Our faculty investigate social and environmental justice issues from the local to the global scale. We engage with community partners to find innovative, creative solutions. In our classes, we passionately share our analyses of social inequality and environmental degradation and develop the knowledge and skills students need to become leaders and changemakers.
Meet some of our faculty making a difference academically and in the real world.
I study workers and unions. I am interested in how the development of economic systems relate to social experience. My core academic work has centred on trying to understand how the rise of industrial capitalism in Canada was experienced by skilled workers who worked in new, urban factories. I found that, for a limited time, the newly forming capitalist system offered new opportunities and optimism for working people. By the late nineteenth century, however, a more advanced form of capitalism had begun marginalizing working people, creating serious social divisions, and laying the basis for a labour movement.
But I don’t just exist in the past. Alongside my academic work, I have always engaged in social justice work in the field of "public history," the many forms that history can be presented to the public in order to effect change. Over the past two decades, I have mounted a number of museum exhibits, put together walking and driving tours of workers’ history, authored union histories, and much more.
Most recently, I have completed a multi-stage project, funded by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada, called The Workers’ City. In one phase of this project I produced a smartphone app and a website (workerscity.ca) that contains over 100 sites related to the labour and industrial history of Hamilton, Ontario. Users of the app can, for example, stand in front of an old factory and listen an audio recording of folks that worked there in the 1930s and '40s recounting their experiences. It is also full of photos and site descriptions.
The project’s second phase resulted in the publication of a graphic history (comic book) entitled Showdown! Making Modern Unions. This 140-page book tells the story of the major strike wave that gripped Hamilton in 1946 and resulted in an important series of victories that set the groundwork for the establishment of the system of legal collective bargaining in Canada that we still enjoy today. That book was based around interviews I did with folks involved in the strike combined with all sorts of historical documents. My co-author and illustrator Simon Orpana brought their stories to life in vivid graphic form.
Hassan Yussaff, the president of the Canadian Labour Congress, has declared: “This book is a gem. Kristofferson and Orpana uncover the courage and solidarity of the everyday working people who took on a steel giant and won. Told through their voices, Showdown! jolts labour history to life, inspiring a new generation of workers.”
I have also done extensive work inside the labour movement. I have been president of the Wilfrid Laurier University Faculty Association, an executive member of our unions’ provincial organization and a council member of its national organization and served on many committees and in many capacities. As part of this, I have been involved in many campaigns that unions have undertaken to preserve the quality of university education in Canada.
Professor Brenda Murphy's interests focus on studying and teaching about the risk, emergency management and environmental justice issues that impact rural and Indigenous communities both locally and around the world. She is a longstanding Indigenous ally and rural supporter who has been involved in developing online tools, guidebooks and other materials. Her work revolves around community-based approaches and works to bridge the gaps between Western and Indigenous ways of knowing. She brings her research experiences into her classes and frequently has research opportunities for both undergraduate and graduate-level researchers.
With input from a team of Indigenous consultants, she helped develop the Aboriginal Disaster Resilience Planning (ADRP) website and the Traditional Knowledge Toolkit. As well as identifying resilience factors, the ADRP allows communities to identify the potential risk of disaster based on an all-hazards approach and then develop a tailored plan to increase capacities.
She is also the co-chair of the Indigenous Resilience Working Group (IRWG), which is helping Canada meet its international commitments to the Sendai framework and working to reduce disaster risks within Indigenous communities. The IRWG, part of Canada’s Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, believes that the ongoing resilience in Indigenous communities is one of Canada’s biggest assets. At the same time, capacities in Indigenous communities are often constrained by a lack of resources, historical legacies and access to user-friendly risk mitigation planning tools and processes.
In thinking about the impact of climate change in rural and Indigenous spaces as well as holistic understandings of sustainability and well-being, she has completed two projects that have used maple syrup production as a way to tap into local and Indigenous knowledges. In conjunction with a large team of researchers, including undergraduates, the project has developed multiple reports and guides. See resilientresearch.ca for many examples.
Currently, she is also involved in two rural Ontario projects that are highlighting the impact of climate change on the infrastructure systems that are important to our health and safety, especially during an emergency, such as transportation networks, health services, and telecommunications.
The role of healthy trees, the industrious work of beavers building dams and the importance of trails used for tourism and travel are not something typically considered by urban-based planners, researchers and government agencies. However, following from the recent work of two MA students, the team will be arguing that understandings of what is defined as vital infrastructure in the context of rural and Indigenous communities should be expanded to include these natural features as well as access to remote spaces.
I'm interested in the big questions of how we organize ourselves in society. Every day billions of people all around the world produce enormous wealth in their activities at work and in their communities. Yet access to this wealth, to resources and political power, is terribly unequal. Only a few people reap the full rewards of our collective labour, while many people are scraping to get by. How did this system come to be, and why do so many people go along with it? What would it look like to live in a truly democratic, socially just, and ecologically sustainable society? How do we get from here to there? My research and teaching focuses on the broad question: What can we learn from, and how can we contribute to, social movements, labour unions, community organizations, and other forms of democracy from below?
Since becoming faculty at Laurier, I've co-written two books addressing these kinds of questions. Working with my friend and colleague Alan Sears (a sociologist at Ryerson University), we wrote A Good Book, in Theory: Making Sense Through Inquiry to help students improve their capacity to do rigorous theoretical thinking. The word "theory" is a good one for terrifying people or putting them to sleep. But rather than think about theory as a bunch of stale facts you have to learn, I urge students to understand theoretical thinking as a powerful tool for identifying social problems in order to act upon the world to change it.
