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Chantal KayumbaAn award from the Office of Human Rights, Equity and Accessibility recognized nursing student Chantal Kayumba for her advocacy on behalf of patients.

Nursing student wins recognition as human-rights advocate

It began with a journal.

UWindsor nursing students on clinical placements are expected to write about their experiences and turn in their notes to instructors as part of their course work. When fourth-year student Chantal Kayumba wrote about discriminatory comments targeting certain patients and the gutsy way she addressed it, Prof. Brenda McLaughlin took notice.

“By acting on her beliefs, Chantal stimulated change in the agency’s corporate culture and helped to protect vulnerable people,” McLaughlin said. “She also made strides in making University of Windsor field placements safer environments for students of minority groups.”

For this, and her work on and off campus with Indigenous groups and UWindsor students from Africa, Kayumba has won this year’s OHREA award from the Office of Human Rights, Equity and Accessibility. McLaughlin nominated her for the honour.

“It was a surprise,” said Kayumba.

During her clinical placement last semester, Kayumba noticed nurses commenting aloud that patients from visible minorities were drug dealers or seeking medical attention only to get their hands on prescription drugs.

“The language was stereotypical and derogatory,” Kayumba said. She approached staff members with some trepidation about what she had witnessed.

“I didn’t want to call anyone out or accuse. I just wanted to be an advocate for my patients regardless of their race.”

Later, staff members admitted they might harbour subconscious prejudices or that their words were insensitive and might have unintended consequences. They promised to do better and praised Kayumba for raising their awareness.

“The reception to my concerns was better than I expected,” she said.

Kayumba, influenced by a book about micro-aggressions in the workplace she was reading at the time, reflected on the interactions in her journal.

“Our language and rhetoric affects the care we provide our patients,” she said.

“While we may all have our biases, we can all work at overcoming them through education and interacting with those we judge,” she wrote.

McLaughlin said she was impressed with Kayumba’s insights, and decided to nominate her for the OHREA award. She reached out to other groups on and off campus to document Kambuya’s work with marginalized groups.

In her time as vice-president of the Generation of Youth for Christ, Kayumba worked with a First Nations group. She advocated for people on Manitoulin Island requiring diabetes screening and mental health assistance.

Drawing on her upbringing as a child of parents who came to Canada from Rwanda, she has also volunteered with the Young African Union on campus, helping newly arrived students from Africa access resources and get their footing.

The award Kayumba received is one of five handed out by OHREA each year. The awards honour efforts in the areas of accessibility, employment equity, human rights and social justice, and mental health, said Kaye Johnson, OHREA executive director. The award Kayumba received recognizes her efforts in the areas of human rights and social justice, diversity, inclusivity and employment equity.

“We give the awards to recognize the contributions that people make in all these areas,” said Kaye Johnson. “It’s a way to celebrate that.”

Other awards handed out at the OHREA open house on Dec. 7 included:

  • the Accessibility Award won by campus recreation co-ordinator Sandra Ondracka;
  • the Employment Equity Award won by I.T. Services retiree Purita Bristow who was a founding member of the Employment Equity Coordinating Committee;
  • the Human Rights and Social Justice Award won by Kathy M’Closkey, professor in Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Criminology, for her research on the culture of the Diné people and her advocacy for Diné weavers; and
  • the Mental Health Champion Award won by recent grad Jessica Tetreault-Fazio for her fundraising and advocacy work.

More information on the awards and past recipients can be found on the OHREA website.

—Sarah Sacheli

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