Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Stand Up Against Poverty

On October 12, 2014, I stood in the sunshine outside of Sarnia’s city hall to join many other members of the Lambton College and broader community in the Stand up Against Poverty Rally.

The event is held in conjunction with the United Nation's International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, which falls this year on October 17. 

On the front steps of city hall, we listened to local experts outline the story of poverty in Ontario. Their statistics surprised me: one in eight Canadian families worries about finding enough food. More than 900,000 Canadians depend on local food banks each month. A third of the Canadians who rely on a food bank are children (see chewonthis.ca). We also heard from Renee Flynn, a Leader with the Circles program, and Myles Vanni, Executive Director of Sarnia’s Inn of the Good Shepherd, about the costs of poverty on individual families. 

Despite these overwhelming statistics, I left the rally feeling like there is hope for change. As the speakers shared stories and statistics, Lambton College students from the Social Service Worker program waved their protest signs at passing motorists. Their signs said things like

“Don't be foolish, don't be crazy—lack of money doesn't make them lazy.”

“Poverty is the worst form of violence.” -Gandhi

“You can't eat sympathy.”

The honks of support often drowned out the speakers. Of course, there were likely motorists who were unaware of the details of what they were honking for, just as there may have been folks who wandered in to the rally without knowing what it was about. But that’s okay—there were others who left city hall that day with a better understanding of the price of poverty in our community.

If you want to tell the federal government that you'd like to see a Federal Poverty Reduction Plan—and substantial and lasting change for the Canadian families living in poverty—visit ChewOnThis.ca and sign the petition you'll find there.

-Erica Kelly, Project Lead, Centre for Social Justice

Every Child Matters

 You might have noticed more orange than usual around the hallways of Lambton recently. Tuesday, September 30, 2014 was the second annual Orange Shirt Day, a day intended to commemorate the harmful legacy of Indian Residential Schools in Canada. Many members of the Lambton community dressed in orange to show their support for survivors of Canada’s residential school system.

Indian Residential Schools, which separated children from their families and culture, had a devastating effect on Canada’s aboriginal children. Many children in the system were victims of abuse, and the memories survivors share are often horrific. You can learn more about this aspect of Canadian history and recent attempts at reconciliation at the Indigenous Foundations website, hosted by UBC.

The choice to wear orange comes from the story of one survivor, Phyllis, whose grandmother bought her a new shirt to attend her first day of residential school. Here's what Phyllis says about that day: "I remember going to Robinson’s store and picking out a shiny orange shirt.  It had string laced up in front, and was so bright and exciting – just like I felt to be going to school!  When I got to the Mission, they stripped me, and took away my clothes, including the orange shirt!   I never saw it again.  I didn’t understand why they wouldn’t give it back to me, it was mine! The color orange has always reminded me of that and how my feelings didn’t matter, how no one cared and how I felt like I was worth nothing.  All of us little children were crying and no one cared." (Read Phyllis’s full story here.)  

Showing your support to the survivors couldn't be much easier. And it's an interesting form of commemoration, since it's not immediately apparent whether someone is wearing orange because she supports the campaign or because she likes orange. But a whole room full of orange—or hallways full, or a college full—would be a really powerful demonstration. 

I didn't have an orange shirt, so I had to borrow one from a friend. Several people commented throughout the day on my shirt—not people who were interested in the campaign, but people who just liked the fancy shirt I wore. Each time, I was in a bit of a hurry, and I was tempted to say just "thanks" and move along, but I forced myself to slow down and to say why I was wearing orange. And that, I think, is the real benefit of Orange Shirt Day: it's a day that reminds us that we can't skirt around this history because it's difficult. We must learn about it, and we must take the time to speak about it and ask questions. 

Here are some of the SSW students and faculty showing off their orange!