The other book that Alan and I wrote together, The Democratic Imagination: Envisioning Popular Power in the Twenty-First Century, opens up questions about what it means to live in a democracy. Many of us take for granted that we live in a system based on the principle of "rule by the people." But who are the people and how do they govern? What sort of control over decision-making do you have at your job, in your classroom, in your community? Comparing and contrasting different models of democracy helps develop a clearer sense of how we might want to transform our ways of living together in the future. These are issues I love talking about in my Social and Environmental Justice (SEJ) class, "The Democratic Imagination."
I started the book I’m currently writing in the wake of the 2012 Quebec student strike. In spring of that year, hundreds of thousands of students in Quebec organized a months-long strike against a 75% tuition hike. Their collective strike brought down the government, which effectively cancelled the hike. Brantford is less than a day's drive from Quebec, yet in Ontario, non-rebellion remains the norm on campus. Why? I began interviewing students at Laurier about their hopes and fears.
The students I interviewed at Laurier felt frustrated about high tuition and the debt they've taken on. They worried about a bleak job market and cuts to government services. They were angry; but rarely did they express the sense that they were entitled to something better. Most students were resigned to using their individual talents, and willingness to be flexible, in order to navigate today's harsh socio-economic waters.
At the same time as I was conducting these interviews, I was reading a lot about the so-called "entitlement epidemic" among today's youth. You hear it all the time from employers and journalists, and in all sorts of popular culture: Millennials are so entitled! There seemed to me to be a contradiction between the supposed entitled millennial so often depicted on TV, and the actual millennials I was talking to in my interviews on campus. I've been investigating this contradiction for the past three years, drawing on interviews with millennials in various places in North America to write a book that debunks the myth of the age of entitlement.
My book argues that a new era of social justice and environmental sustainability depends on millennials demanding more, not settling for less. I'm excited to teach a new SEJ seminar this year, entitled "Millennials: Overly Entitled?" on the question of entitlement and the millennial generation.
One of the best parts of my job is participating in social justice activism on campus. I'm a member of Laurier Brantford's Collective for Feminist Action and Research, and I’m an active participant in the Radical Exchange reading group. I've helped organize campus events on social justice education, human rights in Palestine, free speech, and a variety of issues around work and employment. I try to bring my research to a general audience by writing for non-academic publications such as the New Socialist webzine and Briarpatch magazine.
Teaching and researching in SEJ has helped me better understand social problems such as racism, sexism, homophobia, and wealth inequality. It’s also generated hope that another world is possible.
Associate Professor Peter Farrugia has been active in in social justice issues since his arrival at Laurier Brantford in 1999. In 2003 he co-founded, along with Associate Professor Lamine Diallo and three Social and Environmental Justice students, the NGO Project Empathy Africa. Focused on the AIDS pandemic in Sub-Saharan Africa, Project Empathy organized biennial trips to Botswana so that students could work alongside frontline workers in the fight against HIV/AIDS and undertook educational activities locally and regionally. The organization’s documentary, Empathy in Action, was screened at the XVI International AIDS conference in Toronto in 2006.
Closer to home, Farrugia has been active in local community initiatives as well. He has used the classroom to raise awareness of social issues and empower students to work for change, most notably in fourth-year seminar courses such as CT407: Humour and CT401: Food. In the humour course, students have twice organized a day of museum-type displays, games, improvisation and silent auctions to raise money for local organizations such as Arts After School Kids (founded by Laurier Brantford alumna Gayle Myke) and the Stedman Hospice, which provides end-of-life care to patients and their families.
In the food course, students have engaged in a summative project that sees them organize a five-course meal and silent auction fundraiser. Beneficiaries to date have included Food for Thought and Child Hunger Brantford.
Outside of the classroom, Farrugia has collaborated with a variety of groups, including the Westglen Cooperative, Winston Court assisted housing project and Why Not Youth Centres (serving at-risk youth). He is currently working with the East Ward and Echo Place Neighbourhood Association on a number of initiatives including a plan to offer self-defence training to Laurier students as well as other community members.
My work at Laurier can be broadly characterised as community and civic engagement. This means that my scholarly, teaching, and service activities generally align with this theme:
Social and environmental justice describes the general intentions and directions of my responsibilities and activities, and imagining and practicing socially innovative ways to work on such issues is a new means for me to step into the myriad of problems besetting our communities and the planet, and for helping my students imagine solutions to those things which have special resonance for them.
Over my tenure with Laurier in Brantford, my research and community work began with a focus on farmers’ markets, community-supported agriculture (CSA), food maps, community gardens, and on the theme of local and sustainable food systems more broadly.
My social and environmental justice research and activities are currently more closely focused on shelter provision, working with partners like Habitat for Humanity locally, internationally with their Global Villages program in El Salvador (where my picture was taken), and on Métis land in northern Alberta. My work with taking students on international service-learning experiences is largely about deepening our understanding of north-south issues and on exploring themes of first-world privilege, responsibility, and reciprocity.
My local community-engaged learning activities and roles are focused on engaging students in ways that helps them step more ardently into civic engagement and social responsibility, and to understanding notions of community, community participation, and the broader theme of community service learning – all with an aspiration of addressing the diversity of issues under the banners of social and environmental justice.
Recent work on volunteering with an Earthship build on Haudenosaunee territory of Six Nations here in Southern Ontario, is helping me understand the ideas and practices of allyship, as is my recent role with the Save the Evidence Campaign, a project to retrofit the old Mohawk Institute in Brantford (one of the few remaining ‘residential schools’ in Canada), with an eye to its association with the Truth and Reconciliation Report recommendations that came out in 2015 in Canada.
Generally, I see working in ways that allows me to draw on my privileges to contribute in good ways to ongoing issues of social and environmental justice in my community(ies), while facilitating this same journey for my students – helping them see how local community engaged service at the university encourages shifts in what learning can mean, and the difficulties and joys of doing this kind of bridge-building between universities, communities, and themselves.
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