Community members and students gathered in the Odeon building last Thursday for a conference on poverty and inequality, with keynote speaker Trish Hennessy.
Hennessy is a former journalist, and currently Ontario director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Her work is focused on inequality and the growing gap between rich and poor.
“The reason I’m here is career related,” said Jennifer Spivey, a Conestoga student of the Career Development Practitioner post-graduate program. “I previously heard the presenter speak and I knew the quality of the presentation would be exceptional.”
Hennessy presented facts and data on income inequality. The presentation was followed by a panel discussion with: Hennessy, Rev. Barry Pridham from Sydenham United Church, Sherry Lewis, manager of community programs at Brant Native Housing, Dr. Janet McLaughlin, assistant professor of Health Studies at Laurier Brantford, and Dr. Robert Basso, Chair of the Research Ethics Board and associate professor for Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) at Laurier Brantford.
“I think change starts through having conversations like this; it starts with this,” said Hennessy at the end of the panel discussion.
“I think it was one of the best events I ever attended at Laurier Brantford. I did my undergrad here and now I’m doing my master’s,” said Alex Denonville, a student of Laurier Brantford’s Social Justice and Community Engagement (SJCE) master’s program.
Denonville said he thought there was a good mix of people. “It was a really good representation of all the different facets and those who can speak about inequality and the impact it has,” said Denonville.
He also said he agreed with many points Hennessy raised and he became more convinced about inequality. “Like [Hennessy] said, inequality is one of the biggest problems of our time.”
“People who were there, were saying ‘I’m in poverty and this is what I deal with.’ You hear that it has nothing to do with people being lazy or not wanting to work,” said Denonville. “People want to work but there’s structural reasons why we have such a gap between the rich and the poor.”
Denonville said community conversations like these are important because it clarifies stigmas. “I think there’s a stigma that students have of ‘Brantford locals’ and that can be really damaging if it’s commonly held.”
Another student of Laurier Brantford’s SJCE master’s program, Seema Allahdini said she enjoyed the presentation and was surprised at the turnout. “It’s encouraging to have everybody on the same page, working towards a goal which has a positive outcome for everybody involved,” said Allahdini.
The public event was organized by Marc Laferriere, Laurier Brantford’s BSW practicum co-ordinator and co-owner of Brant Advocate. The event was in celebration of Social Work Week.
“The campus is part of the community and when we do community events, I think it’s important to let the community know that the space isn’t just for staff and students, it’s for the greater community good,” said Laferriere.
Laferriere said a university setting is ideal to bring all members of the community together to discuss social issues, such as poverty. Laferriere said this is because “there are solutions that can be cultivated from a variety of areas including lived experience, academia, research, and policy.”
Laferriere said it was good to hear students’ thoughts about the issue. “Some of the concerns were very personal not just academic, around poverty and equity in a broader sense.”
He also thinks the event is the first of many community events to come that are hosted by the BSW program for Laurier Brantford students and the Brantford community.