The club “typically has a monthly focus,” Mr. Harvey says. “The focus at the beginning of the year was on Sudan and the human rights abuse and the poverty that is caused by the socio-political turbulence that occurs there.” The range of initiatives and organizations that the club supports is quite vast and varies from year to year. “We start each year with a session led by the chair people, and what we do is we sit down and talk about what is going on in the world,” Mr. Harvey elaborates. The decisions about the activities of the club come, for the most part, from its members, who have the unique chance to propose and advocate for ideas that they are passionate about. “What we find is that people hear validation of their ideas,” Mr. Downer notes. “They have ideas about what is just and they have concerns that they bring forward and the club reassures the members that yes, those are genuine concerns. When they get the response from the club and the community, it makes people want to get more involved.”
The club has been involved in copious initiatives in the years that it has been a part of the School’s extracurricular program, including the recurring Orange Shirt Day, which recognizes the impact of residential schools on Indigenous peoples in Canada, and the Small Project, through which CDS helps make it possible for two children from small villages to attain a quality education.
I asked Mr. Downer about the largest and most successful event this year, and he replied that it was our support of the Matthew Shepard Foundation, an LGBT non-profit organization started by the parents of Matthew Shepard, that runs education, outreach, and advocacy programs to promote acceptance and tolerance and Erase Hate. “It was a school-wide event,” says Mr. Downer. “It crossed over with Inclusivity, as well as recent events occurring in Canada and in the United States.” The members of the club put a substantial amount of hard work and dedication into this initiative, not only in supporting the school’s production of The Laramie Project
, but also in raising awareness of issues affecting members of the LGBTQ community. Bake sales were held, ice cream and buttons were sold, and a sizable amount of money was raised.
Another popular method of increasing the visibility of the issues discussed in the club is “Dress-Down Days”. These are days on which students may dress casually in exchange for a Toonie donation to a certain organization. Oftentimes, the organizations are chosen by the members of the Social Justice Club. Mr. Downer also mentioned that a display board was put up this year to demonstrate to students, faculty, and visitors of the School what the club is involved with. “A nice way to think about it is that we’re advertising justice,” he says.
In my talks with the faculty advisors, a common topic was the impact of participation in the club on its members. The members develop a broad skill set through their planning and execution of events relating to the club. “It teaches them about social agency and how to organize and communicate ideas,” Mr. Harvey notes. “They learn how to rally support around ideas that are worthy of our attention.” The takeaways from the meaningful, critical discussions that take place within the club have the ability to warp students’ worldviews as they become exposed to a wide variety of issues, ideas, and opinions. Mr. Downer and Mr. Harvey both work tremendously hard to allow the students to broaden their understanding of the world that they live in and instill in them the idea that they are able to make a difference. “I’m interested in helping them to determine what they feel is worth standing up for, what they feel is worth raising consciousness about, and what they want to raise funds for and support,” says Mr. Harvey. “Knowing that they can impact the world has an impact on them. It gives them an optimistic outlook that things can get better.”
The notion that the Social Justice Club is not only a beneficial addition to the School’s diverse extracurricular program but, in fact, a vital part of it as it encourages students to spark activism within their school community was emphasized by both advisors. The mere scope of possible focuses, interests, and findings from the club ensure its prosperity and advancement. “There’s a philosophy among teachers and leaders at the School that Social Justice is an integral part of the education we offer,” Mr. Downer says. “It’s great to be aware of a variety of issues, but our club demonstrates how to become an active member of your community and the global community we all live in.”
Story by Christina Chkarboul ’21