By: Karissa Gall
The 2012-13 Vancouver Community Network (VCN) Youth Initiative (YI) program held its first all-intern workshop on September 18 in the Woodward’s Building, bringing together the more than 30 Metro Vancouver youth who have been working at non-profit organizations based in the Downtown Eastside neighbourhood all the way to Bowen Island since the beginning of fall.
The workshop began with a focus on professional development, as Aleks Vasiljevic, Community Youth Worker at Intern Host Organization (IHO) Ray-Cam Co-operative Centre, delivered a presentation dealing with on-site security and conflict resolution.
Based on his 12 years of experience working at Ray-Cam, Vasiljevic shared security information with the interns around the nature of work with the general public and the scope of issues that arise.
“While working at your site, you might be wearing many hats,” said Vasiljevic, encouraging the interns to consider what their roles will be; what falls into their job description and what does not. He posed several questions dealing with personal boundaries and possible conflict situations, and advised the interns that when dealing with conflict situations, they assess and de-escalate the situation, “try to provide choices rather than give orders,” and ask for help from colleagues and community members, making an effort to communicate the facts of the situation in as much detail as possible. In closing, he encouraged the interns to familiarize themselves with their site-specific safety protocol, as well as the contact information for relevant emergency service providers.
Following Vasiljevic’s presentation, VCN Operations and Programs Coordinator Shayna Halliwell and Youth Initiatives Coordinator Robyn Chan lead a discussion on issues of privilege and power.
“Power is defined as the ability to coerce another’s behavior, but also includes access to social, political and economic resources,” said Chan. “Privilege is defined as an invisible package of unearned assets. These things are physical or social characteristics that you are born with.
“Power accrues to those who most closely resemble the mythical norm; in the Western world, this is: male, white, heterosexual, financially stable, young-middle adult, able-bodied, Christian,” she said, reminding interns that social institutions recreate hierarchy based on gender, race and social class “in a way that makes them appear natural and inevitable.”
Chan noted that when privileged individuals are asked to name their social identity, they rarely name a dominant identity because they see their dominant identity as “just normal.”
“Because dominant cultural and societal norms are based on values and characteristics that they hold, they and the dominant society often construe people from oppressed or underrepresented groups as the ones who are different,” she said.
Halliwell shared examples of white privilege in Canada and lead a discussion dealing with why dominant groups don’t see their privilege as a problem.
“These are questions that you as interns need to be asking when designing workshops or dealing with clients,” she said, suggesting that interns list the ways they are privileged to develop self-knowledge and authenticity, increase their comfort in dealing with diverse people and situations, avoid engaging in unintentionally hurtful actions, and better address inequities.
Halliwell closed their presentation with a review of the privilege of space.
“In your internship, most of you are dealing with marginalized people,” she said. “You should be aware of the privilege and power that you hold, even with regards to simple things like space. For many of your clients, even being in the space might be a difficult thing. They might have been rejected from other spaces, or simply feel uncomfortable. On the other hand, as an intern, you probably feel like you have the right to be there. You should be aware of this power imbalance when dealing with all of your clients.”
Presentations from three of VCN’s first hires followed, with Joyce Ching, Spencer Davis and Tania Ehret describing the work they are doing at IHO sites the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre, Vancouver Co-op Radio, and UBC Learning Exchange, respectively.
Ehret told the group that her main project will be organizing and facilitating a political discussion group called Current Affairs.
“My supervisor and I spoke about how many people access the drop-in services and come on a daily basis who have a lot of passionate views about certain topics, but don’t necessarily have a space in which to voice them,” said Ehret. “We think they should, and Current Affairs is going to be an answer to that.”