I'm now reading Edmund Metatawabin's Up Ghost River, an autobiographical account of the legacy of residential school. I'm finding it very difficult to read. I've read about residential schools in the past, but now that I'm a mother, I can't read these stories of terrified children being stolen away from their families without thinking of my own kids. But again, the fact that I'm responding to these recountings and finding them difficult doesn't seem like a reason to turn away—and reading the history and feeling sad isn't enough, either.

Metatawabin visited Sarnia in late September to read from his book. At the end of question period, a young white woman stood up in the back of the room. "What can I do?" she asked. She'd clearly read Metatawabin's story—one that represents so many others like his, one that's full of the memories of suffering and horrific abuse at residential school—and she was left feeling guilty, and angry, and ashamed, and frustrated. Metatawabin said she should keep reading, and she should tell her friends what she'd read. Keep reading and asking questions.

For more information on Orange Shirt Day, please visit Every Child Matters.

-Erica Kelly, Project Lead, Centre for Social Justice

Monday, 27 October 2014

Welcome to our new blog!

Welcome to our new blog! We are the members of Lambton College's Centre for Social Justice, and in this space, we hope to share with you some of the many events taking place in and around the college.

What is social justice?

Our group spends a lot of time thinking and talking about this question, because it's complicated and important. Definitions matter: what we understand social justice to be shapes what actions we take to bring it about.

Broadly speaking, a just society is an equitable one: it’s a place where every citizen has a fair share of resources and the chance to be heard.

We’ve defined five key values that help us understand what social justice means to us. We value
  • social connectedness
  • equitable environments
  • community partners
  • equitable practice
  • and experiential learning
We’re working all the time to enhance these elements of Lambton’s community, and we’d love your help.

Who are we?

Our Advisory Committee is made up of students, staff, and faculty at Lambton College, as well as interested community members. We meet once each term or so to check in about our ongoing work and to plan for what's next.

I'm Erica Kelly, an English Professor here at the college and the Project Lead at the Centre for Social Justice, and I'll be the one writing most of these posts. I'm always happy to ask questions or hear ideas or comments about our work, so please feel free to email.

What do we do?

Our mission is to “create environments to advocate, connect and participate; to nourish equitable systems and relationships on campus and in our community.”

For us, this means encouraging connections among community members whenever we can.
Our students participate in many activities that could be understood as acts of social justice.

This semester, we’ve organized a series of fall "lunch-and-learns." We're calling them "Community Conversations" because the idea behind them is to encourage connections between members of our community and to celebrate some of the wonderful diversity at Lambton. These lunches are co-facilitated by students who share with us their own experiences.

So far, we’ve held two lunchtime conversations: our first featured Sarah, a student who identifies as transgendered and who shared the story of her journey with us; our second featured a panel of CICE students—Brooke, Tiffany, Cody, Kylee, and Vanessa—who told us about what Lambton’s Community Integration through Cooperative Education program has meant for them. For our November lunch, we're teaming up with Ruth Drewitt, a Lambton professor who organizes LINC’s Intercultural Award, to host a panel of international students, each of whom will tell us about what life at Lambton has been like so far. The series will continue in to the winter months, so stay tuned for what's next.

What else do we do?

We try our best to support any social justice activities and initiatives that we see others organizing around our community. From the “Stand Up Against Poverty” rally, organized by the
Sarnia Lambton Poverty Reduction Network, to Wear Orange day, an annual day to draw awareness to the legacy of Canadian residential schools, to the upcoming Global Diversity Summit: we try to spread the word about these events and offer whatever help we can.

How can you get involved?

We're a diverse group, and we have a lot of projects on the go, often all at once. We always need more people! If you'd like to meet more folks around the college and the community while volunteering your time to work for positive change, please join us! Send an email (you can reach me at erica.kelly@lambtoncollege.ca) or stop by (I'm on the college campus in E202-7).


Do you have an issue you're passionate about? Do you have an idea for how the Lambton College community might change things for the better? If so, please let us know. Leave a comment here or send me an email.

-Erica Kelly, Project Lead, Centre for Social Justice