The Shoestring Initiative

Advancing socioeconomic diversity in Canadian universities

Our Organizers

Elaine Laberge

PhD student, Sociology, Vanier Scholar (2018-2021)

“As a student from generational poverty, I know how hard it can be to try to get to university, and ‘succeed’ on a very unfamiliar landscape, with a culture I don’t understand. It took me 15 fractured and interrupted years to finish my first undergrad degree (theatre/English). Then I found sociology! There have been people along the way who believed in me—including those in this community—which makes all the difference. I am learning that I don’t have to live in the shadows and margins of the university landscape when I have the support of community members, from similar backgrounds, who deeply care about diversity and inclusion.”

Elaine has been tackling poverty and how poverty shapes lives, communities, and societies personally and through writing and research for many years. She spent nine months with undergraduate students at a western Canadian university to understand how growing up in poverty shapes their experiences in university. Elaine explores inequality and injustice through narrative and storytelling. Coming from the University of Alberta, she has had challenges shifting to a university and city where she has no community. Today, she is looking at how grassroots initiatives can contribute to creating community, support, and mentorship for students from and/or living in poverty. She is interested in how social activism will inspire UVic leaders to include social class into their equity, diversity, and inclusion strategies, policies, and teaching styles. Elaine uses creative ways to make visible marginalized students’ lived experiences.

Elaine is committed to student enrolment strategies and civic engagement that shapes fairness, equity, diversity, and inclusion. She leverages her scholarly work, lived experiences, and knowledge to support marginalized students—and university communities-at-large, to build inclusive Canadian higher educational landscapes. Her extensive background in communications encompasses the investigation and reporting of challenges facing private- and public-sector organizations. She is known for her creativity in identifying problems/opportunities and developing effective solutions. She is an empathetic listener and leader who is sensitive to the complexity of how lives are shaped by the intersection of multiple social characteristics. She focuses on addressing systemic inequality and inequity. Elaine is known as a community builder and connector of people. Elaine is respected for her abilities to identify needs, negotiate and facilitate conflict resolution, navigate complex structures and policies, and communicate with multiple stakeholders.



Catherine Léger

Associate Professor, French

“I come from an impoverished locality, in southeastern New Brunswick. Yet, it is this very community, a tight knit Acadian French community, that nurtured me, taught me resilience and resourcefulness. My family, childhood friends and neighbours provided me with a deep sense of belonging and security. They truly accepted me even though I had dreams and ambitions that were different from them and I felt in their presence something that resembles unconditional love, a feeling I can revive whenever I need. I firmly believe that voices coming from the margins need to be heard. These voices often have tones of empathy, deep humanity, and strength, and they offer unique perspectives which can contribute significantly to society.”
Catherine Léger is an Associate Professor at the University of Victoria, in British Columbia. Her research focuses mainly in two areas. She works on the relationships between syntax, semantic and pragmatics (mainly on clausal complementation). She also investigates different aspects of Acadian French, in particular her native dialect, Chiac, a long-stigmatized dialect spoken in southeastern New Brunswick that emerged from intense contact with English. Her interests in this area include borrowings like back and discursive markers (voiren seulement, etc.).


Colette Smart

Associate Professor, Psychology

“My background as a working class immigrant, who has been a student or faculty member in three countries and on two continents, is something that gives me a unique perspective on the interaction of class and higher education. As a ‘blue collar scholar,’ I am proud of the strengths and values I have gained from my upbringing and my family, which include (but are not limited to) a strong sense of interconnection with others, social responsibility, tenacity, creativity, and resilience.”

Colette Smart is an Associate Professor at the University of Victoria, British Columbia. As a clinical neuropsychologist, her current research is primarily focused on the application of meditative practices such as mindfulness and yoga as forms of “non-pharmacological treatment” for various forms of cognitive and emotional difficulties such as brain injury and late-life cognitive decline. She is particularly interested in understanding the experience of persons impacted by trauma, how trauma affects the brain, and how meditative practices may be used to help people heal from trauma. Through her research and clinical work, Colette has always had a passion to understand how people make meaning and find benefit living through adversity, honoring the inherent drive toward wholeness that is within us.


Su Urbanczyk

Associate Professor, Linguistics

Su is interested in and dedicated to studying Salish and Wakashan languages. She has worked in a few communities on various language revitalization projects in addition to documenting and understanding the organization of sound systems and word structures. Some of the research that Su does is also theoretical in nature, aimed at understanding the principles that underlie the production and patterning of sounds and words in languages. She believes that linguistic theories help to find patterns in language, which can inform documentation and the development of materials for learning and teaching languages.


Theme by Anders Norén