Spotlighting social justice

Oct 30, 2003, vol. 28, no. 5
By Carol Thorbes

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Organizers of the Social Justice series at Simon Fraser University hope that efforts to reach beyond the academic setting will encourage typically excluded groups to participate.

They launched the series last January, building lectures and follow up discussion groups around the topic of poverty.

This second installment, Seeking Justice: Human rights in our communities, will use the same vehicles to examine another piece of the social justice pie.

But, rather than using high profile academics, professionals and advocates to lead grassroots discussions after the lectures, this series will train 15 to 20 community leaders to generate discussion.

“The attendance at the first group of lectures, about 650 people, exceeded our expectations,” says Debbie Bell. “But participation in follow up community discussions was small and didn't attract traditionally hard-to-reach members of communities.”

Bell is the director of SFU's community outreach education program in continuing studies, which launched the social justice series.

Bell and her program assistant David Kolber hope that a leadership training session for community leaders, who deal daily with disadvantaged groups, will broaden participation.

“Trained community leaders can choose settings and use language that encourage people to participate in the discussions. The setting could be a women's shelter, a half way house, a church,” says Bell.

Community or circle leaders interested in leading community discussions based on the upcoming symposium will attend an orientation session on Nov. 15.

They will receive videos of each speaker at the symposium and discussion study guides, that include background summaries, key areas for possible discussion, scholarly articles and a bibliography of resources.

The symposium, featuring lectures on five topics linked to human rights, takes place on Nov. 7 from 7 p.m.-9:30 p.m and Nov. 8 from 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. at the Morris J. Wosk centre for dialogue.

Among the speakers and topics, Derek Evans, former deputy secretary general of Amnesty International, will discuss the evolution of human rights.

Shelagh Day, a human rights expert, and Mary-Woo Sims, the former chief commissioner of the B.C. Human Rights Commission, will discuss women's equality.

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