With files from Bridget Stirling.
“So what are you going to do with your degree?” It’s a common question, and one that many students find impossible to answer, simply because they are consumed by their studies and are not yet focused on how they might put their training to use in the “real world.” Claire Edwards is the exception. The third year Political Science student is not waiting until her diploma is in hand to put her skills to work.
As chair of the City of Edmonton Youth Council (CEYC), Edwards is passionate about empowering youth to create the change that they want to see in public policy. The council is made up of young people who report directly to City Council on youth-related matters. The CEYC successfully advocated against Bill 10 (in its original form); if it had passed, it would have allowed Alberta School Boards to reject students’ requests to form gay-straight alliances (GSAs). For their work on behalf of the GSAs, the CEYC was recently awarded the Edmonton Social Planning Council Award of Merit for Advocacy of Social Justice. This fall, she will be working for a human rights organization through a Washington Centre Internship.
Edwards is also active on campus as president of SNAPP (the Student Network for Advocacy and Public Policy). “We believe that protesting is an awesome way to make change, but you also need to have ways to get your ideas on paper and then lobby them in a formal way,” she says. “We teach students how to write policy briefings, how to lobby government, and we act as a think tank too, where people can get feedback on their ideas. Our little catch phrase is ‘putting public policy on picket signs.’” The group will be spearheading projects on minimum wage, affirmative consent policy surrounding sexual assault and sustainability issues on campus.
Edwards sees herself and her generation as agents of change – that good citizenship starts now, whether it’s walking to the store instead of driving, advocating on behalf of a cause, or just the simple realization that what you do matters, and the sooner you do it (whatever that may be), the better.
And the key to all of it is education, which for Edwards is both her foundation and inspiration. “You can’t start to change things unless you really understand them,” she says. “The skills that I’m learning at the university, how to really critically analyze the world around me – I leave class just bubbling with information and excitement! I’m just trying to make the most of this opportunity, and learn all that I can learn. I want to change the world and that’s why I do what I do, and why I’m studying what I’m studying at the U of A.”