Like everyone, Lauren Burrows runs into ugliness from time to time.
Ugliness in the way men sometimes rub up against her, on purpose, when she’s travelling on public transit.
Ugliness when a stranger says, “You’re really pretty for a black girl.”
Believe it or not, people say stuff like that all the time, Burrows says.
It’s just one example of a type of violence she calls “subtle aggression.”
She’s also experienced not-so-subtle forms. And she’s not alone.
“I had friends in first year who experienced gendered violence,” Burrows recalls.
Although she endured it for years, there was a time she wasn’t able to put words to it.
Then while taking an intro course in women and gender studies, the words started to gel and she started to gain perspective on the “freakish” amount of gendered violence in the world.
Her understanding of violent incidents shifted from seeing them as individual problems, or problems of individuals, to systemic problems.
“That’s something wrong with our culture,” she says.
A recent grad from Laurier’s Women and Gender Studies program, Burrows is putting her education to work by fighting a culture of gendered violence.
In her job at the Social Innovation Research Group, she implements focus groups, does community outreach and marketing, reviews academic literature and helps conduct training sessions designed to equip bystanders to prevent sexual assaults on campus.
“I feel there is a lot of value to the work that I do,” Burrows says. “I have the ability to empower others, and empower myself.”
Burrows credits the rigorous academic program (when people say that women and gender studies is a bird course, she calls that “a total lie”) with giving her the tools and motivation to fight injustice.
“There’s no point in learning the theory if you’re not going to go out and practise it.”
Margaret Toye beams when talking about her students’ work and the bystander training project.
“It’s not complaining about something needs to be done — it’s actually doing it,” says Toye, program coordinator for Women and Gender Studies at Laurier.
The program provides solid grounding in academic theories and up-to-date research.
“New and cutting-edge theories help us to see the world in new ways and help us to think about change and make decisions about how we act,” Toye says.
But there’s also an emphasis on putting theories into practice.
“It’s a really nice balance,” Toye says. “We’re not just in an ivory tower — analyzing.”
Toye says the program — which, in order to earn a BA, must be taken alongside another discipline offered in the Faculty of Arts — is fairly unique among similar programs at universities across Canada: In addition to employing a slate of contract professors, Laurier has appointed 2.5 full-time faculty members to teach in Women and Gender Studies. Also, the program has a long, 40-year history at Laurier.
As the program evolves, more men are signing up for courses.
“Gendered violence is not just a women’s issue,” says Toye, pointing out that men have women as their mothers, sisters and friends, and may have also experienced gendered violence.
And, as the ugliness following Burrows and so many others demonstrates, gendered violence is alive and unwell.
“I’d like to work myself out of a job,” Toye says. “But the need right now is still there.”
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