Governor General's Gold Medalist promotes more inclusive communities

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

When he was an undergraduate in Winnipeg, Harrison Oakes (MA ’16, PhD '20) witnessed the difficulty of promoting change for marginalized groups when he sat in on hearings for Manitoba’s proposed Bill 18. People argued that they couldn’t see how the legislation for anti-bullying to protect LGBTQ+ youth applied to all kids. Seven years later, Oakes’ doctoral research helps to answer that question.

Specializing in social psychology, Oakes studies the effects of social environment on people’s perceptions of others.

Harrison Oakes at desk with books and computerOakes was one of many PhD candidates whose thesis defense was held remotely due to COVID-19 safety measures. Here he is on March 31 during his defense. 

 “My dissertation demonstrates that homophobic environments create secondary closets where everyone — even the straight kids — are pressured into strictly monitoring themselves to avoid suspicion of not being straight.”

Building on his advocacy for anti-bullying curricula in schools, Oakes’ work is also motivated by his own experiences as a gay student in a homophobic school. His impressive achievements extend from those years in Manitoba to his Waterloo doctoral studies. In 2016, he won a Vanier Scholarship and, this spring, the University named Oakes recipient of the Governor General’s Gold Medal for highest standing in a PhD program across all faculties.

“A hallmark of Harrison’s scholarly work is his strong passion to use research to provide insights to promote more inclusive communities,” Richard Eibach says, professor and PhD thesis supervisor to Oakes. “His work not only enriches psychological theory, but also inspires social change.” [...]

Read the full article in Waterloo Stories.

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