(From left to right) Teresa Ascencao, Nayani Thiyagarajah and Rema Tavares

Photo courtesy: Activate T.O.

Rye grads showcase social activism in Toronto

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By Miriam Valdes-Carletti

What started out from the classroom has become a non-profit speaker series that reaches out to hundreds of people in Toronto.

Activate T.O. is a free speaker series that showcases cultural activists and community outreach practitioners in Toronto. The founders of the organization are Miles Weafer and Hannah Tough who graduated from Ryerson and York University’s joint communication and culture graduate program in 2012.

“It originally started as a way to take a lot of the academic theory we were discussing in class and bring it into the community,” said Lianna Pisani, co-director of Activate T.O. and a Ryerson graduate.

From there it expanded into the GTA. Since January 2013, Activate T.O. has hosted more than 15 events ranging from adult colouring nights, discussion on feminism race, HIV and AIDS and the No Tax on Tampons campaign. Activate T.O. aims to have four events per year focusing on social activism.

“It was hard to get the grad students out to something that wasn’t a social event but also wasn’t related to course work or for school,” said Tough. “Also the presenters from the community felt they didn’t know how to present to an academic audience, they were used to presenting at a community level”

Upon completing her masters, Pisani worked on a research paper on selfies for six months. Taking her learning from class, she turned it into a panel series event for Activate T.O. in March 2016. “Selfies Feminism, Race: Exploring Identity Through Portrait Art” had more than 100 people attend making it the organizations most successful event so far.

“I think it really formed my research and I was able to facilitate discussion because I had a really strong theoretical background,” said Pisani.

The events are meant to be safe, accessible spaces where people can discuss social justice issues. With the different types of topics, the audience mostly consists of the younger demographic of Toronto. Although, not catering to any age or social group, the speaker series are open to anyone in Toronto who has interest in the topics.

Behind the scenes seven members on the team are what makes Activate T.O. happen. All coming from the same graduate program, the students received support in getting the organization started from Ryerson and York University.

“Activate T.O. has become more than the vision we had and exceeded our expectations,” says Tough, “We never envisioned it to become a non-profit organizations or to have so many volunteers”

Anyone who works within social activism, building community outreach, or political activism is open to speaking or hosting an event with Activate T.O.

“Contemporary Bodies in T.O.: Access, Art and Policy” is the next speaker event that will be on April 14.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story, published online on April 11, incorrectly spelled Lianna Pisani’s name as Liana Pisani. The Eyeopener regrets this error.

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