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Meet Joanne Cave, Rhodes Scholar for 2013

One of three new Rhodes Scholars at U of T

Woodsworth College's Joanne Cave (photo by Diana Tyszko)

Joanne Cave, a fourth-year Woodsworth College student and Alberta native, has been named a Prairies Rhodes Scholar for 2013.

The prestigious and highly competitive scholarship, awarded to 11 Canadians a year, is one of the world’s most celebrated academic honours. It comes with a stipend and tuition expenses to pursue a degree at the University of Oxford.

Cave, a women and gender studies and sociology student, has been involved in public service since childhood. At 12, she founded and led Ophelia’s Voice, a girls’ leadership organization in Alberta. Recently, she started a network of young non-profit professionals called Connect the Sector.

In 2009, Cave won a prestigious Loran scholarship, which is awarded to incoming university students with outstanding leadership potential from the Canadian Merit Scholarship Foundation. Through the foundation’s summer program, she was able to participate in multiple internships, including one in India where she helped women in rural villages start small scale vegetable enterprises. Earlier this year, she won a Governor General's Award in Commemoration of the Person's Case for her work for women and girls’ equality. She has also been named one of Alberta's 50 Most Influential People and a YWCA Young Woman of Distinction and she’s spoken at TEDxEdmonton.

At U of T, she’s a peer mentor with the Office of Student Life’s First in the Family Program and is co-president of the Women & Gender Studies Students’ Union. She is Woodsworth’s first Rhodes Scholar.

U of T News asked Cave about her work and plans for the future.

What’s it like to win a Rhodes scholarship?

Absolutely incredible. It was an exhausting interview weekend in Saskatoon and I received the congratulatory phone call from the Prairie committee secretary at 3 a.m. on Sunday. It’s completely surreal – it hasn’t fully sunk in yet, and I don’t think it will for a while! As a women and gender studies student, a feminist perspective is often not thought to be strongly represented at institutions like Oxford. I’m really proud to offer that perspective – especially since some colleges at Oxford did not allow women until 40 years ago.

What do you plan to do with the scholarship?

I’m hoping to study the MPhil in Comparative Social Policy, with the potential of also completing a PhD in the program. I’m particularly interested in studying the changing relationship between the non-profit sector and welfare states, but I’m also hoping to research gender, income inequality and Aboriginal issues from a social policy perspective.

What do you plan to do after?

I don’t necessarily see myself as an academic long-term – I’d love to work as a policy analyst in the federal government, or provincially back home in Alberta. I would also be interested in working for foundations or policy think tanks that are interested in social sector innovation. I also haven’t written off running for public office one day – I just find politics too exciting.

What drew you to the University of Toronto?

I was drawn to the diverse programs and strong faculty. The Women & Gender Studies Institute here is top-notch, and I find the campus generally has a lot of energy and engagement in equity issues. I was also excited to live in Canada’s largest city – Toronto is a really interesting and innovative city to live in right now, and I’ve been able to settle into the non-profit community here quite easily. The Canadian Merit Scholarship Foundation’s Loran Scholar Program provided me with the resources to move across the country for university, and very much shaped my undergraduate experience and the opportunities I had available to me.

How have you gotten to this point in your academic career?

I have to give a lot of credit to the support I’ve had from my academic departments, professors, and mentors here. U of T can be, at times, very difficult to navigate – and my community here is what helped me thrive. All of my academic interests are very much shaped by the work I do in the community – the link between research and practice is very clear for me, and it’s how I plan to approach my graduate work at Oxford as well.

What work that you’ve done has made the most impact on you?

On campus I’ve been quite involved with the Women & Gender Studies Institute and as a mentor with the Office of Student Life’s First in the Family Program. The First in the Family Program is a mentorship program for students who are the first generation in their family to attend university, and it’s the only program I’ve found to directly address how class is experienced at U of T. I’m also the first generation in my family to attend university, and to receive the Rhodes is so humbling from that perspective.

Before arriving at U of T, I founded and led a girls’ leadership organization called Ophelia’s Voice in Edmonton at the age of 12. For five years, we hosted workshops for young women on media literacy, healthy sexuality, and body image and we helped them launch their own community action projects. I’m still involved in feminist organizations here in Toronto, including the Toronto Women’s City Alliance. It’s an issue I care very deeply about, as gender inequality in Canada is still very much overlooked. I also co-founded a network of young non-profit professionals in Toronto who are interested in advocating on sector-level issues like funding reform and the barriers to policy advocacy. As someone who sees myself with a career in the non-profit sector, it’s a very important conversation to have about the future.

Why is this kind of volunteer work important?

I think it’s important to think about social issues like this on a broader systems level, rather than as experiences we have individually. This is why community advocacy is so powerful – it helps us influence the policies and decisions that affect inequality from a systemic level, rather than trying to offer “Band Aid” solutions.

Who are the faculty mentors and friends who've have had the most impact on your time here?

I’m particularly close with the undergraduate coordinator of the Women & Gender Studies Institute, Professor Judith Taylor. I’ve known her for four years and she’s been an absolutely wonderful mentor, academic and otherwise. Many of the professors in the Women & Gender Studies Institute have been very supportive of my academic and extra-curricular pursuits, and I feel very privileged to have been part of such a small and supportive program.

I’ve also found a home at Woodsworth College, and I’m so proud to represent Woodsworth as one of U of T’s Rhodes Scholars. Everyone from the principal to the registrars at the college has made my time here a very positive one.

What do you hope for the future of your studies and career?

One of the foundations of the Rhodes Scholarship – to “fight the world’s fight” – is what resonates with me most. I hope to always carry that value with me in my future academic and professional life.