OT student Janany Jeyasundaram

2019 Cressy Award Recipient: On Leadership

Year 2 OT student Janany Jeyasundaram is a recipient of the 2019 Gordon Cressy Student Leadership Award. This award, established in 1994, recognizes students’ outstanding extracurricular contributions while at the University of Toronto. Janany spoke with me about her perspectives on leadership and her leadership activities as an occupational therapy student.

What motivates you to take on leadership roles?

As the daughter of refugees, I have a strong sense of being between two worlds — the world of my parents in their homeland, which I have imbibed and internalized, and the world I was born into, where I do not fully belong. I have witnessed legacies of trauma both in my personal circles and in my role as an occupational therapy student. My identities and experiences have shaped my perspectives on how humans experience occupations within the opportunities and constraints of social and cultural circumstances. Throughout my occupational therapy education, I actively sought leadership opportunities to further my understanding of equity and move the profession towards greater inclusion of vulnerable populations.

Tell me about the leadership role(s) you are most proud of, and why.

This year, I established the Student Inclusion Diversity Equity and Accessibility (IDEA) Committee, which is a student-led group with the vision to move towards a more equitable learning environment for OS & OT learners. To actualize this vision, we leverage our collective experiences and knowledge to plan and implement equity initiatives that foster new learning and personal growth. For example, in partnership with experts, the Student IDEA Committee was able to host the department’s first ever Black Futures Month event in February of 2019. The two-part workshop addressed the specific role occupational therapists can play to identify disparities and better meet the needs of Black populations. This leadership role has been the most rewarding for me because it allowed me the opportunity to learn from and contribute to our collective development as change agents—a core competency needed in work with vulnerable populations.

What advice or support can you give to students who would like to be active leaders but are unsure how to get started?

My advice would be to make use of the opportunities and supports available to you. It is easy to get stuck on the next assignment or test, but if you take the time to actively participate in existing student initiatives or seek out your own non-traditional opportunities, you will be a better clinician for it. Your involvement will likely challenge you to think critically about social norms that shape individual experiences, power relations between clients and therapists, and biases within our profession and professional education. During my involvement with the Diversity and Inclusion Curriculum Theme Committee, I recognized the opportunity to establish placement opportunities with a sociocultural focus for OS & OT students, in collaboration with the department’s fieldwork coordinators. The support I received in pursuing this endeavor enabled my personal and professional growth, and increased my comfort to interrogate assumptions and create ways for everyone to participate.

Do you have any role models who supported and encouraged your leadership capabilities, and if so, what did they do to support you?

The key to my growth as a leader was being in an environment filled with teachers and peers that truly wanted me to thrive. One such individual is Dr. Barry Trentham, who exemplified the importance of acting from a foundation of compassion and respect. He valued a process that involved ongoing dialogue and active listening, which minimized power differentials between faculty and students. While working on various committees and research projects with Dr. Trentham, I felt that I could affect meaningful change, which was powerful to experience as a student. The compassion and respect modeled by Dr. Trentham in his work with faculty and students alike encouraged my own leadership capabilities and informed my leadership approach.

How did it feel to be nominated for this award, and to be a recipient?

I feel grateful for the opportunities I have had in this program to do meaningful work alongside inspiring people. This nomination has instilled a confidence and motivation in me to continue to do this work and advance the profession towards greater equity and inclusion.

Sandra Sokoloff
June 25, 2019