Westdale Secondary School students stepped outside the classroom to bring attention to acts of violence and racism around the world.
The school’s Muslim Students Association (MSA) organized a ‘ring of peace’, made up of students holding hands in a ring around the school on Thursday morning.
Arooba Amir is a Grade 11 student who took charge of organizing this year’s demonstration and preceding assembly, which included a speech from a refugee who came to Canada from Afghanistan.
She said she was overwhelmed by stories she was seeing in the news and the mosque attack in New Zealand was a catalyst for the demonstration.
“I started talking with a lot of people at the school, got their ideas and pitches involved, and that’s where I decided that the ring of peace and having this assembly would be really necessary,” said Amir. “Especially just a couple weeks ago, when the Christchurch attack happened. We needed to make sure that we had to do this event as soon as possible to make people aware. And to make sure that the Westdale community was showing their solidarity and showing that regardless of what happens, we’re always going to be together.”
Similar demonstrations have happened in other cities across the world following racist acts of violence. Westdale’s MSA organized its first ring of peace in February 2017 following the Quebec mosque shooting.
Amir said she was a Grade 9 student when that happened.
“It was my first time experiencing an event like that and I loved the atmosphere. I loved seeing the smile on everybody’s faces, and their willingness to do it, and the organization and everything that was done behind it. Everybody was so passionate about it. And that’s really what got me thinking that I really want to do something similar this year.”
Nora Baboudjian, a teacher in Westdale’s English department and staff advisor to the MSA, said the students were in charge of planning and executing the event with little teacher involvement.
“The New Zealand mosque shooting became a motivator, but they wanted to do this in the fall,” said Baboudjian. “Because MSA students are people of colour, and they are aware of daily occurrences of Islamophobia and casual racism that take place.”
She added that she’s not aware of other schools in Hamilton organizing similar demonstrations but said it would be ‘marvelous’ if other schools took part.
The demonstration that took place in 2017 was a voluntary event held during the lunch period, but this year’s event was built into the formal class schedule for the day.