The Wilfrid Laurier University community was shocked and devastated by the passing of its Dean of Students, Leanne Holland Brown. In her years at Laurier, Leanne touched the lives of thousands of students, helping them navigate their way through university. Since hearing the news, finding the words to express Leanne’s impact on myself as a student leader, as well as the Laurier community, have been difficult to string together, but need to be shared.
Over my past two years as a student executive at the Students’ Union at Laurier, I was fortunate to work with Leanne on various projects and committees. From the beginning, Leanne made the conscious effort to make me feel comfortable in my role, whether it included taking the time to help me prepare for meetings or offering to drive me to committee meetings at Town Hall. Without a doubt, Leanne’s support was a critical part of my growth as a student leader. Leanne was the ultimate advocate for her students and was a constant reminder and embodiment of the role that listening, compassion, and optimism should play in advocacy.
Something that made Leanne a strong advocate for students was her ability to listen. Leanne always had an open door policy and wanted students to feel comfortable coming to her. It was not a rare occurrence for Leanne to ask for my opinion, and to encourage me to voice it. When Leanne spoke, she often referenced occurrences or conversations she had with Laurier students. Not only was Leanne an exceptional listener, she also had the extraordinary ability to make students feel comfortable and at ease when talking to her which, in turn, allowed her to fully understand, and accurately respond to and advocate for students.
Leanne’s compassion was another factor that made her an effective advocate. Leanne’s love for Laurier and her students were evident in everything she did. In her time, Leanne went above and beyond to help individual students under exceptional circumstances. Students have shared stories of Leanne finding them places to live in difficult times, visiting them in the hospital, and helping students seek out health and wellness supports. At the table of decision makers, Leanne showed compassion in the way that she talked about Laurier students while fully understanding the impacts that certain issues had on them. She would often empathize with decision makers in the face of difficult decisions by offering to collaborate on a solution that benefited both students and the decision makers. Leanne took the time to learn the names of those she worked with in various capacities and send handwritten notes to thank individuals for their efforts. This kindness and compassion went a long way in turning her advocacy work into a collaborative effort to help others, as opposed to debate or battle.
Another one of Leanne’s standout traits as an advocate was her optimism. In her role, she dealt with some of the most complex and difficult issues but was able to provide everyone involved with hope when working towards a solution. Leanne also always saw the best in people and instilled confidence in others to help them reach their goals even when it seemed impossible. Advocacy is a long, ongoing, and in many cases a frustrating process in which it can be difficult to remain optimistic. She not only spread this optimism in the advocacy work that she did but encouraged student leaders while reinforcing the importance of the work that they did. Somehow, after every conversation you had with Leanne you felt better and filled with hope and knew you could do anything.
Leanne was truly a special individual. She was incredibly intelligent but grounded her words and actions in humility and kindness. Leanne was one of the key people who built Laurier’s welcoming, inclusive community. I looked up to Leanne as a talented leader, a mentor and a supportive friend. I have always tried to utilize the lessons she taught me not only in my advocacy work but in my day to day life. I ask those reading this blog to think about a way to incorporate listening, compassion and optimism in their day today. Leanne’s life and work stay alive in all of the lives that she has touched, and I fully believe that the best way to pay tribute to her is to spread the kindness and compassion in what we do, whether we are current or past student leaders.