May 23, 2018Print | PDF
You come home to your shared apartment after an exhausting day and the place is a mess. Your first thought errs on the side of judgement – “how did my roommate let it get this bad?” You reach for your phone to post your frustration on social media, but pause for a moment to consider if there’s a better way to handle this.
This scene is recreated with a fake kitchen (and real mess) at Laurier’s Brantford campus as an experiential learning activity put on by the Child and Adolescent Research and Education (CARE) lab. The lab is directed by Danielle Law, associate professor in Youth and Children’s Studies and Psychology.
Law, the 2018 recipient of the Donald F. Morgenson Faculty Award for Teaching Excellence for Early Career Excellence, established the CARE lab in 2013 after a group of students enthusiastically volunteered to assist her in conducting on-campus research and outreach initiatives in the area of cyberbullying among children and adolescents.
“The lab has grown beyond anything I could have imagined,” says Law. “It began with four students and now includes over 20 team members and three streams of focus: research, Laurier outreach, and community outreach.”
Through the CARE lab, students have the opportunity to bridge the gap between research and practice and apply their learning in experiential settings. CARE research and outreach assistants are directly involved in the full research process, lead on-campus outreach activities, and develop community programming for local children and youth.
“This is an exercise in building compassion and awareness of what might be going on in other people’s lives that might lead to certain behaviours.”
It is the on-campus outreach team that brought a model “dirty kitchen” – an everyday situation facing most people living with roommates – to the Davis Fuels Walkway.
Student actors from the CARE lab invite students, staff, and faculty walking by to enter a makeshift “home” and ask participants to help them find a particular item among the mess. The participants wade through the chaos to find an innocuous item.
The CARE member playing the role of the roommate then asks the participant to write down what they would say to the fictitious roommate if they had to come home to that mess each day. Tensions are usually high and the participant typically scrawls a passive-aggressive message chastising the untidy person; giving little thought to how their message could contribute to either solving or further complicating the problem.
Law notes that unfortunately, many people struggle with how to respond to difficult situations and react with aggression, rather than with an aim to understand.
“These students often have roommates of their own and don’t always consider why someone may be neglecting to clean up or how to respond to the situation rather than react to it,” says Law. “This is an exercise in building compassion and awareness of what might be going on in other people’s lives that might lead to certain behaviours.”
Law became acutely aware of the evolving mental health issues facing children and youth during her time as a graduate student at the University of British Columbia. She was interested in how children’s development was changing in an online world, bringing her into the relatively new field of cyberbullying. As an emerging issue in the early 21st century, Law was concerned about the lack of literature on the subject and was determined to do something about it.
“Self harm and suicidal ideations were increasing as a result of cyberbullying and related issues,” says Law. “I was concerned and had to ask ‘what can we do about this’?”
Between 2008 and 2010, Law developed and launched a comprehensive cyberbullying program for the Vancouver School Board’s Facing up to Cyberbullying program aimed at educating elementary and high school students, teachers, administrators, and parents on responsible Internet use.
Her interest in this subject didn’t end with elementary and high school students. More recently, her primary area of focus is the impact of cyberbullying on university students. Specifically, her research is in the areas of online aggression, associated mental health concerns, responsible Internet use, and creating caring communities.
“The research language is changing,” says Law. “It has progressed from combating cyberbullying to promoting cyber kindness.”
For Law, this shift revitalizes a responsibility to connect academia with the community and create caring environments both online and offline. To this end, her efforts to build empathy and kindness-driven competencies become directly embedded into her classroom and campus community.
“Her enthusiasm for education and determination for student success separates her from the rest,” says Nicholas Denomey, third-year student in Psychology and Youth and Children’s Studies. “She offers hope to those who need it and creates opportunities for her students to meet their full potential.”
“Our goal is to foster hope for their future by building relationships with them, empowering them, and giving them an opportunity to take a leadership role in their community.”
Community Service-Learning is present in three of Law’s courses in Youth and Children’s Studies and Psychology. The courses span the developmental trajectory from infancy to emerging adulthood and explores the cognitive, social, and emotional growth of children and youth in different contexts. Each term, students volunteer 20–30 hours at local child and youth service organizations.
“The textbook comes alive when we get together as a class and reflect on what students observe and engage with in the community,” says Law. “If I hear that a student doesn’t understand the connection of their experience to the theory, we all have the chance to discuss why a particular instance isn’t ‘textbook’ and ask critical and thoughtful questions about some of the contextual factors that might be impacting the situation.”
The CARE lab is highly active on campus, leading annual initiatives for World Mental Health Day and THRIVE week and facilitating their own Conflict, Cyberbullying, and Compassion workshop twice a year.
Off-campus, the CARE team runs girls group programming supported by Brantford Family and Children Services for 11 to 14 year-old girls living in a low-income area. They lead relationship-building activities in the girls’ neighbourhood and at Laurier. The girls group is also invited to participate in on-campus outreach activities, introducing them to the university setting early on.
“Our goal is to foster hope for their future by building relationships with them, empowering them, and giving them an opportunity to take a leadership role in their community,” says Law.
Law also hosts a weekly mindfulness series at Laurier’s Brantford campus. She is interested in the link between mindfulness and compassion research, and how it influences more caring practices online.
“I try to encourage students to be thoughtful in their decision making and teach them about the importance of succeeding both academically and personally,” says Law. “I want my students to grow as individuals, be strong in character, and use their knowledge to help others.”
“As Aristotle pointed out ‘educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all’. I hope to help students become educated in both.”
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