3M National Student Fellowship Profile: 4th-Year Philosophy student Madeleine Kenyon

Madeleine Kenyon (Philosophy)
Madeleine Kenyon (Philosophy)

Through empathy, courage and a keen intellect, 4th year philosophy student Madeleine Kenyon has turned her own vulnerabilities into a superpower that has propelled her to the forefront of student-led mental health initiatives at UVic and earned her a prestigious 3M National Student Fellowship.

After grappling with mental health issues herself, as we all do at some point in our lives, Kenyon discovered the importance of community- and peer-support networks for healing and personal growth.

"For myself, healing started with being vulnerable. The day I finally asked for help was the start of a new life for me," she wrote in her submission to the award’s selection committee. "By being honest about my own experiences, at school and beyond, I gained access to a new community of support at UVic.”

It was when working with UVic Bounce, a student mental health initiative founded and directed by english professor Rebecca Gagan, that Kenyon also helped to build a community of support for others.

"Since September [2019], Madeleine has contributed endlessly to the development of UVic Bounce. It is not an exaggeration to say that the future direction of this initiative has become clearer because of her contributions," wrote Gagan in support of Kenyon’s award. "In every meeting, Madeleine not only advocates for her peers, but also strategizes ways to develop programming that will support them."

During this same period of time, Kenyon was also enrolled in a course taught by philosophy professor Audrey Yap at the Vancouver Island Regional Correctional Centre, a maximum security jail and remand facility in Saanich. "Every week, the UVic students attend class with men currently living in the Right Living Unit at the jail. We talk about philosophy, poetry, literature and our own views on life and what it means to be human,” Yap explains. “Every week, Madeleine shows up and supports the other students in the class, regardless of their background or personal history, by being present, vulnerable and compassionate."

On Kenyon's natural abilities as a leader, Yap is unequivocal: "This is the kind of leadership that produces lasting effects – by understanding what people hope for and trying to create an environment in which they can thrive. I cannot think of a student who better exemplifies this kind of leadership practice than Madeleine."

Academically, Kenyon is top-notch. This straight-A student was the only undergraduate accepted to present a paper, on the topic of the philosophy of medicine, at a University of Cincinnati conference last fall. Earlier in the year, she received a 2018-19 Jamie Cassels Undergraduate Research Award (JCURA) for her research on gendered violence and forgiveness – a topic that Kenyon also explores in her podcast, New Sincerity, which received national attention last summer when it was published to the Alternatives Journal website.

After finishing her undergraduate degree, Kenyon hopes to pursue a career teaching and researching feminist philosophy, with a special focus on protecting vulnerable bodies from violence and systemic medical discrimination.

That she would connect her research so directly with her practice is no surprise to philosophy professor Eric Hochstein, with whom Madeleine undertook an independent study last year. "What makes Madeleine such an outstanding leader is that her interest is never about being in a leadership role, says Hochstein. “Her first concern is always to take what she has learned and apply it in a way that can bring about change and help others."

Along with another Humanities student, Kai Jacobsen (sociology and gender studies), Madeleine Jacobsen is one of ten students in all of Canada to receive a 2020 3M National Student Fellowship Award, which recognizes full-time diploma and undergraduate students who have demonstrated outstanding leadership in their personal lives and at their post-secondary institution. A complete list of 2020 3M National Student Fellows can be found at https://www.stlhe.ca/awards/3m-national-student-fellowships/