Students from Jane-Finch community engage with Congress 2023

Students in front of Vari Hall 2021

When York University Professor Andrea Davis became the academic convenor for Congress 2023, she listened closely to York members who wanted to engage the University’s surrounding community. Davis, the Congress scholarly planning committee and Research Assistant Jellisa Ricketts have prioritized making space for local high school and undergraduate students at the event.

“The scholarly planning committee wanted to do this engagement well and we decided to focus on four high schools in the nearby Jane-Finch community,” said Davis.

Davis contacted administrators at each of the schools – C.W. Jefferys Collegiate Institute, Downsview Secondary School, Emery Collegiate Institute and Westview Centennial Secondary School – to arrange two pathways for participation.

Each school recommended five senior students who identify as Black or Indigenous to attend two of Congress 2023’s Big Thinking lectures: former Governor General Michaëlle Jean’s lecture about ”Re-Imagining Black Futures” and Indigenous filmmaker Alanis Obamsawin’s talk, “Seeds of the Future: Climate Justice, Racial Justice, and Indigenous Resurgence.” Afterward, each speaker will meet the students for a private lunch and conversation.

High school students participate in a poetry competition
High school students participate in a poetry competition (credit: Sissi Song, Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies)

These senior students will be paired with undergraduate students who attended high school in the Jane-Finch community, meeting twice before Congress 2023 to build connections. To identify appropriate York undergraduate ambassadors, Davis reached out to Associate Professor Sylvia Bawa, director of the Resource Center for Public Sociology and the Jane-Finch Social Innovation Hub, and Mohamed Ahmed and Tesfai Mengesha, co-directors of the community-based program, Success Beyond Limits.

A poetry competition has also been running in these schools to engage students with Congress. The author of the best entry from each school will receive a $500 honorarium and the opportunity to read their poem at a Congress 2023 event.

“This is the best kind of outreach,” Davis said. “We want to show students they have a voice and a future, while breaking down walls between academia and our wider communities.

“It’s part of our larger commitment to demonstrate what it means to be a place-based university adjacent to the Jane-Finch community. York University and the Jane-Finch community both emerged in the mid-20th century and our location makes us both unique and co-dependent. As a university, we have a commitment to serve the communities adjacent to our campus and to deal with them ethically and honestly.”

Ricketts added, “This work is very intentional. We’re backing up our talk with action and hoping some of these York connections flourish beyond Congress 2023, because I can feel how grateful the high school students are.”

York University and the Federation for Humanities and Social Sciences will host Congress 2023 from May 27 to June 2. Register here to attend. Term dates have been adjusted to align with timelines for this year’s event.