A group of local high school students took on social justice issues during a conference on campus last week.

Hosted by the Virginia Tech NAACP, about 100 high school students from Montgomery County attended the second annual High School Social Justice Conference to confront social justice issues and learn to be part of instigating change in their own communities

“Change the space you live in,” Virginia Tech sophomore and NAACP president Courtney Ortiz told students at last Wednesday's conference in Squires.

Staffed by undergraduate and graduate students and Virginia Tech employees, the conference featured small workshops focusing on Islamophobia, transgender relations, homophobia, and racism.

The idea, organizers said, was to talk openly and to give students the tools they need to manage issues that may arise in their daily experiences. The goal is to give students the language to speak up and inspiration to act against forms of oppression.

“They need to know how to handle those situations without starting a fight or making things more hostile,” Ortiz said.

She described the conference as an opportunity for students to be honest, and to begin developing the skills they need to discuss injustice in society.

It’s a way to solve problems.

For graduate student and conference organizer Devon Lee, the conference comes at a time when dialogue is crucial.

“Hate crimes are on the rise,” he said. “College and high school campuses are not removed from that. It’s a good time, like any other, to talk about issues."

Devon Lee
Devon Lee

Lee said the purpose of the conference is to give high school students the chance to engage in conversations about social justice and what it should look like.

Students did just that in workshops Wednesday morning. The approach, which differed from last year’s inaugural conference that featured panels, allowed student to do the talking.

“They have a lot to talk about. They have a lot to process and that can only been done with discussion groups," Lee said.

In a group charged with discussing racism and social justice, students shared what their schools look like and admitted they’re not always comfortable talking about race.

Katie Mey, gender-based violence prevention coordinator at the Women’s Center, helped to lead the conversation. She said afterwards that students need this education early.

“We often under value what people this age can do,” she said. “They really are the future.”

Written by Annie McCallum

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