Dr. Jacqueline (Jacquie) Gahagan, Associate Vice-President of Research at MSVU, was recognized with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree during a convocation ceremony held this morning (June 5, 2024) at Ontario Tech University.

Notes Ontario Tech, “Honorary degrees recognize persons who have made an outstanding intellectual and/or scholarly contribution in their chosen field of academic eminence; have provided outstanding service and/or contributions to public service; [and] have made major contributions in areas relevant to the mission of the university… .”

Dr Jacquie Gahagan receiving their honorary Doctor of Laws from Ontario Tech UniversityDr. Gahagan was celebrated for their extensive work in health equity research, education and advocacy.

“Throughout a more than 30-year career, this medical sociologist by training has been at the forefront of research on sexual health promotion and HIV prevention, shedding light on the unique challenges faced by 2SLGBTQIA+ communities ranging from social stigma and discrimination to health care access barriers,” said Dr. Lori Livingston, Provost and Vice-President, Academic, Ontario Tech University.

Dr. Livingston continued, “An advocate for current and former youth in care, Dr. Gahagan currently leads several research studies to examine and evaluate the impacts of tuition waiver programs on reducing barriers to post-secondary education. Dr. Gahagan remains dedicated to creating inclusive environments in a world where everyone has the opportunity to thrive regardless of life circumstances.”

“In recognition of their distinguished contributions in health equity research and advocacy; informing public policy for equitable health care; activism in support of equity-deserving populations with rights-based grassroots organizations; and dedication to HIV prevention, care, treatment and support in Canada and globally, the university proudly confers upon Dr. Jacqueline Gahagan the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws honoris causa.”

“We all need to think about who is in our classrooms and who is missing from, for example, post-secondary education.” – Dr. Gahagan

In their convocation address, Dr. Gahagan spoke to a class of education graduates about removing systemic barriers to education to improve access at all levels.

“As educators, you know that education is recognized globally as both a key determinant of health, as well as a human right, which is enshrined in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal number four which aims to ensure inclusive and quality education for all and to promote lifelong learning,” said Dr. Gahagan. “Education has the power to dramatically transform lives in immeasurable ways, from improving quality of life to better health outcomes through better chances of meaningful employment and economic stability.”

Dr. Gahagan noted that “those with lived experience in the child welfare system are up to 50 percent less likely to complete high school than those without care experience. This lack of completed high school education can translate into a life of poverty, homelessness or housing precarity, under-employment or unemployment, and worse health outcomes across the life course.”

“The reality is that Black, Indigenous and queer youth remain over-represented in the available data on youth in the child welfare system in Canada,” they said. “This means we all need to think about who is in our classrooms and who is missing from, for example, post-secondary education. As educators we need to ask ourselves ‘what can I do to address issues to access to education for those with lived experience in the child welfare system.’ How can we collectively ensure that our classrooms, whether in the K-12 system or in the post-secondary system, are welcoming, inclusive, affirming and, perhaps most importantly, kind places for everyone to learn.”

Watch Dr. Gahagan’s address to Ontario Tech graduates in full (advance to the 49:55 mark).

Dr. Gahagan is a founding member and currently serves as the Co-Director of the Atlantic Interdisciplinary Research Network for Social and Behavioural Aspects of HIV and HCV. They are the recipient of numerous other recognitions including the Order of Nova Scotia, a QEII Platinum Jubilee Medal, and the 2022 Leadership Award presented by the Canadian Foundation for AIDS Research.

Congratulations, Dr. Gahagan, on this well-deserved recognition!