Robarts Centre announces Barbara Godard and Odessa award recipients

Image announcing Awards

Two York University students have earned academic awards for their work advancing Canadian studies. The prizes, awarded by York’s Robarts Centre for Canadian Studies, recognize one graduate and one undergraduate student every year.

The Barbara Godard Prize for the Best York University Dissertation in Canadian Studies recipient is Andrew Zealley, Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change (EUC), for “Risky Beeswax: Artistic Responses to the Biopolitics of HIV/AIDS.” The recipient of the Odessa Prize for the best undergraduate paper in a fourth-year course is Emily Belmonte for “Understanding Treaty One: Subsistence and Survival 1871-1888.”

The Barbara Godard Prize

Andrew Zealley (photo by Walter Segers)
Andrew Zealley (photo by Walter Segers)

Zealley’s work maps the artistic response to the complex and contradictory experience of living with HIV-AIDS within the Toronto gay community. He uses audio, video and writing to argue for experiential and situated knowledges as forms of HIV management and prevention.

“I want people to understand that pleasure is possible; pleasure is within grasp if we can learn to let go of – or refuse – institutionalized mandates around sex and intimate relationships,” he says. “I want people to find ways to talk about their personal health goals during sexual moments, to integrate sexual health talk into sexual play. I hope that people will better understand, through my work, the insidious role that gentrification plays in our pleasure lives. Homogeneity poisons imaginations and desires.”

The prize adjudication committee praised his research for exposing the underlying tensions between art and scholarly practice as processes for understanding this experience, by sourcing material often inaccessible or undervalued by institutional research. Overall, the committee noted the thesis provides a timely reminder of the numerous social discourses that continue to pathologize HIV-AIDS.

Zealley is currently working on multiple projects, both in an artistic and academic capacity. He is part of the Wetrospective exhibition at the AGO this month and has a new vinyl LP record, The Magic of the Think Machine Gods, releasing in October. He is also working on research projects with EUC graduate Peter Hobbs and Nick Mulé, a professor in York’s School of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies, Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (LA&PS); and participating as a video maker in “Viral Interventions,” a project funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and overseen by EUC Professor Sarah Flicker and Associate Professor John Greyson of York’s School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design (AMPD).

The Odessa Prize

Emily Belmonte
Emily Belmonte

Belmonte’s essay was completed under the supervision of Professor Sean Kheraj (Department of History, LA&PS) as part of the fourth-year Honours Thesis Seminar (HIST 4000). Her honours thesis focused on interpreting Treaty One (with the Chippewa and Cree Indians of Manitoba) and examining the events leading up to the signing, as well as the immediate aftermath in the 1870s.

“Canadians should not only be interested, but they should feel a sense of urgency to learn about the history of the land they are privileged to live on and how its first people were treated so shamefully at the hands of the government,” says Belmonte. “Canadians need to understand the treaty-making period, how we are all treaty people, and how there were very specific promises and rights granted to Indigenous people during the treaty process that were never upheld in a very deliberate process in order to secure land acquisition and pave the way for agrarian settlement.”

The prize committee recognized her work as a thoughtful and well-considered synthesis of scholarship on the history of Canada’s colonial expansion into the northwest. The committee noted the thesis is exceptionally well-organized and well-written, and demonstrates great care and sophistication in sorting out the layers of events and meanings surrounding this critical moment in Canadian history.

Belmonte is entering her final year at York and aims to graduate in June 2022 with a degree in both history and education. She plans to become a teacher with her certification to teach at the primary and junior levels, “but one day I may also consider teaching history at the senior and intermediate levels as well,” she says.

The work of both prize recipients was nominated by the Robarts Centre for the Canadian Studies Network – Réseau d’études canadiennes prizes for the Best PhD Dissertation and Best Undergraduate Essay Prize in Canadian Studies. Belmonte’s essay earned the Best Canadian Studies Undergraduate Essay/Thesis Prize and was noted for being well-written and carefully documented, and was highlighted as an example of undergraduate scholarship of very high quality, according to the Canadian Studies Network in their congratulatory email.

Zealley and Belmonte were both interviewed about their work by the Robarts Centre for Canadian Studies. Read those reflections here.

About the prizes

The Barbara Godard Prize for the Best York University Dissertation in Canadian Studies, which has been awarded annually since 2012, is named in memory of Professor Barbara Godard, former Avie Bennett Historica Chair of Canadian Literature and former professor of English, French, social and political thought, and women’s studies at York University. The Odessa Prize for the Study of Canada, first awarded in 2011, was established through the generosity of York alumnus Irvin Studin (BBA Schulich, PhD Osgoode Hall Law School), who dedicated the award to his parents who hailed from the famous port city of Odessa, Ukraine. Learn more about these prizes at