The YWCA of Greater Toronto honoured York University President and Vice-Chancellor Lorna R. Marsden (below, left) and York University alumna Beverley McAleese (below, right) as Women of Distinction at the association’s annual awards ceremony May 28.
The two were among seven this year to receive the awards, which recognize community commitment and outstanding contribution to enhancing the lives of women and girls. Marsden was honoured for education and McAleese for social justice.
“Few women in public life have accomplished so much in so many realms as Lorna Marsden,” says the YWCA’s citation. She “takes on difficult challenges, mentors women, and leads with a level of energy and commitment that inspires colleagues. Besides being a community leader,” the citation continues, she “has achieved recognized success in national politics, public service and academic administration.”
Marsden is in her second term as president and vice-chancellor of Canada’s third largest university. She came to York after a term as president of Wilfrid Laurier University, one of only a few female university presidents in Canada at the time. She started her academic career in sociology at the University of Toronto after earning a PhD from Princeton University. At U of T, she held numerous leadership positions including vice-provost.
In the 1970s, Marsden was third president of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women (NAC) when equal pay and benefits issues were developed 1975-1977. During the Trudeau years, she was policy Chair and vice-president of the Liberal Party of Canada and in 1984 then prime minister Pierre Trudeau appointed her to the Senate of Canada. There, she served on various committees and was vice-chair of the Canada-Europe Parliamentary Association.
The YWCA citation lauded Marsden for including many women on her executive staff and encouraging them “to tackle problems with passion and to embrace change.” A specialist in the sociology of work and the role of women in the workplace, Marsden continues to teach at York in addition to performing her presidential duties. With colleagues in her field, she has co-authored two books: The Fragile Federation: Social Change in Canada and Lives of Their Own: the Individualization of Women’s Lives.
“Throughout my life I’ve been lucky to have great mentors and friends,” Marsden said upon receiving the award. “In this room are people from the women’s movement and the several fields I’ve worked in, from politics, business and the universities. They are friends and inspired role models of longstanding and to whom I owe much of my success and most of my joy in life.”
Beverley McAleese “has worked hard to keep women safe from life-threatening situations,” says the YWCA citation. “For many years, she has assisted battered women and sex trade workers seek a new sense of themselves and to learn new choices. Through Beverley’s efforts, and with a non-judgmental approach, women who are typically scorned members of society often find a new path.”
McAleese earned her bachelor of arts degree in women’s studies from York University in 1995. “A visionary and feminist committed to social justice,” she has worked in shelters for women, developed and administered social programs, and lobbied the government to provide better services for sex trade workers and education programs for johns, men who procure their services.
In 1996, McAleese set up and ran the Choices Program for women who wanted to exit the sex trade and worked with police to reach out to migrant sex trade workers who were marginalized because of language and cultural differences. In 1997, she created and led the not-for-profit organization StreetLight Support Services, which offers programs for both sex trade workers who want out and johns who are caught. The organization grew to become Canada’s leading organization to help prostitutes get off the street and has become a national and international model.