees in Quebec

The objective of this report is to synthesize existing literature and draw on first-hand testimony to analyze the impact of forced migration on mental health as experienced in a post-migratory context in Quebec. Four areas are identified as key determinants of post-migration mental health: legal processes, detention, integration challenges, and social connectedness/isolation. The report concludes with a discussion of the implications for policy and practice. Recommendations put forward address providing alternatives to detention and introducing community-based informal mental health interventions that build social connectedness, while offering practical support.

Keywords: refugees, asylum seekers, Quebec, Canada, mental health, social connectedness, social isolation, detention, family reunification, integration challenges

Oral History Series
In addition to the final report, Priya conducted an oral history series titled “What We Leave Behind.” Comprising of the personal narratives of those who were forced to flee their countries, “What We Leave Behind” seeks to paint a picture of the lives that people had built before they were forced to flee their countries. View below one of the videos from the playlist:

Community Engagement Initiative: Welcome Hive


Noah Powers | The Decline and Preservation of Queer Spaces

Noah grew up in Toronto and moved to Montreal to attend McGill University, where he is graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Urban Systems Geography. He is passionate about the intersection of urban planning and sustainability, and aspires to work in a sustainable planning/architectural consultancy firm or think-tank. Noah is currently attending the London School of Economics for their MSc in City Design and Social Science.

Partner: Our Place Sustainable Developments

Policy Brief: A Strategy for Heritage Preservation of 2SLGBTQ+ Spaces

Final Report: Investigating the Decline and Preservation of Queer Spaces

Queer spaces are sites of community building and activism and work to create a sense of belonging amongst people with 2SLGBTQ+ identities. Over the past few decades, threats to the existence of queer spaces have initiated their decline and prompted fears of their eventual disappearance. This report identifies three main factors influencing the decline of queer spaces: the ubiquity of technology replacing the need for physical queer spaces, the ‘super-gentrification’ of physical queer communities, and the rising acceptance of 2SLGBTQ+ identities in urban areas around the world. Further, this report investigates the usage of heritage preservation and queer-focused urban policies to preserve historic queer spaces and protect extant queer spaces from these threatening factors. Overall, this report aims to educate policy-makers and other relevant actors of the continued importance of queer spaces to 2SLGBTQ+ communities and provide recommendations to safeguard these spaces for future generations of 2SLGBTQ+ people.

Keywords: queer space, 2SLGBTQ+, urban policy, social isolation, technology, Grindr, gentrification, urban studies, heritage preservation, queer history

In addition to the final report, Noah produced a photojournal, Cataloguing Queer Spaces in Montreal, which explores existing and revamped queer spaces in Montreal.

Community Engagement Initiative: Queer Here, Queer There Podcast
As part of his outreach, Noah produced a podcast titled ‘Queer Here, Queer There’ with the goal of making his research more accessible to the wider community. Click below to listen to the episodes:

Yolanda Sankobe | Fostering Psychosocial Well-Being in Disenfranchised Youth

Yolanda Sankobe was born in the arts capital of South Africa, Grahamstown but grew up in multiple cities. She graduated from the Tshwane University of Technology in 2017 with a BTech degree in Drama, majoring in Scriptwriting and Directing. She is passionate about purposeful art, particularly ‘protest’/political art that exposes and eradicates socio-economic inequities. She hopes to pursue further studies in the social sciences to help her audio-visual (theatre and film) work reach a wider audience.

Partner: Synergos Institute South Africa

Policy Brief: Creating Life Chances

Final Report: Fostering Psychosocial Well-Being in Socioeconomically Disenfranchised Young People

South Africa remains one of the most unequal countries globally with more than half of its population living below the poverty line. This has resulted in negative and long-lasting effects on the psyche and well-being of its people, especially youth. This study aims to 1) establish how socioeconomic disenfranchisement affects the psyche of young people, 2) investigate if and how traits such as resilience and psychosocial well-being may counter/diminish the negative impacts of socioeconomic disenfranchisement on the psyche of young people and 3) explore how art may be used to foster these traits that may potentially lead to young people closing the inequality gap. The primary recommendation is that the National Youth Development Agency should fund more art therapy programmes and partner with NGOs to train community leaders to deliver them.

Key terms: youth, employment, poverty, socioeconomic disenfranchisement, resilience, psychosocial well-being, trauma, South Africa, drama, art therapy

Community Engagement Initiative: Pankop Mathanjana Art Day 
Yolanda hosted a full-day arts festival for youth in partnership with SOS Children’s Village Mathajana. Watch the video below which documents the day, along with testimonials from drama therapists and social workers.

Claire Suh | The Urban Heat Island Effect in Montreal

Claire grew up in New Providence, New Jersey in the U.S. and moved to Montreal, where is currently completing an honors degree in Linguistics with a minor concentration in Psychology at McGill University. Her academic career has informed her passion for cognitive science research (e.g. linguistics, psychology, computer science, philosophy, and neuroscience). Furthermore, she is interested in how to best design city infrastructure in order to maximize social inclusion and equity as a result of spending a semester abroad in Europe and a summer in Singapore.

Partner: Data-Driven Lab

Policy Brief: Urban Heat in Montreal (co-authored with Lavanya Virmani) + Infographic – Urban Heat in Montreal

Final Report: The Urban Heat Island Effect in Montréal

As more people move to urban areas, cities are becoming larger, more complex and much hotter. There are areas in cities called urban heat islands that are significantly hotter than surrounding rural areas. This urban heat island effect is inextricably tied with climate change as a whole, with health and social equity. Montréal has several policies in place to mitigate the urban heat island effect. However these policies do not adequately reflect the interconnection with social equity and health, rendering them much less effective. This analytical report explores the manifold causes of the urban heat island effect, why some populations are more vulnerable to it, and how to make climate policy more effective by shifting to an interdisciplinary perspective.

Keywords: urban heat island effect, climate change, urban planning, social equity, interdisciplinary, sustainable development, community resilience, environment, health, collaboration, Montréal

Interactive Page
In addition to the final report, Claire produced an interactive page on Data-Driven Lab’s website exploring the urban heat island effect in Montreal using audio clips and visuals. For an introduction to the page, read her blog.

Community Engagement Initiative: Urban Heat Island Workshop

Lavanya Virmani | The Role of Social Support Systems in Health

Lavanya grew up in India and moved to Montreal to pursue an undergraduate degree at McGill University, majoring in Psychology and minoring in Behavioural Science and Sociology. Her passion for reducing health inequalities grew after working in India and Malawi on health and education initiatives. She hopes to pursue a Master’s in Public Health to achieve this aim.

Partner: Partners In Health

Policy brief: Urban Heat in Montreal (co-authored with Claire Suh) + Infographic – Urban Heat in Montreal

Final Report: Understanding the Role of Social Support Systems in Health

This paper, co-authored with community health leaders from Partners in Health, aims to highlight the importance of social supports or more commonly known as material resources in enhancing wellbeing in resource poor settings. It does so by showcasing the work of one global health organization- Partners In Health in tackling social determinants of health through its Program on Social and Economic Rights (POSER). The report draws from the wisdom and experiences shared by community health leaders of Partners In Health in different communities across the globe and includes case studies to understand the impact of such resources on health. Overall, it can be concluded that these supports have had a crucial role in improving clinical outcomes, creating social connectedness and minimizing social isolation.

Keywords: POSER, social supports, social connectedness, community health leaders, Partners In Health, material resources

Community Engagement Initiative: Urban Heat Island Workshop