Teens trade truths in forum

March 1, 2019

Shella-Reese Adams, a Snider High School junior, didn’t know what to expect when she arrived at Indiana Tech on Thursday morning.

At the recommendation of her guidance counselor, she joined nearly 100 other Allen County high school students for the Youth Symposium for Peace Through Equity and Justice.

Adams quickly learned the seven-hour event would provide teens opportunities to share their opinions without judgment and gain insight from others. Adams said she was glad she attended.

So were other teens.

“They really created a safe environment here,” said Lily Fountain, a senior at Canterbury High School and member of the Mayor’s Youth Engagement Council.

The youth council partnered with Canterbury on the symposium; Indiana Tech donated space for the activities.

The event debuted last year after Canterbury students expressed interest in a forum where teens could discuss issues related to equity, justice and inclusion, said Heather Case, director of college counseling at Canterbury.

Giving students an opportunity to practice having conversations about “real but tough issues” is the goal, Case said, adding that teens learn about civil discourse.

“We can co-exist in a community even if we don’t agree,” Case said.

Canterbury senior Hiba Akbar described the day’s themes as identifying your truth, listening to others’ truth and sharing your truth.

Activities included exercises during which students shared identifiers or descriptors that define them, along with times they felt proud or pained to be identified that way. Students also reflected on how the world sees them and whether they experience discrimination or censor parts of their identity around others.

Anya Ehlers, a Canterbury junior, appreciated learning the reasons supporting her peers’ opinions. “I like hearing the whys behind it,” she said.

Mayor Tom Henry, who welcomed the students to the symposium, said in a statement that he values the teens’ fresh perspectives.

“Offering opportunities for our young people to connect over discussions about relevant, impactful topics fosters self-confidence,” Henry said.