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Encouraging change in campus culture

The Change Project, led by Laurier researcher Ginnette Lafreniere, addresses gendered violence on campus

A Laurier research team recently unveiled the findings of a new evidence-informed report into gendered violence that makes 11 recommendations for changing the culture on campus by enhancing prevention programs and support services.

Called The Change Project, the research involved quantitative and qualitative research undertaken on Laurier’s campuses over a two-year period and includes an environmental scan of promising practices at other universities. The research involved a survey of 570 students, as well as qualitative data collected from interviews, conversations and engagement with another 51 students, staff, faculty and community partners.

The Change Project was led by members of the Social Innovation Research Group in Laurier’s Lyle S. Hallman Faculty of Social Work, in partnership with the Sexual Assault Support Centre of Waterloo Region

Encouraging Change

The project received funding from Status of Women Canada, the Laurier Student Life Levy, and Mitacs.

The research explored existing efforts to address gendered violence against students on campus, as well as the gaps, barriers and challenges that need to be addressed. The goal was to provide sound evidence to inform the development of strategies to change the culture that enables gendered violence to persist, and to improve prevention programs and support services for survivors.

“We live in a violent society,” said Principal Researcher Ginette Lafrenière. “It is therefore important to understand that there is a context here that we must unpack: the gendered violence that we see on campuses is a microcosm of the violence perpetuated towards women within our larger community and society.”

A key finding was the importance of language, definitions, and the micro- and macro-aggressions that constitute a spectrum of “gendered violence.”

“While it is hugely important to pay attention to the issue of sexual violence,” said Lafrenière, “it is equally important to pay attention to defining the idea of ‘gendered violence,’ including cat calls, derogatory name calling, homophobic statements, and racial slurs. All of these practices and behaviours establish, exploit and reinforce gendered power-inequities that result in physical, sexual, emotional, economic or mental harm.”

Although the research was not designed to make general claims about the prevalence of gendered violence at Laurier, the trends in the types of gendered violence experienced by students generally reflect the findings of published research on gendered violence against students in Canada and the United States. While this may be expected, the survey of Laurier students enabled the researchers to identify important trends in the types of gendered violence experienced by students.

“The qualitative methods corroborate the finding that gender discrimination and sexual harassment may be some of the most frequent types of gendered violence that students experience,” said Project Coordinator Jay Harrison. “Further, the gendered violence that students experience is fairly ubiquitous in that it happens wherever students are gathering on campus, in the community and online.”

The Change Project report commends Laurier for its long-standing efforts to address issues of safety, awareness and support involving gendered violence. But it also identified areas that need improvement and it makes 11 recommendations grouped in four areas: prioritizing prevention; creating a coordinated, student-centred response; committed, accountable and transparent leadership; and improved collaboration between the university and the community.

Laurier’s vice-president of Student Affairs, David McMurray, welcomed the recommendations.

“As the report states, the Laurier community has been active for many years in addressing the spectrum of issues associated with gendered violence,” said McMurray, who also serves as lead advocate for Laurier’s initiatives to end gendered violence. “However, it also identifies areas where the university needs to do better. The evidence-informed nature of The Change Project recommendations provides excellent guidance for Laurier as we continue to move forward as an institutional leader in developing inclusive, equitable and compassionate campus communities.”

McMurray said Laurier’s existing Gendered Violence Steering Group and associated Task Force of over 200 faculty, staff, student, and community volunteers, is well positioned to build on The Change Project recommendations and on existing Laurier programs and other proven best practices to shape a distinctive Laurier Gendered Violence Action Plan going forward. The Laurier action plan is grouped into seven pillars: leadership; enhanced communications; clear policies, protocols, and practices; more education, training and prevention initiatives; enhanced support and services; continued community partnerships; and improved reporting and assessment practices.

The full Change Project report and more details on Laurier’s Gendered Violence Action plan can be found at