Last Thursday, the Centre for Student Engagement at the University of Toronto Mississauga held their first Civic Awareness workshop tailored towards educating students on civic engagement. Introduced for the first time, the co-curricular recognized six-part workshop series hopes to provide students the skills to develop a voice and contribute to community discussions on social justice issues.

Alysha Ferguson, the student development officer for Community Engagement Programming, explains to The Medium her motivation behind spearheading these workshops. “In the past, we’ve always wanted to raise awareness about civic engagement in the community. We’ve balanced between election years and then it is a little bit easier to create programs around getting the students empowered and excited about elections,” Ferguson continues, “But when there’s no election how do we keep students thinking about what it means to have a civic voice within the community, and how that is different from a community engagement lens.” Through the workshops, she also hopes students can understand “how we can empower the next generation to think about ways they can make change.”

According to Ferguson, the workshops aim to help students strengthen their communication skills, both oral and written, so that they can articulate their opinions and engage in discussions about social justice and civic issues within the community, such as elections and voting privileges. For Ferguson, Civic Awareness empowers students to recognize the policies that can enact changes in society, understand the role of democracy, and acknowledge their ability to vote on certain movements within their university community.

Facilitated by three CSE community engagement activity assistants, UTM students Stuti Joshi, Jasmine Biloki, and Stephanie Artuz, the first workshop focused on building connections between the participants and creating an inclusive environment where students could feel comfortable voicing their opinions.

The event began with introductions and ice breaker activities to promote open communication between all participants. The CSE assistants divided the students based on birthday season and tasked them to find five things in common within each new group. Similarities ranged from leaving the continent of Asia to sharing a love for chocolate cake.

Following this, the facilitators led a discussion on psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg’s Six Stages of Moral Development and asked the group to apply the theory to case studies. Each stage provides a method of moral reasoning. Individuals can only progress through each level with experience. For example, in stage one, children usually base their moral decisions on their desire to avoid punishment. The “right” decision will keep them out of trouble. However, by stage six, individuals develop their own sense of right and wrong based on their experiences with human rights, equality, and the law.

“A lot of students have distinct opinions about civic issues, and we’re not here to talk about which opinions are right and which opinions are wrong. Throughout these workshops we’re trying to develop the skillset needed and understand the different aspects we might want to consider, that might affect social issues, so that we can make a better and more well-informed opinion regarding the issues we choose to pay attention to,” explains Joshi. The CSE will hold the next workshop on January 25 March 8, and March 15 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. in DH 3050.