Trent Community Rallies around Professor Carolyn Kay

A screenshot from March 11, 2019 of the GoFundMe campaign set up to support Dr. Carolyn Kay of the Trent University History Department and her family while she undergoes treatment for cancer away from the city.

On February 24, a GoFundMe page in support of Trent Professor and historian, Dr. Carolyn Kay, and her family went live. The description of the fundraising page informed community members that “On February 20th, Carolyn received a diagnosis of Acute Myeloid Leukemia. Her chemotherapy and other treatments are taking place at the Kingston General Hospital, where she will need to stay for at least a month.”

It went on to explain that the money raised through the page would go towards helping her family be near Dr. Kay during her treatment, covering accommodation and transit costs. The initial goal of the fund was $5 000.

Over the next two days, the page would be shared hundreds of times by Professor Kay’s family, friends, colleagues, and students. The fundraiser quickly surpassed its $5000 goal, reaching $9781 before her family closed the account, and released a statement expressing gratitude for the community’s outpour of support: “Carolyn and her family want to give their sincerest thanks to everyone who has donated, commented or reached out to them over the last few days. The amount of support they’ve received has been overwhelming and continues to bring them strength.”

The donations ranged from $20 to $1 000, and feature the names of various Trent faculty from the History department and beyond.

History Student Kyle Pugh pointed out that many of the people who donated are “alumni, students of hers now, or friends of ours who have just heard so much about her these last two years.”

And it’s no mystery as to why. It doesn’t take long to realize that Professor Carolyn Kay is in a league of her own when it comes to educators.

Dr. Kay has been a professor in the History department at Trent University since 1990, specializing in the Holocaust and German history. During her career at Trent, Kay has also been the Principal of Lady Eaton College, as well as the Chair of the History Department. In 2005, she won the Symons Teaching Award. But Professor Kay’s accomplishments go far beyond positions and awards. Countless comments from the Facebook page detail how Kay has changed their lives.

Pugh helped to shed some light on the layers of academic brilliance, student-oriented education, and unwavering enthusiasm behind these comments. He told Arthur about the “amazingly personal quality that Carolyn brings.”

“She doesn’t just know what year we’re in and what program we’re in, she knows who’s going to teachers college next year, who’s going where next year, what activities we are a part of. Every morning, she says ‘What’s new in your life?’ so we talk for a little bit about us. She’s probably the most student-oriented professor you can have.”

He went on to share an anecdote about how he had run into Professor Kay in a hallway in Blackburn back in September, and what would normally have been a short conversation turned into a lengthy and encouraging conversation about Kyle’s grad school prospects.

Professor Kay’s enthusiastic and compassionate approach to education hasn’t gone unnoticed by her colleagues, either. Fellow history professor Dr. Kevin Siena highlighted how “Carolyn teaches really heavy material, like the Holocaust… It’s incredibly emotional material. She takes them through that in a year-long class, so its heavy. Her style of teaching is perfectly matched with shepherding these students through this incredibly emotionally charged material.”

Dr. Siena went on to explain how “The outpouring that we’ve seen, especially by students who are long gone, students who graduated here a long time ago, responding to hearing that Carolyn is not well, it shows that that kind of teaching makes a difference and lasts. A decade or two decades after the fact, people still say that taking her class was really important to their lives.”

This long-standing gratitude for the immeasurable value that Professor Kay brings to the Trent community is surely reflected in the 867 times the GoFundMe page was shared, as well as by the 125 people who donated a total of $9 781. These figures alone can’t even begin to articulate the magnitude of Professor Kay’s influence, but they are surely a testament to her almost 30-year career at Trent University, and the ways in which she inspires and supports her students and colleagues at every step.

Update (March 20, 2019): The GoFundMe campaign has reopened and is accepting donations for ongoing support for Dr. Kay’s family accommodations and travel costs.