At 23, Ashley Harripersad is OJEN’s youngest employee. A recent graduate of the University of Toronto she started out supporting the Educator Support department part-time just over a year ago and has recently joined the team as a full-time project leader working primarily on OJEN’s community-based programs for youth. Apart from being extremely capable in her position, Ashley brings specialized knowledge and experience that is greatly valued in our office.
As a high school student, justice education played a significant role in her education. While attending Central Technical School in Toronto, she participated in the LAWS program, (Law In Action Within Schools). This unique program is offered in partnership with the University of Toronto, Faculty of Law, Osgoode Hall Law School and the Toronto District School Board. It provides high school students in seven GTA schools with academic and extra-curricular programs that introduce them to legal issues, the justice system and legal professionals. During this time Ashley also participated in several OJEN programs. The insight she brings from being on the receiving side of the justice education experience is both helpful and inspiring. I sat down with Ashley at the end of last year to find out how justice education impacted her education.
“Prior to my experiences in the LAWS program, everything related to justice and law was intimidating,” she says. “I had no idea there was more to the law than court lawyers and judges. Justice education broadened my appreciation and knowledge of the justice system and introduced me to real-life people who had careers in law.”
As a high school student, Ashley took part in three OJEN activities. This is how she described their impact:
• Trailblazers: “Before attending this event, most of the professionals, including the law students I had been introduced to, were male. Trailblazers gave me the chance to spend the day exploring the histories – the struggles and the successes, of women in law. It was a very empowering experience. Speaking to female law students and women professionals in the field validated to me that attending law school was an attainable goal after all.”
• OJEN Mock Trial Tournament: “Stepping into the shoes of defence and Crown lawyers taught me to critically analyze a case from both sides. I learned how significant a lawyer’s job really is as well as how much opportunity there is to help people. I was quite nervous to get up in front of a real judge and a crowd of spectators, however, after preparing with my team and executing our case diligently, my confidence in my own work sky-rocketed.”
• Court Visits: “Exposure to the courts taught me about the process of a trial. By increasing my knowledge of the courts, the environment became less intimidating. During my court visit, I got to shadow a Justice of the Peace. The Justice of the Peace I shadowed was genuinely concerned with helping young people who have had negative experiences with the law turn their lives around. Hence, I gained a new positive perspective of judges and justices of the peace.”
Not all students will follow Ashley’s path and pursue a career in the field of law, but she believes there is a role for justice education for all students.
“I saw firsthand how impactful justice education is. We can all benefit from learning about the legal system, the laws that govern society, and how the justice sector supports young people. The reality is, we are bound to have some sort of interaction with the justice sector and the more we know, the more capable we will be of handling it (i.e. whether this means being less scared of entering a courthouse or speaking with a police officer). Moreover, I think young people can develop a greater sense of self-confidence from justice education and that in itself is a remarkable and powerful tool!”
This also nicely sums up OJEN’s philosophy of legal capability, the goal of our justice education programming. Much more than imparting information about the law, justice education aims to empower young people by giving them the knowledge and confidence to manage the everyday legal issues they may encounter.
Now that she has graduated both from high school and university, she is excited to be sharing her enthusiasm for justice education with others. And she’s great at it!
“OJEN programming did so much for my growth as a student, leader, critical thinker, and advocate and in turn, I wanted to be a part of the delivering justice education programs to various audiences.”
Ashley is considering law school in the future but for now OJEN is thrilled to have her on staff where she reminds us daily that justice education can have far reaching impact – even reaching back to us in our own office.