Students Embrace the Journey of Identity Exploration

Posted On Thursday May 30, 2019
L-R: DENSA Co-Chair Tharmila Apputhurai, DENSA Chair Kavita Kanavalli, MEND Co-Chair Shahana Arain, Sinclair SS Teacher Anjali Joshi, MEND Co-Chair Saamah Jadoon, and Principal of Dr. Roberta Bondar PS Nancy Adams at the first ever South Asian and Asian Student Voice Conference.

DDSB students participate in South Asian and Asian Heritage Month conference

In celebration of South Asian and Asian Heritage Month (May), over 140 Durham District School Board (DDSB) students in Grades 7-10 participated in the first ever South Asian and Asian Student Voice Conference called Be You: Explore, Discover & Re-imagine.

The conference was held at Dr. Roberta Bondar Public School in Ajax, and was organized by Durham Educators’ Network for South Asians (DENSA) and Muslim Educators’ Network of Durham (MEND).

“The face of Durham Region is changing. There are so many diverse groups now,” explains Vice-Principal of Pickering High School and DENSA Chair Kavita Kanavalli. “It’s important for them [students] to see themselves reflected in the community, at school, and in the curriculum.”

The conference kicked off with a keynote speech from Anjali Joshi, a teacher at Sinclair Secondary School. Joshi’s presentation, entitled “What’s in a Name?”, covered the importance of acknowledging that one part of a person, like a name, does not define them. “You are not defined by the colour of your skin, your name, your cultural background, your sexuality, or your disability,” she enthused. “Your identity is uniquely yours to discover, and there is power in identity.”

Re-imagining the Narrative

Afterwards, students rotated through three different workshops: Leading for Change, My Identity, and Media, Messages & Stereotypes.

The workshops asked students to think about important questions such as: ‘how does your heritage influence the way you see yourself and the way you see others?’ and ‘how does it make you feel when people make assumptions about you?’ Thinking about these questions, students collaborated to share their experiences, and to create ideas that address assumptions and stereotypes.

At the end of the day, students gathered in the gym to participate in a media activity. They split up into groups of five to eight people, and discussed how microaggressions (indirect, subtle, or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalized group) affect them. Then, each group of students used their Chromebooks to create a video collage. The video collage addressed how what you say to people can affect the person you are talking to, and how microaggressions can build up and create insecurity over time.

Kanavalli adds, “We’re hoping the conference helps students understand how their identity can be used to help their peers, and to contribute to society. We are so grateful to host the first South Asian and Asian Student Voice Conference, and we are looking forward to organizing more events like this!”