Civic Engagement Project Student Spotlight- Dawn Shim

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Today, we spotlight Dawn Shim, who participated in our Civic Leadership Institute and is heavily involved in her community.

People standing together in front of red wall
Meeting with Chandler city council

My name is Dawn Shim, and I am the founder and organizer of supportequalityazschools, a student action group based around state, local, and city legislature that affects students, especially minority and LGBTQ issues. We mainly operate around issues including the Non-Discrimination Ordinance (NDO) implementation in our cities and communities, school safety procedures for LGBTQ and minority students, especially towards identity disclosures and safe spaces, and state legislation that, unfortunately, has taken a turn toward attacking LGBTQ students. We are composed of students, most of whom cannot vote, around the state, and we hope to achieve a semblance of equity for minors who cannot vote but are still affected by the legislation implemented in their regions. 

Talking with local candidates

Through work with the Civic Leadership Institute, I have developed a better constitutional and historical context in which my issue, and thus direct action, lies. Although it seems extremely unjust that students are affected by legislation they did not choose, this has remained a historical issue of conflict within many student-led protests, voter rights demonstrations, and everyday mobilizations of individual citizens to exercise their rights. By reinforcing these historical contexts, I am reminded, as a student and an organizer, that exercising my rights is worthwhile and a means of true change and optimism. 

Woman speaking into microphone next to people
Speaking at a fundraiser event at Brick Road Coffee

The civic engagement project was a means for me to apply this rediscovered civic optimism to a means of societal change within a scope where I, and thousands of other Arizonan students, are affected daily. Currently, Arizona has 17 anti-LGBTQ bills. All of these bills affect students and youth in schools directly, causing students to be fearful for their identities and personal safety. Unfortunately, two harmful bills are set to be enforced starting September 24. One (HB2495) heavily monitors and restricts diverse library materials, especially against LGBTQ representation, while the other (HB2161) requires administrators to divulge private information regarding the confidential identity of a student. Because of Arizona’s lax enforcement time, these bills passing have gone unnoticed. However, it is long overdue for us to be outraged. These bills outright marginalize LGBTQ students in favor of ‘parents’ rights’ and ignore the personal safety risks of such actions. If our legislators cannot protect us and instead choose to outright harm us, we must demonstrate that this is not the Arizona we want. Although we cannot vote, these decisions harm us directly and gravely. Thus, to directly demonstrate the outrage we feel at a lack of safety measures for minority students, we plan to carry out a series of school walkouts starting in our main base of Chandler and expanding outwards with our members in Mesa, Gilbert, and Flagstaff as well as with partner organizations in the greater Phoenix and Tucson region.

Students in classroom talking
Student-interest meeting with local candidate

This project is much more than just a means to empower disenfranchised students. It is an act of resistance, defiance, and action that calls out to our politicians and legislators that we know. We know what is going on in our political spaces and are fed up with infringing our rights. We hope that this is a wake-up call to the politicians meant to be representing us, that we will not, and we can no longer stand for bills that are hurting students. We also would love to see a wider movement for youth-led direct action in our state as we truly see the potential of our collective power as a means to create change in our state, even though it may feel futile. We often hear from adults that they recognize our vision as students are the future of our state and our world. However, we have adopted the phrase “Students are our Now,” coined by one of our most valuable mentors in advocacy and just incredible support, Elise. Students are actively shaping our present and simultaneously being shaped by the decisions being made in our present. Unfortunately, the state of politics today has made it so that we cannot stay politically neutral. At the same time, young students are being harmed by the institutions formed to protect them. We hope that our actions and the community we build are just one way of achieving a positive change that affects us as students.

Students protesting outside on street corner
Our first protest we organized last year in favor of Chandler establishing an NDO (Non-Discrimination Ordinance)

You can follow our actions at @supportequalityazschools on Instagram.