‘She would be proud’: Late KPU instructor Arley Cruthers awarded honorary degree

Fri, Jun 14, 2024

A late Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) instructor who worked tirelessly for her students and spent a lifetime advancing accessibility and the rights of people with disabilities is being celebrated with an honorary degree.

Arley Cruthers (nee McNeney), a beloved instructor who died from a sudden and unexpected medical event in March 2023, will be posthumously awarded a Doctor of Letters June 14 during convocation ceremonies at KPU Surrey.

"Arley’s legacy is immeasurably rich and will continue through the inspired work of her friends and colleagues, and the thousands of students she taught," says Dr. Alan Davis, KPU President and Vice-Chancellor. "Her work and contributions embody the highest values of our university’s motto, and are something we should all aspire to: ‘through tireless effort, knowledge and understanding.’"

Her brother, Denver McNeney, says the family is "extremely moved and so pleased to see her contribution, advocacy, work ethic, and dedication to her students and colleagues" recognized with this honour.

Cruthers was a parasport athlete and decorated Paralympian, an acclaimed novelist, a disability justice advocate, a community-building champion, an innovative educator and a dedicated mother. 

"Arley’s daughter was the most important thing in the world to her. Arley worked tirelessly to make sure her daughter’s life was full of love every single day. She always wanted to be a mother, and she met every challenge she faced as a parent with kindness, creativity and determination," says her brother.

Arley Cruthers
Arley Cruthers has been posthumously awarded a Doctor of Letters from Kwantlen Polytechnic University.

Cruthers was also passionate about disability justice and equity for any person facing barriers to learning, and cared deeply about fostering inclusive communities. She established an inclusive and accessible soccer club for children facing barriers to participation in organized sports, and created Curb Cuts, a linocut art project with the goal of fighting ableism, sending all proceeds to a mutual aid project in Vancouver.

"True community needs to include reciprocity," Cruthers once said. "People help us. We help people. From each according to their ability; to each according to their need, as Marx said. I hope you will learn to look around and ask yourself who gets help, who’s left out, whose discomfort is centred at whose expense?"

Cruthers’ accomplishments in wheelchair basketball have inspired people with disabilities to pursue sports. She earned three medals, including gold at the 2002 and 2006 Wheelchair Basketball World Championship events, and a bronze at the Athens 2004 Paralympic Games. She also gave back to the sport by providing marketing and communications support to Team Canada, and serving as a head coach at the 2016 BC Winter Games.

Cruthers held a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and had taught in the Applied Communications Department in the Melville School of Business at KPU since 2016. She also taught students in the public relations and entrepreneurial leadership programs at KPU. 

She worked hard to dismantle systemic barriers to post-secondary education, especially for marginalized communities. In recognition of her work, she received KPU’s inaugural Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Award and the UnTapped BC Workplace Inclusion Award as an Individual Champion for her commitment to workplace accessibility and disability inclusion. Arley’s commitment to removing barriers to post-secondary education was also recognized by BCcampus with an award for her open textbook, Student Engagement Activities for Business Communications.

Described as very intelligent, quick-witted, humorous, observant and endlessly compassionate, Cruthers didn’t shy away from speaking up for what she believed in — and for people without a voice. 

"On top of all her responsibilities both at home and at work, she managed to dedicate innumerable hours of her limited personal time to projects that served to help others. She was extremely aware of systemic injustices and would come up with creative approaches to solving the problems she saw around her to start tackling issues right away, with whatever tools she had at hand," says her brother.

A bursary in her memory will support KPU students who experience structural, attitudinal, technological, cultural, or systemic barriers to accessing or completing their education. 

Denver McNeney says his sister might have been uncomfortable with discussing her personal achievements and receiving an honorary degree, but he adds there is no one more deserving.

"It would have taken her some time to accept being considered for this, but pursuing a doctorate was something Arley spoke of many times over the years, and we know she would be proud to see it attached to her name now."