During Social Justice Week, I attended the Social Justice Walk with Cathy Crowe. Cathy Crowe is a street nurse, social activist and educator. She has worked on issues affecting people experiencing homelessness for more than 17 years. In 2013, Cathy Crowe joined the Ryerson Family (also known as Ramily) as a distinguished visiting practitioner. I was very excited to see that she would be leading the Social Justice Walk on campus.
We walk on Ryerson’s campus generally 5 days a week for 4 years. We spend countless hours in lectures, in the library, in the gym, grabbing a coffee and sitting by Lake Devo. Ryerson campus is a place we feel at home; if you don’t believe me, check out the number people who take their shoes off and kick back in the library. While we enjoy the comfort of our second home, we may not remember what surrounds us. The campus we walk on is immersed in and surrounded by social justice issues. During the Social Justice Week Walk, we visited the area around Lake Devo, the library, the Quad, the Ryerson Student Centre, and Yonge-Dundas Square. The places we walk on everyday for education are also sites of struggles and victories in the fight for social justice.
What’s In a Name:
If you’re trying to identify a social justice issue at Ryerson, look no further than its name. Ryerson University was named after Egerton Ryerson; the man whose ideas shaped the modern day education system. Ryerson believed that education and religion should be separated but he held a very different view on education for Indigenous children. Ryerson believed that education for Indigenous children should combine education, religion and physical labour. It was these ideas that contributed to the creation of the residential school system across Canada that operated until 1996.
Cheryl Trudeau, a coordinator with the Aboriginal Education Council, joined us at the Ryerson Statue on Gould Street to discuss Ryerson’s acknowledgement of the history behind the name that is displayed across the downtown core. Ryerson University both welcomes and respects Aboriginal peoples, committing itself to proactively working with Aboriginal peoples. As part of the Aboriginal Post-Secondary Education and Training Plan, Ryerson established the Aboriginal Education Council in 2010. Its vision is to ensure that the next seven generations of Aboriginal people will have greater opportunities and success in education at Ryerson University. http://www.ryerson.ca/aec/index.html
The Campus Daycare: More than Cute Kids in the Quad:
Perhaps you’ve seen the adorable children that attend the daycare located near Kerr Hall West. They can often be seen taking a stroll around the Quad. On a surface level, we enjoy seeing cute little kids amongst the big ones that attend Ryerson but much deeper is a social justice issue that has become a federal election issue for some parties.
The topic of childcare holds several social justice issues within itself; affordable childcare, the number of childcare spaces available, the availability of licensed and safe childcare spaces, precarious work experienced by Early Childhood Educators, ability for parents to return to work. and many more. Providing childcare through a market system is not working for children, parents, families or those who works in the childcare sector. We need a publicly funded system to address the many social justice issues that fall under childcare. In Canada, only 20 percent of families have access to licensed childcare spaces, and this includes Quebec which has implemented a $7 a day childcare policy.
Ryerson Lifeline Syria:
Following the emergence of a devastating photo of Alan Kurdi, a toddler who drowned fleeing Syria with his family, refugees have become a topic of conversation in our politics, at school, on social media and at our dinner tables. Outside Heaslip House, we learned about Ryerson Lifeline Syria and how to get involved.
Canada is unique in that citizens can sponsor refugees through their own means. Lifeline Syria works to match people who want to sponsor refugees with people who are seeking sponsorship. They act as a matchmaker, connecting these two groups of people. This has emerged as a response to a complicated private system that has many twists and turns as well as long wait times. While students may not have the financial means to sponsor a family, they are able to get involved in other ways. Ryerson Lifeline Syria has several committees that address different issues refugees face. Students often join committees related to their program of study and provide support as people arrive to Canada. Interested students can get more information and sign up at: http://www.ryerson.ca/lifelinesyria/about/index.html
The part of our campus that isn’t really our campus but we consider it part of our campus so it’s pretty much ours:
Yonge-Dundas Square; while not technically part of Ryerson’s campus, any student will tell you that this is Ryerson turf. Yonge-Dundas Square went through huge changes before our time at Ryerson; this revitalization was intended to address financial interests as well as build community.
With the goal of building community, Yonge-Dundas Square should be about people, activism, community and being one with the land we walk on. Over time, business and private interests have overtook the area and public space. This can be seen in the presence of private security in Yonge-Dundas Square, whose role is often to remove people experiencing homelessness that do not fit in with the gentrified idea for the space. Removing those who do not fit in with this idea takes away from what public space is all about; building the surrounding community which includes those who are not housed.
As we stood in Yonge-Dundas Square, connections were made between these levels of security and Bill C-51; the controversial anti-terrorism bill passed by both the Federal Conservative and Liberal parties. A bill of this nature makes is more difficult to protest and those who do are surveilled much more. Yonge-Dundas Square has often been a site of protest for several social justice issues. The increased surveillance of protestors, especially those who are marginalized, demeans the purpose of public space.
In and Beyond Ryerson:
While the Social Justice Walk focused on social justice issues on campus, these issues extend to our communities outside of Ryerson. In the past 10 years, the City of Toronto has lost over 1000 shelter beds due gentrification. Development that has taken place has either been in the form of condos or properties have been left vacant. The only youth shelter east of the Don Valley closed its doors last week. Cathy Crowe has been teaching at Ryerson for two years at Ryerson; within that time there have been 3 or 4 homeless deaths on campus. These on-campus tragedies directly relate to the city and communities that surround Ryerson. These deaths are 3 or 4 of 700 names that are on the homeless memorial behind the Eaton Centre. A homeless memorial is held the second Tuesday of every month at 12:00 pm as both a point of remembrance and pushing forward in advocacy on homeless issues.
The Social Justice Week Walk was informative and emotional, but ended with a point of hope. We need to make Ryerson less silent on both the social justice issues we walk on and those that surround our campus. We have people at Ryerson who recognize oppression and marginalization both on and off campus; we have potential.