Zaid Shahid giving his speech at the Social Justice Coffee House / Photo Credit: Eman Cheema

A lot of people seem to be under the impression that an education is limited to books, lectures, notes and exams. The volunteers at the Social Justice Office of St. Michael’s College (SMC), affiliated with the Campus Ministry, believe that an education also involves learning about issues within the community and attempting to remedy them.

This idea inspired the students at the St. Michael’s Social Justice Office to organize an awareness event on campus. For two hours on February 27 students and community members were invited to enjoy coffee and snacks while listening to live presentations on social justice issues.

Zaid Shahid, a political activist spoke about economic violence, hunger, class wars and poverty. He shared his thoughts on the significance of the event.

“I wanted to do this because I strongly believe that the personal is political,” he said. “The way we behave in our private lives affects the way we behave in our public lives. The rights we have, the ones we want to preserve for ourselves, we must strive to preserve for other members of our society.”

Attendees heard three spoken words, three speeches, and engaged in one group poetry writing workshop lead by SMC professor, Jenna Sunkenberg. Presentations by students, staff and community members covered a range of topics, including poverty, mental health, free trade, sexual abuse and identity.

First-year Christianity and culture student Natalie Doummar performed a spoken word poem on fair trade.

“When I heard about this event I thought it would be a great opportunity to voice my opinions on social justice,” she said. “This is a great opportunity to expand that dialogue and discussion about these issues.”

Doummar praised Campus Ministry and event sponsor Corner Stone Program — a unique community oriented program at SMC which encourages students to support local social justice causes — as well as those who agreed to take part in the event, such as co- organizer Olivia Penny.

Penny has also noticed a lack of concern for social justice issues on campus. The first-year Book and Media Studies student blamed the malaise on barriers she feels prevent students from becoming advocates and activists.

“Often in our society we just have — and I don’t want to downplay the importance of social justice — some people who just don’t have the luxury of being able to advocate for social justice issues because they have mouths to feed, or bills to pay.”

Shahid understands the challenges of being a full-time university student, but he does not think the demands of school justify ignoring important issues.

“A lot of people just seem to brush [social justice] aside” said Shahid. “With all the decisions we have to make and all the time we have to spend doing our homework and writing essays, things can get confusing. But I think getting involved in the conversation is really empowering. Stand up for what matters to and try to embed it in every aspect of your life. The rest will become easier.”

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