Student Justice Conference connects Northshore students

April 10, 2023
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The annual Northshore School District Student Justice Conference – Unapologetically Dreaming, Designing & Doing Justice – in partnership with Cascadia College, centered on student voices throughout the day-long event Friday, March 24, at Cascadia in Mobius Hall.

Nearly 200 high school students from across Northshore high schools and programs gathered to celebrate their intersectional identities, build community, collaborate with their peers, grow their knowledge and understanding about various forms of justice, and learn about a range of higher education opportunities.

Members of Northshore's Student Justice Collective, a districtwide committee of high school students, guided the conference topics and facilitated workshops, including ones focused on educational diversity and slam poetry.

Other workshop themes included: empathy, school experiences, missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, navigating the community and technical college system in Washington state, the Cascadia Scholars Program that provides mentorship to BIPOC and historically underrepresented students at Cascadia College, and two workshops from the University of Washington Bothell's Media Literacy class on media representation, social media, body neutrality, and positivity.

"It's so rewarding to hear from speakers who share their passion, anguish, and desire to make change," said Joyin Akinola, a Woodinville High School senior and member of the Student Justice Collective. "That's the power of this conference."

Many workshops allowed students to share and reflect on their experiences in school. Questions posed in the student-led educational diversity workshop included, "Have you experienced biases in your education? If so, how?" and "How do you bring your culture into school? Do you feel comfortable doing so?" Student facilitators provided time for students to reflect on these and other prompts and gave space for students to share.

"It is the responsibility of adults in education to work with, not for, students in ways that bring us together to dream, organize, create, genuinely support, and heal, and the conference is doing exactly that," said Ayva Thomas, Northshore's Director of Racial and Educational Justice and an event organizer. "This space is absolutely magical. It is also just as much the responsibility of adults to be answerable to the demands of our students because our youth have the right to feel safe, valued, and affirmed. I am excited to move this work forward in our collective pursuit of racial and educational justice." Ranna Harb, Northshore's Racial and Educational Justice Specialist, and an event organizer, added that seeing students be their unapologetic self is what justice is about.

Keynote speaker Christopher Emdin, Ph.D., returned after captivating last year's audience with a message about authenticity in pursuing academic excellence. He encouraged students to be unapologetically themselves, tying into the day's theme of "Unapologetically Dreaming, Designing & Doing for Justice."

"Recognize that your dreams are valuable and valid," Emdin said. "The only way they do not come true is if you are not yourself."

The conference also featured remarks from Northshore Interim Superintendent Michael Tolley and Cascadia Executive Director of Equity and Inclusion Chari Davenport.

"We are committed to creating space for learning, coalition building, and action," said Tolley. "We have to work together to move things forward."

Northshore and Cascadia's partnership for student justice were further amplified with support from Northshore's Student Justice Collective, UW Bothell, Kelly Snyder, Northshore Schools Foundation, chaperones, volunteers, and other support staff.

"I am delighted with the outcome of this year's Student Justice Conference. The students were extremely engaged, and the atmosphere was dynamic; from the keynote speaker to the fabulous workshops, the students had a wonderful and impactful day. A very special thank you to the organizers and the amazing volunteers as well. We look forward to hosting Northshore next year and supporting even more students," said Chari Davenport, Executive Director for Cascadia's Office of Equity and Inclusion (E&I).

Students walked away with inspiration and a greater connection with one another.

"I thought this event was really great because not only was the theme amazing but the speakers as well," said Saya Lindholm, senior at Woodinville High. "Their messages were really inspiring. It was really nice that we not only got to meet other people and go to these workshops, but the fact that they were student-led was also very nice."

"Overall, I had a really fun time being here. Everyone looked like they were in a really safe space here, and all the workshops were really helpful," North Creek High School senior Mei Watanabe said. "They talked about things that not a lot of people talk about, [that] need to be heard about more. I got a really good learning experience out of it."