Kitchener campus hosts lecture on youth

The Wilfrid Laurier University faculty of social work at the Kitchener campus hosted a talk entitled “Youth in a Suspect Society: Coming of Age in an Era of Disposability” by professor and author Henry Giroux on Jan. 18 as part of their Third Space speaker’s series.

Ginette Lafreniere, an associate professor with the faculty of social work and director of the Social Innovation Research Group at WLU, and author Grace Pollock aimed to create a series where academics and community members could meet with ideas about social change.

“It’s like a third space, an ultimate space, an alternative space,” explained Lafreniere. “You can engage in a meaningful dialogue that won’t be judged, you won’t be graded on … somehow, collectively as stakeholders within the academic realm, we can create social change.”

Pollock was eager to invite her friend and colleague Henry Giroux because she felt his passion for change matched that of the faculty of social work.

“A lot of the work that he does intersects with the values and interests of the faculty… He could really contribute something in terms of how passionate he is about social justice.”

Giroux, who is currently a professor of English and cultural studies at McMaster University, spoke mainly about the exploitation and policing of youth in today’s society.

He described this movement as being two separate “wars” facing youth as consumers and students – what he deemed the “soft war” and “hard war.”
Giroux described the “soft war” as targeting by corporations in middle-to-upper-class youth, taking advantage of their gravitation towards technology.

“This low-intensity war is waged by a variety of corporate institutions that commercializes almost every aspect of kids’ lives using the Internet and various social networks.”

Giroux believes that this effort is “to immerse children in a world of mass consumption.”

On the other hand, the “hard war” refers to the increasingly violent policing of children and teens in schools, this issue affecting poor and minority youth in particular rather than the middle class being targeted as consumers.

Giroux cited events such as the brutal beating of a fifteen-year-old special needs student in Chicago by a school security guard for not tucking in his shirt.

“Where is the public outrage?” he asked of this and similar events.

“Poor minority youth are not just excluded from the American dream, but become utterly redundant and disposable — waste products of a society that no longer considers them of any value.”

Giroux, himself once a working-class youth, was “left out of what [I] believed to be the representations of American youth,” and said that these subjects are taboo and uncomfortable, but need to be addressed.

“It’s important to make people unsettled,” he told The Cord. “There’s nothing wrong with making people upset. I get really concerned when they don’t get upset in the face of great injustice.”