COLUMN: SFU forum engaged youth

One can be optimistic after seeing youth gathering on a Saturday to participate in activities that directly affect their futures.

While most high school and university students might be sleeping in on a Saturday morning, this was not the case for youth attending Public Square’s Our Future Our Voice youth forum at SFU Surrey on Sept. 28. For participating students, economic issues were simply too important to ignore.

The forum kicked off the Public Square’s 2013 Community Summit and allowed students to engage with and contribute to the discussion on B.C.’s economic future. Students as young as 14 and from as far away as Salt Spring Island were eager to express their opinions.

It is often said that youth are apathetic about politics. Certainly, concerns such as low youth voter turnout are valid when discussing youth apathy.

Nevertheless, the forum on this Saturday proves that we need to facilitate conversations with Generation Y in a manner that combines technology, interactivity, and actual conversation – in a unique manner – to imbue in youth the importance of civic engagement.

Using solely traditional ways of communicating important issues do not truly engage students. Experimentation of communication methods is vital if important community issues are to remain relevant to students in a fast-paced world where technology abounds.

The youth forum allowed for a combination of social media elements, featured political guests from all levels of government, and offered the chance for students to express their views. What was truly remarkable to see was the intensity of tough questions that students asked of the invited elected officials.

Topics included liquefied natural gas (LNG)development and its effects on the environment and economy.  Other questions discussed by the invited politicians related to child poverty, employment, teaching, and skilled trades.

Behind the panel of decision-makers ran a live Twitter feed, which allowed students to comment on and discuss the topics in real time.

As we move into a world where we will inevitably become even more connected through the continued growth of technology and social networks, it is important for us to realize that the power of live forums like the ones organized by SFU Public Square cannot be underestimated in serving as models for community engagement. In addition to the youth forum, community conversations were also hosted across B.C.

The basis of a healthy and vibrant democracy rests in the participation of its citizens. To ensure the next generation of Canadians are able to carry on and cherish our democracy, it is important to not just express our viewpoints on social media pages and online comments, but to also meet with other like-minded individuals who want to see changes and reforms on pressing issues.

Furthermore, in order to tackle larger concerns related to low voter turnout and general political disconnect across the nation, we must build the gateway which will allow for these goals to be met. Civic engagement is a multifaceted topic that must involve the effort of multiple institutions.

Public and community discourse is at the heart of any successful democracy. Community forums are a starting point for youth and community members to engage or re-engage with issues related to the economy, health care, and education.

And while we still have a long way to go to improve youth engagement, one can be optimistic after seeing youth gathering on a Saturday to actively participate in activities that directly affect their futures. It was truly heartening to see the future helping to shape the future.

Japreet Lehal is a student at Simon Fraser University Surrey. He writes regularly for The Leader.

 

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