Reading Week left the CAW Student Centre largely empty last week, save for 350 high school students attending the sixth annual High School Social Justice Form on Feb. 21.
Presented by Teachers for Global Awareness, a not-for-profit group of educators and community activists from the Windsor-Essex region and the University of Windsor Centre for Studies in Social Justice, the Social Justice Form invited high school students from 20 area schools to participate in a keynote address, workshops and a student-run activity, providing the groundwork for students to establish activism groups at their schools.
“It’s great to see that there are people who want to make a difference,” said Grace Teskey, a Grade 12 student at Essex High School. “It’s been an incredibly interesting day.”
This year’s theme was Crime and Punishment: A Political, Social and Health Issue. “In the past we’ve had themes of media, consumerism, gender and sexuality and water,” said Deanna Fougère, co-chair of Teachers for Global Awareness. “Every year we try and keep current with what the kids are interested in and what is relevant in the world.”
By stimulating the interest of students and awakening in them a spirit of activism and social consciousness, Teachers for Global Awareness hope to introduce high school students to the most significant and challenging social issues. Fougère hopes that participants will take the information learned at the forum and initiate projects that foster social justice.
Funded by a $28,000 Ontario Trillium Foundation grant, the High School Social Justice Form offers $300 micro-grants to students who wish to develop a related project in their school.
“There is not always time in classes to touch on these topics in school and not all of the teachers are equipped to handle these discussions when they arise,” said co-chair Amy Tesolin. “It’s a great opportunity for students and teachers to learn how to talk about subjects that are often troubling. Often the students have a wealth of knowledge about the topic we discuss and too often they don’t have a form to discuss them.”
Attending students participated in workshops covering aspects of the crime and punishment theme including the new Omnibus Crime Bill; racism in the justice system; First Nations prisoner experiences, Occupy Wall Street; LGBT hate crimes; crime and fear in the media; and the dynamics of teen relationship violence presented by Patty Kerr and Sgt. Maureen Rudall.
“There is nothing more relevant than violence in relationships; it’ll affect them for the rest of their lives,” said Sgt. Rudall, a 27-year veteran of the Windsor Police Service, who as a detective investigated sexual assault, child abuse and domestic violence.
“From a medical stand point, it’s so important getting the message to the students that they can come to the hospital, that there are services available to them, that we will not call the police or their parents if they don’t want us to,” said Patty Kerr a forensic nurse at the sexual assault treatment centre at Windsor Regional Hospital.
Kerr showed the workshop attendees graphic images of women who were victims of relationship violence, capturing the undivided attention of an age group who are often said to be desensitized to violence. “It’s important that they see what can and does happen, and then they will hopefully be aware of the warning signs in their relationships.”
“We’re really lucky to have this,” said Essex High School student Mitch Demars. “It was great to learn more about relevant stuff like the riots at the G20.”