Women & Gender Studies co-founder's new scholarship celebrates 50 years of support

March 2, 2020 by Sean McNeely - A&S News

When Margaret Atwood tweets about you, it’s kind of a big deal.

The iconic author and Faculty of Arts & Science alumna put out the call to support her longtime friend and fellow U of T graduate, Ceta Ramkhalawansingh, who recently created a scholarship to support students in the Women & Gender Studies Institute (WGSI).

Fifty years ago!!!! (Can it be?) my dear friend @CetaR, serene of smile and steely of will, helped found Women and Gender Studies at @UofT.  Now a scholarship is being started in her name.  - Margaret Atwood 

The Ceta Ramkhalawansingh Scholarship will be awarded to one upper-year undergraduate student enrolled in a major or specialist program in women and gender studies or in Caribbean studies.

Author Margaret Atwood and Arts & Science alumna Ceta Ramkhalawansingh.
Author Margaret Atwood presents fellow Arts & Science alumna Ceta Ramkhalawansingh with a YWCA Toronto Woman of Distinction Award in 2017. Photo credit: YWCA Toronto.

Ramkhalawansingh completed her bachelor of arts from New College in 1972, followed by two diplomas in child study (1974 and 1976) from the Institute of Child Study (now the Dr. Eric Jackman Institute of Child Study) and a master of arts from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) in 1980. After completing her residency requirements for a PhD, Ceta accepted a position at Toronto City Hall.

“Many students need funding so they can focus on their studies,” she says. “I don't want students to be working and studying. I'd rather they were spending time on volunteer activities, being engaged in university governance or doing something for the community.”

When Ramkhalawansingh was an undergraduate student in 1968, physical education was compulsory for women but not for men, Hart House was off-limits to women and the distribution of birth control information was illegal.

That was more than enough for Ramkhalawansingh to get involved in campus activities, leading to several changes to campus policy, as well as the creation of the very first women’s studies course, with Ramkhalawansingh being one of its first lecturers.

“I’ve never really left U of T,” she says. In 1985, she helped set up the City of Toronto’s scholarships in women’s studies and she continues to be involved with reviewing applications. She sits on the Innis College Council, chairs the Harold Innis Foundation Board and before that was a New College alumni representative on the College of Electors.

For five decades, Ramkhalawansingh has been a feminist human rights advocate, city builder and community activist at the neighbourhood level in social housing, land-use planning and heritage preservation.

Until her retirement in 2010, she managed the City of Toronto’s corporate programs on equity, diversity and human rights. In 2014, she was appointed by Toronto City Council as the Councillor for Ward 20 Trinity-Spadina.

Ramkhalawansingh is pleased with how the women and gender studies program has evolved and grown over the past half century from that single course. “There remains a real commitment to advancing feminist theory and they are committed to student involvement which resonates with me,” she says.

She applauds milestones such as the introduction of minor, major and specialist degrees in women’s studies on St. George campus in 1980 and the launch of its free-standing master of arts program with a focus on transnational feminist studies in 2007, followed by a PhD program in 2013.

But ever the activist, she still sees plenty of opportunity for WGSI to be a part of creating more positive change. “There is a difference between the gains made by white women and women of colour, as well as women from disadvantaged backgrounds, including women from the LGBTQ communities and Indigenous women,” she says.

Ceta is a true inspiration for our community at WGSI,” says Alissa Trotz, newly appointed director of WGSI and also Professor in the undergraduate Caribbean Studies Program at New College.

“The scholarship in her name is a wonderful tribute that honours her work and her connection to the Caribbean. That it will be awarded in 2021, on the 50th anniversary of the first course in gender studies at the University of Toronto, comes full circle perfectly. It’s a reminder to all of us of what can be done, of what vision and imagination and hard work can produce.”

What’s also needed is funding, believes Ramkhalawansingh. Interacting with large institutions, engaging in processes, pursuing ideas and tackling social issues requires financial support.

“That’s why scholarships are so important,” she says. “Students have to have money to be able to investigate those issues.”

While she welcomes all support, she’s looking to the more than 1,100 women and gender studies alumni to support the Institute.

“Even if they don't donate to my scholarship, they can make a donation to other scholarships in women’s studies,” she says. “Or, they can set up their own scholarship.

“Ask yourself, ‘In what way have I given privilege to others?’”

The Ceta Ramkhalawansingh Scholarship

Learn more and donate.

We’re celebrating International Women’s Day by highlighting the groundbreaking contributions and unique stories of women in A&S. All week, we’ll shine a spotlight on the vibrant women of our community.