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Network built on relationships

Queen’s is reserving its honorary degrees in 2016 for alumni in celebration of the university’s 175th anniversary. Throughout spring convocation, The Gazette will profile all 11 honorary degree recipients and explore how Queen’s has impacted their life and career. 

Debra Pepler, left, and Wendy Craig (Psychology), co-scientific directors of Promoting Relationships and Eliminating Violence Network (PREVNet), celebrate Dr. Pepler's honorary degree. (University Communications) 

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For Debra Pepler (Artsci/PHE’73, Ed’74), the importance of relationships is clear.

They are the foundation of her groundbreaking research through Promoting Relationships and Eliminating Violence Network (PREVNet) with co-scientific director Wendy Craig (Psychology).

“That’s what Wendy Craig and I have learned through our research over the last 28 years, that the quality of relationships that children, youth and adults have shape their development, and there’s no way of escaping that,” says the Distinguished Research Professor at York University.

On Tuesday, Dr. Pepler returned to Queen’s University to receive an honorary degree as part of the spring convocation ceremony at Grant Hall.

Following their findings, the duo, along with partners and collaborators, were able to secure funding to create PREVNet. But even in this, Dr. Pepler points out, relationships, or co-creation, again played a key role in the development of the national network. Organizations, such as the Red Cross and Big Brother Big Sisters, wanted to integrate the research into their programs, and understanding each other and what each partner was seeking was a crucial first step.

The result has been positive, she says. Healthy relationships are now a part of many conversations at many levels.

“(PREVNet) really moved things forward in Canada in a way I’m not sure other countries have been able to do – that strong link between research and practice,” Dr. Pepler says.

The message is getting out.

A recent survey, Dr. Pepler says, showed that 98 per cent of Canadian parents identified bullying as a concern. While that signals a greater awareness, Dr. Pepler says a lot of work remains, such as putting the tools in the hands of those who can make a difference, such as teachers.

“We’ve started to make a dent but, that being said, PREVNet can’t claim full responsibility,” she says, pointing to the many partners, including graduate students. “But I think that with everyone working together to raise awareness and to address the problem, we’ve probably started to make a difference. It’s very exciting.”

Dr. Pepler completed her undergraduate studies at Queen’s and earned her Bachelor of Education as well. She looks back on her five years here fondly, saying that along with the academic foundation that Queen’s provided, she also gained life experience, and a sense of community.

“I met lifelong friends and learned so much about community because I think that’s one of the things that Queen’s teaches you, the importance of connecting with others, supporting others and being supportive of others,” she says.

However, there were difficulties to overcome as well. In 1973, she was graduating top of her class, earning a gold medal. Despite this, she says, not one of her professors suggested that she pursue graduate studies.

It was a very different time for women, she adds. But, once again, it is something she herself has set out to change throughout her career.

“One of my passions is to mentor young women to ensure that they recognize their potential and have all the opportunities to become who they want to be,” she says. “Which is why I love being a university professor – because in so many ways, that is my job, that’s my responsibility, and it’s so thrilling to walk beside someone for seven years and watch them step out as a leader.”

See more Convocation 2016 stories