Academic Research Team

Michael Woodford (he/him)
Professor, Faculty of Social Work
Wilfrid Laurier University 
faculty_social_work_michael_woodfordMichael’s research addresses the social exclusion and inclusion of LGBTQ2S+ people, primarily focusing on university students. Much of his research examines the relationship between campus climate, including often-unintentional microaggressions (e.g. “you’re not a real woman” said to a transwoman) and outcomes, such as mental health and academic development. Wanting to foster students’ resilience to the negative effects of discrimination, he also studies the factors that promote strength and wellbeing in the context of adversity; this includes institutional factors, such as campus policies and services for LGBTQ2S+ students.

This project builds on Michael’s previous research on campus climate, which was conducted in the United States while he was a faculty member at the University of Michigan. In 2013, Michael and Kris Renn conducted the National Study of LGBTQ Student Success.


Simon Coulombe
Assistant Professor, Community Psychology, Faculty of Science
Wilfrid Laurier University 
faculty_science_simon_coulombeGuided by positive psychology and socio-ecological approaches, Simon’s research examines resilience in LGBTQ2S+ individuals and people from other stigmatized communities, exploring how they can achieve wellbeing despite challenges and discrimination. Simon’s work contributes to understanding and reducing inequities faced by communities in stigmatizing circumstances (e.g., LGBTQ2S+ people with mental disorders or disabilities, people living in public housing, etc.) by considering the social and ecological factors that impact their well-being.

Simon’s work supports the empowerment of these communities by ensuring that his research can yield positive impact – for participants, researchers, and practitioners.


Zack Marshall (he/him)
Assistant Professor, School of Social Work
McGill University 
zach_marshall_0With over 14 years experience in the areas of health and mental health, Zack’s practice has focused on working with sexual and gender minority youth and communities, people labelled with intellectual disabilities, and people who use drugs. Committed to transformative social change, his interdisciplinary program of research explores ethics, engagement, and knowledge synthesis with respect to marginalized and underrepresented communities. 



Kristen Renn (she/her; they/them)
Professor of Higher, Adult & Lifelong Education,
Department of Educational Administration; College of Education
Michigan State University
Kristen RennKris’ research focuses on the intersection of student success with issues of identity in higher education, including studies of mixed-race identities, LGBTQ2S+ students and leaders of identity-based student organizations. Kris is co-principal investigator of the National Study of LGBTQ Student Success.



Z Nicolazzo
Assistant Professor, Trans* Studies in Education
Center for the Study of Higher Education
Department of Educational Policy Studies and Practice
University of Arizona
Z NicolazzoZ’s research focuses on mapping gender across the college/university contexts, with particular focus on trans* student resilience and kinship building.  Hir specific areas of interest include: gender in higher education, research methodologies, and trans* studies. In particular, Z’s research highlights students’ experiences of the intersections of race, disability, and gender identity.  Z also writes about the use of alternative methodologies, epistemologies, and representations of knowledge.  Z is originally from New Hampshire, and in hir free time, Z enjoys cycling, reading, and spending time with hir 11 year old Westie, Grrtrude Anne. 


Lauren Munro
PhD Candidate, Community Psychology,
Faculty of Science, Wilfrid Laurier University
Lauren Munro headshot croppedLauren is an activist-academic, artist, and writer whose personal and professional life is driven by a commitment to social justice. She has collaborated on various projects related to the health and well-being of LGBTQ2S+ youth, including research focused on microaggressions (with Michael Woodford), sexual health and HIV vulnerability, challenges facing LGBTQ2S+ immigrant and refugee youth, and Gay-Straight Alliances. Lauren strongly believes in the importance of integrating academia and grassroots activism to create projects that push boundaries and challenge the status quo. Beyond her work on LGBTQ2S+ health, Lauren has been involved in projects that cut across a variety of disciplines including Fat Studies, Sexual Health and Reproductive Justice, Mad Studies, the Social Determinants of Health, and Disability Justice.

 Current Research Staff

The Thriving on Campus research team is dedicated to training and mentoring students at all levels in LGBTQ2S+ research.

Christina Arayata (she/her)
ChristinaArayataPhotoChristina is guided by her passion and dedication for student success, access(ability), education, and equity. She is in her first year of the Master of Arts in Higher Education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto. During her undergraduate degree at UofT Scarborough, Christina worked on several projects which focused on academic accessibility (policy and practices), the mental health of racialized students, and sexual violence. These projects have allowed her to understand the intersections of race, ability, and health within the LGBTQ2SI+ community.

