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A unanimous choice for inaugural award

[Concurrent Education student Afsheen Chowdhury]
Afsheen Chowdhury speaks at Senate after receiving the inaugural Margaret Hooey Governance Award. (University Communications)

During her time at Queen’s, Afsheen Chowdhury (ConEd’19), like many students, has been involved in numerous extra-curricular activities.

She has been a residence don for three years, serves as a Board Member for the Levana Gender Advocacy Centre (LGAC) and held several positions on the Concurrent Education Student Association (CESA), for example.

What makes her stand out from other students, however, has been her participation in the governance of the university – student Senator for the Faculty of Education; member and co-chair of the Queen’s University Board-Senate Advisory Committee; member of the Joint Board-Senate Principalship Search Committee; and, perhaps most significantly, member of the University Council on Anti-Racism and Equity (UCARE).

For all her contributions and continuing commitment, Chowdhury is the inaugural winner of the Margaret Hooey Governance Award.

The award was established in November 2018 by the estate of Margaret Hooey (LLD’02), the long-time secretary of Queen’s who was admired for her dedication to the university as well as the welfare of her colleagues, students, friends and family. The award is given to a student enrolled in any degree program at Queen’s who has made an outstanding contribution to the good governance of the university through work with Senate or any committee of the Senate.

For Chowdhury, receiving the award has been both exciting and humbling.

“It’s a little surreal. I think it is everything that went into it and this is the end of my journey here, after everything that has happened,” she says. “Receiving an award like this is an important reminder that the work you do has a real tangible impact to the people beyond the borders of that room and beyond the Senate.”

The award committee was unanimous in selecting Chowdhury as the inaugural winner. Letters of support mentioned her “thoughtful comments and opinions,” “impressive insights,” and keen interest in Queen’s governance processes.

While she had already been actively involved in governance at Queen’s, a turning point came when she ran for rector in 2017. During the campaign week she received many messages from students – Muslim students, international students, students of colour – telling her how important it was to see someone just like them standing up and trying to make a difference in the university community.

Ultimately, her campaign was not successful but the experience set her on a new path, one that led her to become a champion for equity, diversity, and inclusion initiatives at Queen’s.

“We always talk about how representation matters but then you realize that it really does matter. This is about people feeling safe and realizing they can be someone,” Chowdhury says. “That’s when I really started to take it seriously and I said even if I don’t win the election I was still a senator and I’m still going to sit on the principal selection committee. I was going to move forward and I still wanted to do the things that I promised during the campaign.”

As much as she has contributed during her time at Queen’s, Chowdhury is quick to point out all that she has gained, particularly through her various roles with Senate. In the end her time as a senator wasn’t about networking but about personal and community growth.

“I think what really went a long way for me, especially sitting on Senate, was building community and genuine connections. It’s sharing our stories with each other,” she says. “The people who nominated me for this award were my friends, they are people who I had dinner with and it is such a blessing to have friends who are in their 40s, 50s, 60s, who are giving this wisdom but also treating me as an equal and feeling that I can have some wisdom to provide for them. It’s people who genuinely pick you up and pick each other up throughout the process.”

A Pillar of the Queen’s Community

During her more than 30 years at Queen’s, Margaret Hooey, was a valued adviser to four principals and their administrations, and a trusted mentor to students, staff, faculty and trustees. She played a key role in shaping Queen’s modern governances system and was an advocate for the unique form of student government. More than her role as an administrator, she was viewed by student leaders as a mentor and friend. For her contributions and dedication Dr. Hooey received the Queen’s Distinguished Service Award (1992), the John Orr Award (1998), and an honorary doctorate (2002).