VI. Moving Forward
Humayra Safa and Althea Reyes, York University undergraduate students and participants in the Sustainable and Inclusive Internationalization Virtual Conference, explained that the opportunity to take part in this conference allowed them to realize the major role that post-secondary institutions play in in the implementation of the SDGs. Initially, they believed that only NGO’s and other government institutions had this responsibility. However, with the understanding that universities are involved in this process, they recognize that they have easier access to collaborate and be part of the SDG implementation as students from their respective academic fields. They have witnessed how York University has emphasized and invested in SDGs. As an example, they mentioned the SDG Student Hub where they currently work. This Student-led Hub aims to raise awareness and encourage students to take action, get involved and collaborate in research or projects that promote SDGs. In addition, they have seen how more efforts and interest from faculty members to integrate SDGs in research projects and curriculum. Similarly, York has made evident the SDG interest in the implementation of institutional, departmental, program and classroom policies.
They commented on COVID-19 and the impact this pandemic has had on the topic of mobility and equal accessibility to events and academic opportunities. On the positive side, virtual settings have allowed to reach out more students and a bigger audience which has increased SDG awareness. It has also allowed them to participate in conferences that they would not otherwise been able to attend giving them a space to interact with more people and network with other students and experts. In a specific example, they mentioned that a conference in past was only held in Ontario and gathered mostly students from this province. With the pandemic, this conference was available for all Canadian students bringing more perspectives in the discussions. Nevertheless, COVID-19 brought some challenges such as zoom fatigue, lack of interest from some students and the awkwardness that comes with attending online gatherings.
After the experience in the conference, they said that there is much expectation and interest in continuing the efforts they have started. For this reason, they continue to work at the SDG Hub. In their roles, they work in creating learning opportunities for students at York through engagement in research and academic activities and in raising awareness on social media. They explained that the SDG Hub offers a non-credit certificate credential that confirms their post-secondary engagement in SDGs. In order to receive the certification, students need to satisfy courses (free of charge) and 70 hours of volunteering hours an NGO. To this date, the Hub has 40 active members.
For the short-term goals, they plan on incorporating the SDGs in their academic and professional opportunities. They have asked their current supervisors to integrate and consider the importance of SDGs in their projects. According to them, supervisors are receptive, open and supportive which allows to raise awareness, educate and continue the work. In the long run, they want to integrate SDG work in their post-graduate degrees and research.
As part of the suggestions for future events and their feedback from their participation in this conference, Althea and Humayra recognized the importance of voicing students and making youth an active role in the future SDG implementation work. They suggested involving students in conferences and not limiting them to only ask questions. They want to see students more involved in the discussions. An idea would be to change the format of the conference panels, where professors and researchers are the experts, into a round table where everyone has an opportunity to speak and be heard. It is also recommendable to support students through more research opportunities, conference attendance and spaces for discussion and conversation. Finally, they mentioned that universities should give students skills and tools to be more involved and network.