Drew Burchell (he/him)
DrewBurchellPhotoDrew is a second year Master’s student in Community Psychology at Laurier. Their thesis research focuses on the experiences of non-binary individuals in healthcare. They have done previous research with the LGBTQ+ community, and are an advocate and activist in their personal life. Drew loves cats, the ocean, and movies.


Nicole Burns (she/her)
NicoleBurnsPhotoNicole is finishing up her Master’s thesis in Community Psychology at Wilfrid Laurier University examining the right to free, prior and informed consent for Indigenous peoples in Canada. She devotes her time to working with marginalized communities using strengths-based approaches. Nicole specializes in program evaluation and has used evaluation to assist with community-based initiatives, including cultural reclamation. In her spare time, Nicole likes to spend time with her wife and pets. She likes to be outside as much as possible.

Katie Cook (they/them; she/her)
Katie is a PhD candidate in Wilfrid Laurier University’s Community Psychology program. Katie’s work looks at how marginalized – e.g. disabled, racialized, fat, queer – bodies are constructed and othered in various social contexts. Currently, Katie’s research is focused on using narrative and arts-based methods to understand the intergenerational effects of weight stigma. Katie is a queer, fat activist who resides in Kitchener, Ontario with their cat Zoey.

Emily Cox (she/her)
image1Emily is a first year Masters student in Community Psychology at Wilfrid Laurier University. Her research explores the positive mental health experiences of the LGBTQ2S+ community and the self-management strategies these individuals use to promote and maintain their mental health. She is passionate about public education and knowledge translation as a way of promoting safe and inclusive environments for LGBTQ2S+ individuals. In her spare time, Emily enjoys spending time with family and friends, crafting, and cuddling her pets.

Charlie Davis (he/him; they/them)
CharlieDavisPhotoCharlie Davis is a fourth-year doctoral student in Community Psychology at Wilfrid Laurier University. His dissertation research explores the history of trans-inclusive legislation changes in Canada, with a particular interest in examining the problem-definition stage of the policy process and the discourses used in the media. Charlie is generally interested in policy analysis and understanding the interaction between policies, procedures and day-to-day enactments of human rights. He is a trans activist involved in many community-capacity building projects within the local community.

Rashyka Ford (she/her)
RashykaFordPhotoRashyka is a third-year Communication student, specializing in Community Engagement  at Wilfrid Laurier University. She is an advocate for marginalized groups and is an active mentor to teenagers new to Canada. Rashyka is passionate about raising  awareness regarding racial and gender issues on university campuses. In her spare time, she loves hiking, singing karaoke and crafting. Rashyka hopes to inspire young people to get more involved with community initiatives that focus on diversity and inclusivity.

Eric Van Giessen (he/him)
EricVanGiessenPhotoEric is a first-year doctoral student in Sociology at York University. His research interests include critical sexuality studies, lived religion, and queer methodologies, including community-based research and arts-based methods. In 2016, Eric completed an MA in Social Justice & Community Engagement  at Laurier. For his MA research, he facilitated the curation of a queer collaborative poetry collection, Queerly Faithful, which explored experiences of belonging and identity in Christian faith communities of five LGBTQ+ Christians. He intends to continue this area of research in his PhD. Eric has a passion for community and justice. In his free time, he likes to walk his puppy, Mabel Rose, read fiction and poetry, share/cook meals with friends and chosen family, and soak up sunshine wherever he can find it.

Shannon Halligan (she/her)
ShannonHalliganPhotoShannon is currently completing her final semester in Wilfrid Laurier University’s Master of Social Work program. She has long been inspired by the strength and resilience of friends who are members of the LGBTQ2S+ community, despite regular experiences of explicit and implicit discrimination. From a young age, Shannon has been eager to learn how to become an effective ally for the LGBTQ2S+ community and advocate for social change. This early interest in social justice has inspired her to pursue a career in social work. In her spare time, Shannon enjoys hiking, cooking, and spending time with her dog/sidekick, Frankie.

Marianna Healey (she/her)
MariannaHealeyPhotoMarianna is a doctoral student at Wilfrid Laurier University in the Faculty of Social Work. She is passionate about using research as an advocacy tool to promote social change. Marianna has previous experience supporting the dissemination of research findings to diverse audiences. She hopes to use her knowledge, translation skills and expertise to help the findings of the Thriving on Campus project make meaningful positive changes for LGBTQ2S+ students across the province. She is grateful to be involved in this equity-focused research!

