Story by Rob Rombouts
Leona Bruijns wants male varsity athletes to be leaders in preventing sexual violence on campus.
Bruijns, a PhD Student in the Department of Sociology at Western University, has been named as recipient of the Vanier Scholarship, worth $50,000 a year, for three years.
The scholarship will support Bruijns as she evaluates the implementation of “Allies on Campus”, a sexual violence and education program designed for delivery on campus to male varsity athletes.
“With the rise of #MeToo and #TimesUp, more light is being shone on the social pervasiveness of sexual violence,” said Bruijns. “Even before these movements began, the persistent problem of high rates of sexual violence on post-secondary campuses had been a topic of great interest.”
“There has been building interest in how to involve men in prevention efforts as more and more men are expressing a willingness to get engaged and work alongside women in creating a culture that supports survivors and reduces sexual violence,” said Bruijns.
Bruijns will work with male varsity athletes and their coaches to evaluate the sexual violence prevention program, which is being developed by the Sexual Assault Support Centre of Waterloo Region and includes materials from Western’s Upstander program.
“Historically, a lot of prevention efforts are driven by women and for women, and there are a lot of questions about how to engage with men and bring them into these efforts,” said Bruijns. “Athletes are often looked upon as leaders on campus, and they are a wide-reaching group.”
Through pre- and post-program questionnaires and semi-structured interviews, Bruijns will examine the effectiveness of the training program. The questionnaires will quantitatively evaluate specific aspects of the program, such as changes in bystander attitudes and behaviours, and the interviews will focus on understanding the experiences of athletes as they take on a leadership role and how this contributes to any shifts within the culture.
“We want to engage them as allies and as leaders to encourage a culture change,” said Bruijns.
The program will initially be implemented at Laurier, but Bruijns hopes to expand the program to other campuses.
“The scholarship gives me more flexibility in my research, and the opportunity to reach out in new areas,” said Bruijns. “It means that the project can be wider in scope.”
“It’s a huge honour to receive the Vanier Scholarship,” said Bruijns. “It feels good to have all the work done before recognized, and to have support going forward. Hopefully it will allow me to make a difference in some way.”
The Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships (VCGS) program aims to attract and retain world-class doctoral students by supporting students who demonstrate both superior leadership skills and an outstanding record of scholarly achievement in graduate studies in the social sciences and/or humanities, natural sciences and/or engineering and health.