Growing up, Bren Kugamoorthy always felt that he needed to work harder than others to achieve his goals.
“I felt that I had to overcome extra barriers because of my appearance, skin colour and culture,” he says.
Kugamoorthy, who graduated from the University of Toronto Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education (KPE) in 2021, drew inspiration from his family, community and school to not only stand up for himself, but also for others.
“My parents were always advocating for human rights and sharing stories about renowned heroes from various communities who brought positive change into the world,” he says. “My grandfather served as a justice of peace in court and also shared many words of wisdom with me and my sister when we were growing up.”
When he was old enough to start participating in community sports, Kugamoorthy met local hockey player and human rights activist Herbert Carnegie, who would turn out to be another source of inspiration.
“Herbert opened the doors for so many from marginalized communities to participate in sport and leadership programs,” says Kugamoorthy. “I was inspired to do the same.”
Starting kinesiology at U of T several years later, Kugamoorthy discovered another fertile ground for human rights activism.
“Sport and exercise have the power to unite people from all around the world, so I always thought of them as spaces that need to uphold human rights values,” says Kugamoorthy, who continued to work as a trainer in the Faculty’s fitness and performance program after he graduated. “I do my best to include equity, diversity and inclusion in all aspects of my work.”
It hasn’t gone unnoticed. Kugamoorthy was recently recognized by his alma mater with the 2022 Ludwik and Estelle Jus Memorial Human Rights Prize in the category of emerging leader. The award is part of the University of Toronto Awards of Excellence and was established by Karolina Jus in memory of her husband’s parents, Ludwik and Estelle Jus, Polish educators who risked their lives during the Holocaust to help and rescue Jewish people.
“I’m truly honoured to be recognized with the Jus Memorial Human Rights Prize,” says Kugamoorthy. “When I got the email from U of T President Meric Gertler, I felt very proud. I feel very blessed to have had the opportunity to take on leadership roles during my studies at U of T to help improve the experiences of marginalized students in the university, community and across Canada.”
He was nominated for the award by KPE Professor Ira Jacobs, who describes Kugamoorthy’s engagement with the Faculty as “inspiring”.
“As a student at KPE, Bren was repeatedly selected by his peers to represent them in student governance,” says Jacobs. “He has been a strong advocate of embedding anti-racism and sensitivity to under-represented and marginalized communities within all of the broad range of academic experiences for kinesiology students, as well as the sport and physical activity programs available to students from all U of T divisions.
“From his advocacy for the creation of physical spaces that are more welcoming to under-represented and marginalized student communities to his support of Special Olympics participants, his engagement and impact over several continuous years have been inspiring to witness, very constructive and contributed to positive change that has affected both students at KPE and the broader U of T communities.”
Kugamoorthy was part of a subcommittee of the KPE task force on race and indigeneity and academic commissioner in the KPE undergraduate association, working to improve academic opportunities for Black, Indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC) and LGBTQ communities.
He was one of the organizers of the 2019 KIN Games and member of the KPE equity, diversity and inclusion committee. As coordinator of the Faculty’s Outdoor Education Program, he worked with other senior students, staff and faculty to create a more inclusive environment for LGBTQ and Indigenous community members among the first year student participants. And, over the years, he engaged with hundreds of potential students and their families as the Faculty’s student ambassador.
“I took on many initiatives and the KPE faculty and staff were very supportive of me throughout these five years,” he says. “Professors Ira Jacobs and Gretchen Kerr, Associate Professors Caroline Fusco, Catherine Amara and Luc Tremblay, Assistant Professors Boba Samuels, Janelle Joseph and David Frost, sessional lecturer Marcus Mazzucco, members of staff in the Registrar’s Office Sophie Harding, Darryl McSherry and Tim Linden and many others like Assistant Professor Amanda De Lisio from York University, have all encouraged me to indulge in these pursuits.
“Even after I graduated, they continued to be there for me and I’m forever grateful for their support and teachings.”
Currently, Kugamoorthy is on the board of directors of the Canadian Congenital Heart Alliance, working to provide a platform for congenital heart disease (CHD) communities - and continuing his drive for change.