A new group has sprung up at St. Thomas University to push for change on an age-old problem.
Three students have started a STU chapter of Champions of Change, a group dedicated to championing girls’ rights and gender equality.
The president of the group, Rachel Slipp, has been involved with numerous women’s and girl’s rights initiatives. Slipp joined Plan Canada’s Speakers Bureau in January 2017, an initiative that provides 14 to 22-year-olds across Canada with the opportunity to hone their public speaking abilities to promote change.
Through the Speaker’s Bureau, she had the opportunity to travel to Toronto last October to be Ontario’s Provincial Advocate of Children and Youth for a day, as part of Plan Canada’s Girls Belong Here. Girls Belong Here is an initiative that seeks to provide women and girls the opportunity to work in their dream job.
“When I came back after my Girls Belong Here experience, I gave five interviews about it and really enjoyed speaking out more about these issues,” Slipp said in a message.
“So starting a club at school was still really important to me, which is why I knew it was something that I had to do in the new year before my time at STU comes to an end.”
Slipp proposed the idea of starting a Champions of Change group at STU to her roommate, Emily DesRoches, and classmate Chelsea Connell.
One January day in Slipp and DesRoches’s living room in their College Hill apartment, the three women decided to make change happen on campus.
“[We] started our club and got to work on brainstorming what we could do,” Slipp said.
On Feb. 26, STU Champions of Change hosted their first-ever initiative: a “Kindness Card” writing campaign to acknowledge International Women’s Day. People stopped by a table in James Dunn Hall to write messages to inspirational women in the STU community.
They had 50 cards, but ran out before the event was over.
“We were all really surprised, but in the best way possible,” Connell said.
Due to it’s success, they returned on Wednesday and ran out of cards again.
DesRoches said the cards are a way to recognize all women on campus.
“It’s all about sending a positive message and letting people know that they’re valued and appreciated on every level, especially people who might not always get that recognition,” DesRoches said.
Slipp, Connell and DesRoches are excited about the positive response their first project has received and hope that momentum continues for their next planned event: a Menstruation Matters campaign to be held after the March break.
“I hope that our group will allow students to learn more about gender equality, both domestically and internationally,” Slipp said. “We are trying to be very open and inclusive, and hope to run all of our events in ways that are creative, informative, encouraging and inspiring. We’re always open to new ideas and suggestions on how we can improve.”
Changing campus, changing the world
Slipp, DesRoches and Connell said receiving an education inspires them to want to help other girls around the world have access to an education as well.
“I feel very grateful to have the opportunity I have with my own education and to live in a part of the world that generally accepts me as a woman and where I can generally feel safe as a woman and to go on and apply that to a career,” DesRoches said. “But I know that there are girls and women in other parts of the world that don’t have those experiences.”
DesRoches said she believes society is starting to move to a better place in terms of women’s rights, but there’s still a lot of work to be done and it’s not going to happen overnight.
“I think that we’re getting there and it’s nice to have this cute little group to play a small part in that,” DesRoches said.
DesRoches and Connell cited girls’ education activist and Nobel Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai as an inspiration.
“I think that that feeling you get when you think about her [and the work Yousafzai does] is also instilled within us — not to the same extent, but that feeling of wanting to try and do what we can, even at STU,” Connell said.
Slipp, who’s graduating in May along with DesRoches, said she’s going to continue pushing for change until everyone around her knows how women and girls in developing countries are disproportionately affected simply because of their gender.
“My heart breaks every time I hear stories about cat-calling, sexual violence, intimate partner violence, or simply being told that they’re not good enough for something because they’re a woman,” Slipp said.
“I want to be authentic about what I’ve experienced while educating others. And that’s not even considering women’s rights globally. We cannot move forward as a society if half the population is left behind in terms of basic human rights.”
Slipp believes STU could do a better job acknowledging the struggles women experience in society and on campus.
“I also think some departments could benefit from adding more full-time female faculty, who could serve as role models and mentors for female students in that field,” Slipp said.
Although Slipp and DesRoches will be graduating, they hope to take their advocacy with them in their futures.
Slipp said even though she’s just starting to advocate, she wants to continue learning so she can educate others.
DesRoches plans to pursue a masters and eventually do communications work for a non-profit group or NGO after she leaves STU.
Connell, a third-year philosophy major plans to take the reins and continue to push for change on campus next year.
“We have come further [in terms of women’s rights], but we’re still not where we should be, and just that in itself is enough to make us want to push for change and do what we can at the community level.”