Whether violence happens in our community, our province, or in another part of the world it affects us. Sometimes it is particularly difficult for young men to acknowledge violence; to recognize that there is a very real and serious problem. Recently though, male students at Gulf Island Secondary School (GISS) did just that. At a Salt Spring Women Opposed to Violence and Abuse (SWOVA) Youth Team meeting, the week after the tragic death of Amanda Todd, the 15 year-old Port Coquitlam girl, who took her own life on October 10, 2012, male students reflected on the violence.
SWOVA’s Youth Team comprised of both young men and women, meets weekly throughout the school year, where youth become more self-aware, develop leadership skills and awareness of social justice. Through this work, the youth team members go to the middle school on Salt Spring Island, to facilitate SWOVA’s Respectful Relationships program (R+R) for Grade 7 and 8 students. Their facilitation skills while conversing with younger students about racism, sexism, and homophobia are incredible.
At the Youth Team meeting shortly after Amanda’s death, young men and women talked about many things. What stood out most for many was the desensitization and exploitation that can be part of the virtual internet world. Young men acknowledged that Amanda Todd experienced exploitation, harassment, blackmail, and stalking – all of which comprise misogynistic violence – from a man who has not been caught yet. All of this resulted in anxiety, social isolation, exclusion, and eventually life ending hopelessness. What is indicative of the Amanda Todd case is that we live in a world where gender based violence is alive, well, and indeed thriving, although often unacknowledged.
Anti-bullying week occurred November 12-17 with the theme of “stand-up” to bullying! Teachers here on Salt Spring Island such as Heidi Serra at Fulford Elementary School are working with students to be better friends. For every negative bullying action a person can take; for every act of violence, there is an inverse and opposite positive action people can take. We must, as Heidi Serra does, create a culture of peace and love in our schools. We must, as Ghandhi once said, start with the children. There are many things that can be learned from the Amanda Todd case. Clearly though, stronger, better, and more widespread social and emotional learning is needed for children starting in Kindergarten. This will build self-awareness, resilience, confidence and self-esteem in our youth.
Blake Peters is a grade nine student at GISS and one of many outstanding members of the youth team. Struck by the tragedy of Amanda Todd’s death, he notes that we should all be part of ensuring that youth do not experience violence:
“As a part of the Salt Spring youth team I feel that Amanda Todd’s story is tragic and I feel deeply for the family and friends of hers. Things need to change to support kids, male and female; not just on Salt Spring but everywhere! For me this youth team has done just that. It supports everyone in it. If more places had groups like this I believe it could prevent the violence Amanda Todd experienced. Violence shouldn’t continue to happen and we can make a change if we want to! This isn’t the first time this kind of thing has happened and won’t be the last, but we can help prevent it.”
As a man engaged in the struggle to end all violence in the world, particularly that against women, it is a great honour to sit in circle with young men who are not only self-aware of the steps they need to take to create peace within themselves, but also the world.
Written by: Blake Peters, Cole Smith and Kevin Vowles