Preparing for her live performance, Natalie Doummar (pictured left) practices her spoken word poem. Photo by Evan Boudreau

Coffee to combat social justice apathy on campus

  • February 8, 2014

TORONTO - A Catholic education involves more than books and study. It means getting involved to make a difference. At least, that’s how Eman Cheema sees it.

That’s what led the first-year student at the University of St. Michael’s College to organize a social justice awareness event on campus. For two hours on Feb. 5 students and community members were invited, free of charge, to enjoy coffee and snacks while listening to live presentations on social justice issues.

“I started it because I’ve been noticing a lot of indifference towards politics lately,” Cheema said.

“Even though we have a great society here there is a lot of ways in which we can improve, and not a lot of people seem to understand there is something beyond mainstream media. So this event was basically supposed to be a discussion whereby people could talk about issues that effect us daily but aren’t necessarily talked about on a routine level.”

Attendees heard three spoken word poems, three speeches and one song performed by students and staff on a range of topics including free trade, the environment and discrimination.

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. “There are a lot of events around here ... but I think this is more important because we are talking about social justice. On our campus there is not as much of that as I would like so this is a great opportunity to expand that dialogue and discussion about these issues.”

While Cheema and Doummar were slightly critical of the student body on campus, they did acknowledge that there are some truly passionate social justice advocates at the school. Both praised campus ministry and event sponsor Corner Stone Program — a unique community oriented program at St. Mike’s 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.

“One of the big (barriers) is that there isn’t enough education or light brought upon the social justice issues in society,” she said. “People just can’t be bothered to talk about social justice issues.

“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.”

Cheema understands the challenges of being a full-time university student, but she doesn’t think those demands justify ignoring important issues.

“A lot of people just seem to brush (social justice) aside” said Cheema. “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 and talking to people makes you feel really empowered. (So) stand up for what you believe in and try to embed it in every aspect of your life and the rest will become easier.”

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