This article, based on a interview with Colleen Cameron conducted by Philip Girvan, appears in the Summer 2016 edition of The Beacon.
The Fall academic session marks Colleen Cameron’s last as full-time teaching faculty with the Coady International Institute (she retired from the School of Nursing last year). However, her history with Coady precedes her teaching career: “My father taught at Coady and my mother worked with Dr. Coady. She helped him write his book Masters of Their Own Destiny.” Noting that Dr. Coady officiated her parents’ wedding, Colleen quips: “I guess you could say that it was in my blood.”
Colleen immediately points toward the development of the StFXAUT when asked about changes at StFX University during her course of her career. The StFXAUT “made a big difference to me personally. My pay in Nursing was well below what my counterparts in the public sector were getting: $20-30,000 a year less. When the Union came in, my salary increased dramatically.”
In addition to teaching and nursing, service to the StFXAUT, including terms on the Negotiating Committee and the Joint Occupational Health and Safety Committee, Colleen is well known for her advocacy and her passion for equity. She has performed volunteer work with VOICES, a volunteer community group working to bring about local, healthy, and sustainable food options for residents, particularly in the downtown core, of Antigonish that began shortly after the closing of the last downtown grocery store in Antigonish in 2004.
She has also volunteered with the Naomi Society, the Antigonish Poverty Reduction Coalition, served as Chair of the R.K. MacDonald Board of Governors, was the first chair of the Guysborough Antigonish Regional Strait Area Health Authority (GASHA), was a member of the national council for Development and Peace, and has sat on the board of directors for the Wild Blueberry Producers Association. Colleen is currently serving a term as Chair of the Antigonish Affordable Housing Society, an organization that recently received funding for the first phase of a multi-family building whose tenants will pay a monthly rent no more than 30 percent of the their monthly income.
The voluntary sector provides opportunities to work with people in different fields and from diverse backgrounds, people whom you might otherwise not meet. This approach to learning informs much of Colleen’s practice, whether in the classroom or in the community. The development of the Gender and Health and International Health and Development courses accredited by the School of Nursing for StFX students and the Coady International for the School of Nursing created a space for, as Colleen puts it, “nursing students and Coady students to be in class together and to explore issues of global health and it was very fascinating course, I think, for everyone that took it.” Her position as GASHA Chair coupled with her being university faculty provided an opportunity to be “instrumental in setting up the very first Community University Research locally.” “It was interesting,” Colleen adds, “because people said, well I don’t do health, I’m do Anthropology, I’m in Sociology, I’m in Mathematics and all of that, and what I was trying to do was get people thinking about the determinants of health.”
Colleen sees little difference between volunteerism and her work at the university. “I don’t distinguish between what I do for pay and what I do for non-pay,” says Colleen. “For me it was never to get in a position of power, but I realized that a position of influence could make a difference, and that’s always been my thinking: if you have an opportunity to have an influence, then do it.”
Retirement doesn’t seem likely to slow Colleen down. “I have a bit of work left to do with Coady [after December]. A real passion is doing the People Assessing Their Health (PATH). I’d like to do more of that work in the community. I’d love to do that with public health, work with the Community Health Board. I’d like to do more farm work. I’d like to spend some time doing some reading”.
The StFXAUT wishes to acknowledge Colleen’s service, her dedication to her students, and her commitment to the community and looks forward to seeing what’s next in store.