Humanitarian Award recipient Rebekah Smith is motivated by the power of kindness

Rebekah Smith and Dean Val Napoleon, 8 March 2022

Val Napoleon, Interim Law Dean and third year JD/JID student Rebekah Smith, March 8, 2022

By Ivan Watson

Growing up in Brantford, Ontario, Rebekah Smith often heard her grandmother, Tamar Facey, say that it costs nothing to be kind. While embracing those words, she knows that the combination of generosity of spirit, hours of volunteer time, and dedicating one’s abilities to help others certainly adds up to a considerable, and deeply meaningful, investment in creating positive change. “It’s a cost that we can all afford and I think that we all have the capacity to be good and to be kind. It’s beneficial to both the people you help and your own character development,” says Smith, who since starting her journey in UVic’s JD/JID program in 2019, has been equally motivated by achieving academic excellence as well as by putting her skills to work to serve her community.

Smith is this year’s recipient of the Ann Roberts Humanitarian Award. Co-sponsored by the Faculty of Law and the Victoria Bar Association, the award is presented annually to a student in acknowledgement of their outstanding and selfless contribution of time and effort to the well-being of the law school, individuals with the faculty, and the community at large.

“Through her selflessness, generosity, kindness, and dedication to improving the lives and well-being of others, Rebekah embodies the spirit of this award,” said Interim Dean Val Napoleon in her remarks at the ceremony. “She is an exceptional and much deserving recipient of the Ann Roberts Humanitarian Award, having selflessly and quietly made significant contributions to the UVic law school community over her time here.”

Smith has played a major leadership role in the Black Law Students Association, and currently serves as President. She is also a member of the Racialized Law Students Collective, and a policy advisor with the Students of Colour Collective. She is a program ambassador with the Black Professional Leadership Program, and a board member with the British Columbia Chapter of the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers.

“When I started law school, I had this intense feeling of imposter syndrome and I think that’s common for a lot of people starting law but I think it’s particularly heightened if you come from a marginalised community and also if you have intersecting identities, so if you’re a woman, and also a person of colour,” says Smith. “I think there’s this feeling that you’re not supposed to be here. I’ve really worked hard to connect with students who share similar characteristics to me and to help them know that, even though these spaces weren’t necessarily created for us, we can still do really well in them. That’s been my driving motivation in all the things that I do—to help people.”

Smith also co-organized a series of workshops on trauma-informed training and education, and served as a member of admission committee, as a teaching assistant and member of the planning committee for the Indigenous Perspectives Camp. She is currently a Third Year Representative on the Executive of the UVic Law Students' Association as well as a peer tutor for first year students. During first and second year she was an active member of FemLaw and the Environmental Law Club. In the community, she volunteers as a Disability Advocate with Together Against Poverty Society and as a kitchen volunteer with the Mustard Seed.

Several of Smith’s professors and peers have remarked on her culinary skills and she has often shared her delicious cooking with others. “I think it’s very important to break bread with people,” she says. “It’s really helpful way to get to know people and to have a conversation with them in a way that is welcoming.”

Smith received her award on March 8, 2022, immediately following the F. Murray Fraser Lecture on Professional Responsibility given by the Hon. Sheilah Martin, Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. “It felt surreal,” says Smith. “Not only being able to listen to her in person, but for her to share some recognition of who I was, it meant a lot.”

Her advice to future law students? “I would say that it is important to know that law school is doable and that you can succeed here,” she says. “I’d also say that it is important to make friends and build connections outside of law school, to understand the connection between law and the community, and to use the skills that you’re learning in a way that’s practical and that helps others.”

Media contact:

Ivan Watson
UVic Law Communications