By Desiree Amani
After ploughing through midterms and papers galore, most Ryerson students took a well-deserved break over the winter reading week. However, a select group of Ryerson Faculty of Arts students decided to spend their break a little differently, striving to become change-makers both locally and globally.
“After Jack passed away, Ryerson very much wanted to honour [him],” reveals Ryerson professor and Jack Layton Chair, Myer Siemiatycki.
The establishment of the Jack Layton Chair was in tribute to the work Layton had done, not only for our country, but also at Ryerson as a former professor.
“The mandate of the Chair is to engage and organize activities that further Jack’s legacy in whatever way we can,” Siemiatycki explains.
Thus far Simiatycki launched the Jack Layton School for Youth Leadership. The program first started during the summer of 2014 and was available to all young people involved in social justice initiatives, but over the winter 2015 reading week, Siemiatycki decided to test this program for Ryerson students only.
“This all came together in a very quick time frame. In barely a week of promotion that we did, we got close to fifty applications of students saying they were prepared to give up three days of their study week to be in a classroom, nine-to-five.”
As this was a pilot run of the program, the application was available to only Faculty of Arts students. Of the fifty that applied, twenty-four were selected to take part in the experience.
Siemiatycki notes the three main goals of the program are “to advance [the students’] knowledge of key social justice issues, to try and build some of their skills as people who could make a difference around these issues, and to give them some networking opportunities.”
The program was designed to make these goals come together. Students heard from speakers, including Olivia Chow, Jack Layton’s widow.
They also took part in several workshops where they discussed important issues and how to drive change. They shared personal stories and networked, something Siemiatycki was really proud to see.
“I have so much admiration and respect for Ryerson students. It’s evident that they have a tremendous amount of principle dedication, wanting to make this campus, this city, this country a better place,” said Siemiatycki. “They have a huge amount of experience and interest in getting active and trying to make a difference in the quality of life for all Canadians. It just left me more optimistic than ever about who our students are and the kind of impact that they will have.”
“Myer [Siemiatycki] is a sweetheart. He’s not the head of the Chair for nothing. A lot of the qualities that he was explaining about Jack, I see in Myer [Siemiatycki], too,” said Jodie Yew, a second-year sociology student and one of the participants. “You can tell he has that passion. He was very good at making you feel more comfortable and linking our stories together… he got us to do a bit more of the networking.”
“What impacted me the most was that people were talking about , and that people were interested in it. People have all these different reasons [for participating], but there’s the same underlying theme about how we all want to change things…I think it was such a rewarding experience.”
First-year sociology student Dave Aseo had similar sentiments after completing the three-day intensive program.
“I highly recommend taking this program no matter what year or what program you are in. It is very powerful in changing our perspective on life, but more importantly you also stay in touch with people you meet during the program, which I think will be the future change makers and leaders in our society.”
After this reading week’s pilot, the Chair hopes to establish a permanent program taking place during the fall and winter reading weeks, which will be available to students from all faculties.
“The thing that I’m absolutely certain of is that Jack [Layton] would love this,” says Siemiatycki.
“Jack really was dedicated to promoting public participation, and political participation. He had a lot of optimism and faith in young people, and a program like this, I think… I know he would really champion and appreciate.”