A star is named

Dr. Gaye Watson Warthe, PhD, has been recognized for her exemplary leadership in the area of gender-based violence

Dr. Gaye Watson Warthe, PhD.

Associate professor Gaye Watson Warthe has made countless contributions towards the prevention of dating, domestic and sexual violence and study of the effects of disaster and the pandemic on gender-based violence.

Earlier this month, Dr. Gaye Watson Warthe, PhD, was the recipient of one of only nine Stars of Alberta Volunteer Awards in recognition of her exemplary leadership through her volunteer work and her research fighting gender discrimination. Currently board president of the Alberta Council of Women's Shelters (ACWS), Warthe is Mount Royal’s associate dean of Teaching and Learning with the Faculty of Health, Community and Education. She has also served as a board member with the Discovery House Family Violence Prevention Society, RESOLVE Alberta and Shift: The project to end domestic violence. Warthe’s research focuses on dating, domestic and sexual violence and the effects of disaster and the pandemic on gender-based violence, work that has greatly contributed to the efforts of the boards she has served on.

Warthe was nominated for her “star” by ACWS’ executive director Jan Reimer, who is likely most well-known for her time serving as Edmonton’s mayor (1989 to 1995). Reimer has spent more than two decades in the field of violence prevention, earning such accolades as Edmontonian of the Century, the Queen’s Golden and Diamond Jubilee Medals and the Governor General’s Award in Commemoration of the Persons Case. She is also one of the YWCA’s Women of Distinction.

“Gaye never shies away from addressing challenges or difficult topics, but always does so in a safe, respectful way so that individuals know they are being heard, their comments reflected upon and are never felt to be judged. She is also able to instill humour with self-reflection as part of her approach, while at the same time always acknowledging the difficult subject matter that is being dealt with,” Reimer says.

Reimer’s nomination package outlines Warthe’s many contributions towards the prevention of dating, domestic and sexual violence, citing her as an “unknown hero to countless women and children forced to escape a home that has become a very dangerous place to be.”

In addition to her position as board president of the ACWS, Warthe has also served on ACWS internal committees such as the Finance, Audit and Risk Management Committee, the Social, Legal and Ethics Committee and the Awards Committee.

Warthe says that her strengths in policy and planning combined with the interchange of ideas between her work at MRU and her volunteer duties has been beneficial for all parties.

“I think I've been on every strategic planning committee on every board I've ever been on because it's such an important part of what we do and it's transferable skills to my work,” Warthe says. “So as much as I bring things learned at my work to the ACWS, I also bring a lot back to MRU. It's a nice exchange.”

Reimer attributes the ACWS’ ability to successfully navigate the difficulties of the pandemic, which included having to relocate shelter occupants, to Warthe’s contributions to its disaster preparedness initiatives, developed through Warthe’s work with Dr. Patricia Kostouros, PhD, currently interim chair of the Department of Child Studies and Social Work. Alberta shelters are now better prepared to respond to sudden disasters, protocols that were put into action when evacuations have been needed due to natural disasters occurring across the province. Warthe and Kostouros are now conducting research on lessons learned during the pandemic with the Canadian Women's Foundation.

In 2018, Warthe was named as an individual recipient of Alberta’s Inspiration Award for research and contributions towards violence prevention. In the same year the MRU team that developed Stepping Up, a dating violence prevention program for which Warthe acts as lead, received another Innovation Award. Stepping Up has now been implemented in three other post-secondary institutions and Warthe has received more than $800,000 in grants for the program’s growth and continuation. In addition, Warthe, along with Kostouros and Dr. Cathy Carter-Snell, PhD, developed a training program for responses to disclosures of violence for MRU Residence advisors and Warthe also contributed to the MRU policy for dating, domestic and sexual violence.


"Those of us at MRU, we believe in giving to our communities. And we believe if you're lucky enough to be able to be in the position to do so, you should do so. I just feel so fortunate."

Dr. Gaye Watson Warthe, PhD


Warthe’s influence in the post-secondary world began in 2008 after she introduced questions to the National College Health Assessment (NCHA) on dating violence, some of which are now a core part of the NCHA — a survey administered by Canadian and American colleges/universities every three years to assess health risks. Her research helped to make the case for a violence prevention project at MRU. Warthe also played a major part in having dating violence/healthy relationship programming included in the Alberta Family Violence framework, writing the post-secondary policy framework for violence prevention several years ago, which was then adopted by two successive governments. Prior to this Warthe has also worked with Alberta Health Services and agencies involved in the domestic violence sector in Calgary to develop screening protocols.This leadership in screening for relationship violence and health risks extends throughout North America.

In her letter of support for Warthe, Carter-Snell, a professor in Mount Royal’s School of Nursing and Midwifery who is co-investigator with Warthe for the Stepping Up program, wrote, “In the University community, Dr. Warthe is extremely active with leadership in dissemination of information about relationship violence and support of programs or students interested in this area.” Carter-Snell notes that Warthe is always available for presentations and offers extensive additional time to work with student peer facilitators.

“Many of these students are now working in the community with relationship violence and peer support agencies. In fact, some students have completely changed their major after working with (Warthe) to enable them to pursue careers in agencies supporting victims of relationship violence,” Carter-Snell says.

Warthe is proud to have witnessed the growth in awareness of violence, with policies and guidelines being developed, but suggests that work needs to continue towards providing comprehensive early training. People need to know what to do if they themselves, or someone they know, are experiencing violence in a relationship.

“We know what contributes to violence prevention,” Warthe says, and that prevention is where she believes more efforts should be focused. “Intervention saves lives, but it doesn’t happen early enough. If we want to end this, we have got to back it up.”

Carter-Snell says that Warthe’s passion for reducing relationship violence and expanding resources in the province and greater community has been notable throughout her career.

“These efforts have a significant impact on our students, the community and the province — the links between violence and impacts on health are well recognized. Dr. Warthe’s efforts in improving resources, education and support are a key factor in improving resilience for many in our province,” she says.

As the former chair of the child studies and social work department, Warthe was instrumental in developing the curriculum for Mount Royal’s Bachelor of Social Work, introduced this year.

If there was one thing Warthe wishes everyone knew about the prevention of violence, it would be this: “I think we often hear it affects everyone, but I don't think we get that it affects everyone, so it's in everyone's interest to stop violence. We would all benefit in every way. It's in our best interest to find ways to create safer communities for every member. And I hope I never stop working towards that goal.”

Warthe appreciates the opportunity to be in the same (virtual) room as government ministers and high-level decision makers through her work at ACWS to help suggest strategic direction for further developments. It’s the ability to continuously drive things forward that compels her to keep moving and keep trying, to fully understand responses, back them up, and make inroads.

“Those of us at MRU, we believe in giving to our communities. And we believe if you're lucky enough to be able to be in the position to do so, you should do so. I just feel so fortunate,” she says. ”Every time I think I'm good, I can not learn for a bit, I get another amazing opportunity to challenge myself and figure out what else I can learn.

Dr. Stephen Price, PhD, dean of the Faculty of Health, Community and Education, says, “Dr. Gaye Warthe has been a strong contributor to the MRU community since she began working here in 2000. Her contributions to multiple other agencies in Alberta have been so impactful for our students, and for so many Albertans.

“Gaye brings her full enthusiasm and contribution to every group she works with. She actively engages and provides space for supporting the needs of others. I am so proud of working alongside Gaye — she has been a mentor and guide to me. Our faculty and I have benefited greatly from the work and connections she has made in the community.”

Find out how Mount Royal’s Stepping Up program is working to help prevent relationship violence.

Dec. 21, 2021 — Michelle Bodnar

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