By Darren Lum
Published April 10 2018
It’s time for a change say three members of the local high school’s student council who launched the first ever Equality Week.
With recent headlines related to various movements such as Time’s Up and Me Too demanding the end of sexual assault sexual harassment and the inequality of women who work in film television and theatre and to support survivors and end sexual violence in society council members Ali Paul Kailynn Sikma and River Christiano spoke to the Echo at the start of last week.
They wanted to encourage inclusiveness educate and empower students by offering engaging activities and posting promotional material.
This effort is in response to the past International Women’s Day on Thursday March 8.
Although the three students acknowledge Women’s Day has passed they chose to delay their school events for this past week since the March break holidays included Women’s Day. Extending the event longer for the week they said would enable them to cover a broader scope to educate peers and themselves about the LGBTQ+ (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer and everyone else including straight allies or depending on interpretation could also mean love acceptance and the embracing of all) community encouraging open-mindedness and to raise awareness about sexuality towards the aim of making the school a safe place for everyone.
Christiano said Equality Week was about improving understanding and education.
“People our age don’t really know a lot about these issues and they aren’t educated on it. They don’t know the severity of it so I feel like doing this is going to help with that and help people realize: Hey this is happening and it needs to stop” she said referring to women being abused and assaulted.
Fifth year student Ali Paul said this effort came from a place to broaden horizons particularly for students intent on attending school out of the county where diversity exists.
“There are other people in this world that are different and I think it’s important for us to learn about them before we encounter them and don’t know how to react” Paul said.
She adds it’s important for people to treat each other with respect and include one another regardless of sexual orientation or gender.
They also felt it wouldn’t just be good for the school but for themselves to learn more.
The week of events was also an opportunity to raise the profile of the school’s Gay Straight Alliance.
“It’s not very well attended anymore. No one really knows about it or attends it or really cares anymore about it. We’re trying to raise the popularity about the subject” Paul said of the school’s group.
According to the TLDSB the GSA works to provide gay lesbian transgender two-spirited queer and questioning youth and allies a safe space to work in concert at making the school a more welcoming place for everyone regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity.
The week’s events included the promotion of the Me Too and Time’s Up Tuesday movements with Tuesday’s exhibition volleyball game pitting the senior girls’ volleyball team against the Red Hawks varsity basketball team. Many of the girls playing wore black showing support for Time’s Up Tuesday. On the same day there was a self-defence session led by teachers Mike Rieger and Dan Fockler. On Thursday the students were encouraged to wear rainbow T-shirts to support the LGBTQ plus community and a scavenger hunt was held using the established Pockett Challenge.
By Thursday they supported the already scheduled LIUB (Light it Up Blue) fundraising efforts such as the bake sale and the annual teacher challenges performed for certain amounts collected which raised awareness for autism and money for Autism Ontario – Peterborough Branch and also for the PALS (Practical Academics and Life Skills) field trip. On Friday the week ended with an opportunity for personal empowerment with an open mic noon-hour in the cafeteria encouraging singing and slam poetry.
Throughout the week on each day starting Tuesday the message of Equality Week was promoted and the council posted various posters the first day there was a collection depicting strong and inspirational women (Rihanna and Ellen) with a listing of their achievements.
At the time of the interview there was a plan to bring all the posters together at one location. The posters were made by the 13 member student council.
HHSS vice principal Dave Waito acknowledged the efforts of the student council to raise awareness about the inequality that exists. Although it is the negative news that has been the impetus it is still important.
“We should always try to push ourselves to think more openly and broadly about that stuff…. I think raising awareness on a local level and a smaller level that’s where the most meaningful stuff is going to happen” he said. “I think it is excellent. I agree. 100 per cent and I’m proud of them for bringing it up.”
Although the trio of student council members will not all be returning (only Sikma is returning) this event will be used as an opportunity to continue with a better event next year.
“This year will be a learning experience for us and then we can figure out what went well and what we can do to educate further and then improve it for next year” Paul said.