Community activist inspires students at 2015 Kelly Bang Lecture

- November 17, 2015

Robin Stadnyk (right), acting director of the School Occupational Therapy, presents Bernadette MacDonald with a Certificate of Recognition. (Caroline Kerr photo)
Robin Stadnyk (right), acting director of the School Occupational Therapy, presents Bernadette MacDonald with a Certificate of Recognition. (Caroline Kerr photo)

A Nova Scotia community health activist told Dalhousie students they needed to be “strong and fearless” to work for social change.
Bernadette MacDonald, executive director of the Tri-County Women’s Centre in Yarmouth, gave the School of Occupational Therapy’s annual Kelly Bang Lecture last month.  The lecture’s namesake, who was a lecturer in Dalhousie’s School of Occupational Therapy, was a nationally-known occupational therapist, writer, artist and counselor for survivors of sexual abuse. The memorial lecture was established at Dalhousie by her family to honour those whose research, practice, teaching and advocacy advances opportunities for women and marginalized adults.

At her lecture, MacDonald inspired students with her determination to make a difference in her community. At the Tri County Women’s Centre, she works across the health and social services sectors to address equality and social justice issues that impact women and their families. MacDonald has been involved in the development of numerous projects including HRY (Healthy Relationships for Youth), Youth Truth Matters, RESPECT, Choice Housing Committee, SHYFT (Supportive Housing Youth Focus Team) and, most recently, the Leahey Wellness Clinic that she founded in January 2014.

“Your perspective, your skills, your analysis, your passion, will be invaluable,” MacDonald told students. “When you do equality and social justice work, there will be times when there will be resistance. You will need to be strong, fearless, and refuse to be complacent”.

In her lecture, MacDonald highlighted the issue of pornography and the profound negative impact on women and youth. She described it as “the biggest social issue of our time when it comes to youth development.” She described internet porn as “the wild west…  like cigarettes in the ‘50s where you could smoke anywhere and do no harm.” She argued that online pornography was leading to young men developing unrealistic expectations of sex and some are growing into abusers.

“Bernadette Macdonald was a wonderful speaker who highlighted some of the issues faced by groups in our local communities,” said Saholy Mevamanana, a second-year Occupational Therapy student.  “Some of these issues I had never thought of before. I really appreciated her perspective and the drive she showed. Her advocacy for better healthcare and the needs of the community was inspiring”.

MacDonald encouraged Dalhousie students and staff to use their education and skills to get involved with their communities. She shared her experience of more than a quarter century’s worth of hard work, activism and passion and certainly seemed to leave the audience wanting to join her in her mission to achieve full economic and social independence for women.


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