The University of Waterloo is proud to announce that two of its students will receive one of Canada’s highest honours in academia — the Governor General’s Gold Medal.

For highest standing in a doctoral program, Psychology PhD student Harrison Oakes (MA ’16) with the Faculty of Arts is recognized for his accomplishments in the research on social environments that stigmatize concealable identities. Former master’s student Joanne Marie Fitzgibbons (MES ’19) with the Faculty of Environment is being celebrated for her explorations in the process and politics of planning for urban resilience.

Harrison Oakes

Harrison OakesRecognized for his interdisciplinary research on identity suspicion, Harrison Oakes highlights that social environments that stigmatize concealable identities (e.g., mental illness, being gay) oppress both people with the stigmatized identity and people with the contrasting non-stigmatized identity. For example, Oakes’ findings have demonstrated that in homophobic environments, people suspect even straight-identifying students with stereotypically straight interests of hiding a stigmatized sexual identity. As a result, students in these environments are expected to conceal behaviours and interests associated with the stigmatized identity to avoid having their identity questioned by their peers.

Oakes has a broad range of research experience, spanning work in identity perception, moral psychology, reasoning about social conflicts and identity expression on dating apps. Much of his research has been published in leading journals, including Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Oakes has also received multiple awards for his scholarly work, including the prestigious Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship.

Oakes draws inspiration from his own experiences of homophobic bullying to drive his years of work as an advocate for anti-bullying curricula in schools. He uses his strong passion to use research to promote more inclusive communities and inspire social change.

Joanne Marie Fitzgibbons

Joanne Marie FitzgibbonsHaving graduated with a Master of Environmental Studies (Planning) in fall 2019, Joanne Marie Fitzgibbons’ (MES ’19) list of accomplishments continues to grow. Her Master's thesis explored how urban planning for resilient and sustainable cities can be more equitable and just.

Fitzgibbons’ findings have led to the conclusion that urban planners can build resilience in a way that is equitable and inclusive, when city planners deliberately consider issues of redistribution and recognition, as well as participate during both strategic development and implementation stages.

This summer, Fitzgibbons is doing an internship with the City of Vancouver's Board of Parks and Recreation, while being enrolled in the Resource, Environment and Sustainability PhD program at the University of British Columbia.

Governor General’s Gold Medal

Created in 1873 by Canada’s third Governor General Lord Dufferin, the Governor General’s Gold Medal is an award given out annually to students from different institutions who achieve the highest level of academic scholarship for their cohort at their institution. The award is divided into four categories ranging from bronze at the secondary school level to gold at the graduate level.