Tackling social issues

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RPIRG hosts Apathy into Action conference on Jan. 27

Sophie Long
News Writer

Among any given freshman year, there’s a number of students who could be classified as idealists. Soon, somewhere between the challenges of paying their bills and keeping up with their coursework, they are hit with the reality that social change is hard, and they often lack the information and skill set necessary to make change happen.

On Friday, Jan. 27, Regina Public Interest Research Group (RPIRG) held its fifth-annual Apathy into Action conference with the goal of teaching U of R student those skills. The event offered six social-issue sessions, followed by a full-day workshop on Saturday.

RPIRG is a student-funded and student-run organization that financially supports students’ active research.

“RPIRG seeks to empower students to take action around social and environmental justice issues,” RPIRG Executive Director Jenn Bergen explained. “There [are] three different ways we fund research on social justice issues. The first way is based on a cycle that shows how research, education, and action can work into one another.     “Students can apply for funding for a social event or project, and we’ve had almost every group on campus apply, like the Education Students’ Society, Engineers Without Borders, Oxfam, Amnesty International, and just individual students can apply.”

The third stream RPIRG works within is with what is called working groups.

“These working groups are given five hundred dollars per semester to fund their work and research,” Bergen said. “They do something that is more long-term than an event.”

Some groups that RPIRG gives funding to include Change, a University of Regina initiative to prevent bulling, racism, and homophobia; and Cinema Politica, a group which offers frequent screenings of social-issue based movies.

Apathy into Action was one of the first events RPIRG had when it was voted to become an organization in 2007. Bergen said she has seen a change in the content of the conference.

“The first time the conference happened, there was a wider variety of issues, and it was more based on what students were studying at a time,” Bergen said. “It was only one day long, and the workshops were shorter.

“Through its evolution, it’s become more of a place for students to come and learn about issues, but also to then to train and get skills to organize around those issues”

The event on Jan. 27 included various speakers.

Michelle Stewart from the University of Regina spoke about the omnibus crime bill, which threatens to change the entire legal system of Canada. One of the problems Stewart cited with this bill was that it would cause “a swift transition from a more rehabilitative focus to an explicitly punitive justice model. In other words, modeling the US, which is now trying to backpedal that industry.”

At the end of the session, Dr Stewart passed around a sign-up sheet for interested participants, and Bergen was very excited to announce that there will be frequent meetings in order to deal with this social justice issue.

Other sessions included workshops related to feminism, sexuality, capitalism, citizenship, and other social justice issues. Each of these sessions were led by members of the university community and the training sessions the following day gave students the tools they would require to tackle these social issues.

Apathy into Action is done for another year, but if students are interested in doing some of their own research on social justice issues, members of RPIRG encourage students to drop by their office and visit their library or speak with the group’s directors.

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