Mara Raposo

Mara Raposo’s road to success is clearer, thanks to the City of Toronto Women and Gender Studies Scholarship

“My family raised me to love learning and to treat university as the social mobility ‘golden ticket,’ but, at the threshold of my first year at university, they recognized there were limitations on how much they would be able to support me academically, emotionally and financially to get me through to the other side,’” says Raposo. “Like many first-in-the-family students, receiving this scholarship was like being handed a key that would unlock one of the many barriers on the way.” 

A child of Portuguese parents, Raposo is the first in her family to attend university. In fact. higher education had been widely discouraged on the small island off the Portuguese coast in the Azores from which her family immigrated. 

“The process of me going to university in Canada has been a learning experience for my entire family, and they’ve tried their best to help me. Winning these awards—I can’t even describe what that was like for us. When my parents were flying here in the 1970s, they never would’ve guessed someone in the family would make it to university, let alone Oxford.” 

The scholarship support helped remove the very first barrier she faced after earning her honours bachelor of arts degree in women’s studies as a member of Victoria College in 2018: namely, the expense of continuing her education outside Canada.  

“All I wanted at that time was the opportunity to study social policy, because my studies had taught me to think critically about equality and equity and I wanted to learn how to achieve these by using public sector tools.But the best schools for this policy specialism were in the U.K. and the U.S.,” she recalls. “This meant that, wherever I landed, my next endeavour would be expensive and any financial support I received was invaluable.” 

She earned her master of science degree in comparative social policy at the University of Oxford in 2019, and now works as a junior consultant at a boutique public sector consultancy firm with schools, charities and all levels of government to improve and open public schools in disadvantaged parts of the U.K.  

She’s particularly proud of her work in support of the opening of an alternative high school in London for at-risk youth who have disengaged from mainstream schools for a range of personal and social factors. Violence in their communities and homes is common.  

“The approach to this new school is unlike anything I have seen, as it melds academics with vocational opportunities, one-on-one therapeutic support and strong community-level mentoring,” she says. “The goal for the school is, yes, to see that these disadvantaged youth finish high school but, more than that, to give them a safe space and high-quality tools to develop personally and socially.” 

Her long-term plans include returning to Toronto with a new skillset to make institutional-level change and contribute to the status of women. That toolkit includes her knowledge of the complex conditions in which social policies and programs can excel or fail, which she learned at U of T, and the critically important skills for professional research she learned at Oxford.  

“For this to have come as a joint scholarship from both the Women and Gender Studies Institute and the City of Toronto made it another gift altogether,” she says. “This was the government of my hometown and the department that equipped me with the tools to fight for equality and justice, not only investing in but believing in my plans for the future. I went off to study this important policy field knowing I not only had the support of my family, but both the University and the City of Toronto, too.” 

This profile is part of our celebration of the 35th anniversary of the City of Toronto Women and Gender Studies Scholarship. Read about other recipients here