Harrison Oakes (he/him)
HarrisonOakesPhotoHarrison is a Vanier Scholar and recent graduate of the doctoral program in social psychology at the University of Waterloo. He is passionate about social justice and addressing issues of inequality through his research. Having experienced a paradigm shift during his PhD, Harrison strives to apply critical theory to his psychological training to push his field’s boundaries into more equitable territory. His multi-method and interdisciplinary research has focused on LGBTQ-phobic bullying, the Supreme Court of United States’ 2015 ruling on same-sex marriage, queer men’s use of geo-social networking apps like Grindr and SCRUFF, and the impact of homophobic social environments on suspicions of boys’ sexuality. To further develop his training and expertise in social justice oriented scholarship, Harrison plans to begin his MSW in 2021.

Sophie Peckford (she/her)
SophiePeckfordPhotoSophie is currently pursuing a bilingual iBA in International Studies with a certificate in Sexuality Studies at Glendon Campus of York University. Upon graduation, she plans to pursue a Master of Social Work. Sophie is providing English to French translations for the Thriving on Campus Website. In addition to her studies, she enjoys volunteering at Sunnybrook Hospital and being involved with the International Studies Student Association as President.

Nicholas Schwabe (he/him)
profile-picture.jpgNicholas initially joined the Thriving on Campus team as a social work placement student, completing his Laurier MSW advanced standing practicum with the project. Following placement, he became the study coordinator, a position he held until October 2019. He is originally from Sudbury, where he attended Laurentian University. He is interested in examining the experiences of LGBTQ2S+ peoples, discourses of mental illness, work and society, and innovative research methods. Previously, he has been involved with occupational health research and arts-based mindfulness practices. He is currently quality assurance lead at Compass / Boussole / Akii-Izhinoogan, the lead child and youth mental health agency in the Sudbury-Manitoulin district.

Alicia N. Rubel (they/them)
Alicia R Alicia is a recent graduate of the doctoral program in psychology at Brock University. Alicia’s research examines the psychology of social justice, well-being, purpose in life, and human sexuality and relationships. They have been organizing with gender and sexual minorities and other marginalized groups for over a decade. They believe in the importance of knowledge sharing and have provided workshops in a variety of academic and community settings inviting participants to reexamine topics like prejudice and social norms about relationships. Alicia is currently completing a Master of Social Work at Wilfred Laurier University, so that they can go on to develop and provide better mental health services for gender and sexual minorities. Alicia can be found crafting, hula hooping, and expounding on the greatness of cats.

Tin (he/him) 
TinPhotoTin is a fourth-year doctoral candidate at Wilfrid Laurier University in the Faculty of Social Work. His dissertation research examines intersectional discrimination, resilience, and resistance of LGBTQ2S+ people and their social well-being and mental health within LGBTQ2S+ leisure spaces. He seeks to embed health equity within his work to enhance the well-being of marginalized populations.

Noni Vatish (she/her) 
NoniVitashPhotoBefore joining the Thriving on Campus team Noni worked on a qualitative research project at  the University of Waterloo. Outside of her research involvement, Noni is a practicing social worker who works with individuals who are living with addictions and/or concurrent disorders. She is a strong advocate for harm reduction based principles and a trauma-informed approach. In her spare time she enjoys experiencing the outdoors, spending quality time with those she cares about, and volunteering with animal welfare organizations.

Rachel Yavnai (she/her)
rachelyavnai.jpgRachel’s interest in storytelling – particularly the way in which personal narratives can empower and convey the multiplicity of human experiences – is what first brought her to this project. Her past work concerning social exclusion, visibility, and identity negotiation among religious and sexual minorities, as well as her advocacy efforts within the Kitchener-Waterloo LGBTQ2SI+ community, has affirmed her dedication to anti-oppression and inclusive policy development. When she’s not reading, Rachel likes writing short stories.

Former Research Staff

Kendra Hardy (she/her)                              Milas Hewson (they/them)     

Jessica Hutchison (she/her)                       Rayne Jarvis (they/them)
Pic for website                                rayne

Shailagh (Shaiden) Keaney (she/her)   Ossian MacEachern (they/them)
Shaiden Keaney pic by Prestige 1                                    john st

Alyssa Mervin (she/her)                            Shannan Peck (she/her)
00.33114992_10156373384669419_5835709559863246848_n.5                                   45248749_118706262455188_5372287648096321536_n

Monica van Schaik (she/her)                   Kirstie Taylor (she/her)
MvanSchaikprofilepic                                  Kirstie