Photo C/O Maddie Brockbank
By: Abi Sudharshan
CW: Discussions of sexual violence
On March 7, the YWCA Hamilton hosted the 43rd annual Women of Distinction Awards dinner. These awards recognize the achievements of women in the Hamilton community. From business to education, the night celebrates exemplary leadership by women in an effort to inspire other women.
One of the most watched award categories is that of the “Young Woman of Distinction,” which celebrates a woman between 18 and 25 who has demonstrated passionate and committed stewardship of a cause in her school, community or workplace.
This year’s winner is fourth year McMaster social work student Maddie Brockbank.
Over the course of the last few years, Brockbank has spearheaded projects addressing the issue of sexual violence prevention, specifically by directing efforts to establish meaningful male allyship.
On March 15, the Silhouette sat down with Brockbank to discuss these initiatives.
Before we really get started, tell me a little about yourself. What things define you?
I would say that I am very hard working. I really value hard work and my parents have taught me to value it. I’m pretty passionate about the work that I do with sexual violence. I’m also pretty honest about my outlook on issues on campus.
When would you say you first became aware of sexual violence issues?
I didn’t hear the word “consent” until I was in university. I went to a Catholic high school, and though I overheard troubling conversations in the halls, they were never addressed.
I’ve read about your work in broad terms, but am so curious about the specifics. How did this all begin and what exactly have you done?
There’s a bit of a story to it. In my second year of university, I applied for and received an undergraduate student research award in experiential education. Through that, I found out that women currently bear most of the weight in discussions regarding sexual violence, which does not at all reflect the situation. So, over that summer, I interviewed seven guys from a couple of different universities, and asked them questions about consent, sexual violence, and treatment of victims. I found that there were extremely large gaps in their knowledge.
It was concerning, but it was also promising as they all talked about how they had never been asked these questions before and how they had never thought about these conversations before. There was willingness on the other end and it became a matter of engaging them.
This isn’t the first time that your work as garnered recognition. Last year, you were awarded 1st Prize in the Clarke Prizes in Advocacy and Active Citizenship competition. Could you tell me a bit about that?
Yes, I did get the Clarke Prize grant in March of last year. Ryan Clarke is an alumni who donates $6,000 every year to fund initiatives addressing issues in the community. First prize wins $3,000, second wins $2,000 and third wins $1,000. Most campaigns that address sexual violence have a very general approach to them.
From my research, I found that young men wanted to join the conversation. So, I created an event to educate young men: Commit(men)t and Allyship. Although the event was independent, we did collaborate with individuals and organizations within the community, such as Meaghan Ross, the university’s sexual violence response coordinator, the Sexual Assault Centre of Hamilton and the McMaster Students Union Women and Gender Equity Network. McMaster Athletics had expressed interest, but they didn’t show up.
It was extremely disappointing. However, 10 Mohawk athletes did attend. Tristan Abbott, facilitator of the WiseGuyz program in Calgary, attended as well. We donated $2,700 to SACHA and the remaining funds from the Clarke grant to others like the male allies of Waterloo who facilitated our debriefing spaces.
How do you feel about the university’s current efforts to respond to the issue of sexual violence?
Well, the sexual assault policy at McMaster is relatively new, and thus yet to be evaluated in terms of efficacy. In general, however, universities need to address that there is a rape culture on campus and that it is a prevalent problem. There needs to be more support for survivors, to shift the response from interrogation to believing them. Perpetrators need to feel the consequences of their actions and need to be barred from positions of power within the Student Representative Assembly, MSU and other student governing bodies.
How does it feel being recognized for your work?
Surprising and really amazing. There were so many incredible candidates. I think it just speaks to the merit in the work that I’ve done. It’s affirmation that the work is important and needs to be done.
What’s next for Maddie Brockbank?
I am continuing my studies at McMaster in the Masters of Social Work for fall 2019. I am also continuing my research and doing my thesis on male student perspectives of sexual violence. I recently received the McMaster graduate scholarship as well, so I’m stoked!