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Becoming a Golden Hawk means more than just cheering on our (really good) varsity teams – it means being a student who cares about your community, who works hard in the classroom, and who takes advantage of all the learning opportunities that can happen outside the classroom, too.

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Life at Wilfrid Laurier University was busy this summer with kids taking part in university-led summer camps with themes ranging from psychology to multisport activities.

But perhaps one of the most unique offerings was a new summer camp for children in Grade 8 to Grade 10.

The Social Justice Leadership Camp focused on issues of citizenship, change making, community building, social justice, gendered violence and advocacy.

The weeklong camp is the realization of a decade-old idea by Laurier’s Ginette Lafrenière, an associate professor of social work, as well as one of Laurier’s gendered violence faculty colleagues.

"It's not enough for us to work on issues of gendered and sexual violence with incoming students during Orientation Week and the first year of university,” says Lafrenière. “We should start to address these types of violence early on. The Social Justice Leadership Camp is an attempt to be proactive.”

Lafrenière, whose work is guided by the philosophy that universities should be of service to the communities in which they operate, has been immersed in gendered and sexual violence research since 2006 with multiple community partners in the province of Ontario.

“Laurier should be proud of this initiative — it’s one of the rare youth summer camps dedicated to gendered violence at a Canadian university,” says Lafrenière.

“It’s important for our youth to know how to push back against all forms of violence, including gendered violence, but also racism and homophobia as well as other forms of violence. The Social Justice Leadership Camp is a small but important step in our commitment to addressing gendered violence in a meaningful and strategic way.”

During the camp, eight students between 12 and 14 years old were encouraged to think about issues relative to privilege, sexism and healthy relationships while exploring topics of bullying and other forms of violence. The curriculum was designed and delivered by Jen Gordon, director of Youth Services at the YWCA, Kitchener-Waterloo. Through her leadership and extensive experience spearheading various programs dedicated to girls and youth in the Region of Waterloo, she as well as members of her staff, ensured a high quality design and delivery for the youth camp.  

Drama therapist and doctoral student in Laurier's Faculty of Social Work, Christine Mayor, focussed on theatrical role playing during the camp. 

“Christine’s focus on drama therapy and theatrical role playing was instrumental during the camp,” says Lafrenière. “Campers were given the opportunity to be perpetrators and bullies, victims and bystanders — they said it was ‘unlike any camp they’d been to’ because they were part of the conversation and ‘not talked at’ on hard issues.”

The camp was made possible through a community collaboration between the Manulife Centre for Community Health Research, Laurier’s Lyle S. Hallman Faculty of Social Work and Faculty of Education, and the YWCA Kitchener-Waterloo. 

Lafrenière says Faculty of Education Dean Colleen Willard-Holt was instrumental in the launch of the camp, which was made available through the faculty’s Laurier Enriched Academic Program’s (LEAP) summer camp offerings.

Plans are now underway to develop further community partnerships to accommodate up to 20 campers next year.

“Based on feedback, we’d like to do two weeks of programming next year — and we’d also like for this year’s campers to come back as leaders and teaching assistants,” says Lafrenière.

Many of the campers this summer volunteered at other LEAP camps after their half days at the Social Justice Leadership Camp — the link between social justice and volunteerism is something she hopes will continue next summer.

“Laurier is committed to addressing gendered violence prevention — we still have work to do, but I think we’re ahead of the curve,” says Lafrenière. “This camp is an example of Laurier offering something really unique.”


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