The University of San Diego’s official students return to campus on Jan. 24, but on Friday (Jan. 21), the university had an influx of pre-college students who were ready to delve into some of today’s biggest issues facing the country: immigration, border crime, gangs and human trafficking.
The 14th annual Youth Town Meeting event, held in the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice (KIPJ), welcomed more than 700 middle and high school students from Southern California, Mexico and international exchange students to campus.
The event is part of KIPJ’s WorldLink, a unique program that provides opportunities for youth from the greater San Diego and Baja, California regions to meet world leaders and experts. Through WorldLink’s innovative and experiential focus on global education, students learn about issues facing us locally and internationally, and engage in thoughtful discussions about solutions in a forum where their voices are heard and valued.
Dee Aker, deputy director of the KIPJ and the creator of WorldLink said, “As in years past, the young men and women coming to discuss serious issues like transnational gangs, human trafficking and drugs will not only hear from speakers with government agencies and specialized crime fighting organizations, but they will hear from youth themselves who have already taken up the challenges being examined. Listening and inspiration go two ways at WorldLink — from youth to experts, and vice-versa, and youth to youth. This has proven to be life-changing for everyone who engages one another with genuine respect.”
Katie Athis, a WorldLink intern and a senior at Our Lady of Peace, said, “There was a lot of enthusiasm today — even more than last year. Sitting in the last few panel discussions, I was impressed by how interested students were in what they were learning and in the discussion they were partaking in.”
The student-selected theme was “Crimes Without Borders: Threats to Human Security” and focused on local and international implications of human trafficking, illicit drug trade, transnational gangs, terrorism and small arms. Over 15 experts in the field from government, law enforcement and international NGOs spent the day discussing this year’s theme with student delegates.
“These are issues that have direct consequences on our own human security,” said Karla Alvarez, an IPJ program officer. “What this day highlights, is how closely these topics hit home. The United States is one of the highest consumers of drugs in the world, and a top destination for victims of human trafficking. In San Diego alone, local gangs are increasingly choosing to operate through human trafficking over drugs or weapons sales, while Tijuana faces its own challenges with drug violence. The student participants come from both of these areas.”
Guest speakers at the day-long event included Tony Young, San Diego City Council President and USD alumnus, who discussed local initiatives aimed to curb gang activity, and Antonio Luigi Mazitelli, regional representative for Mexico, Caribbean and Central America, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
“This is our seventh year sending a delegation to the WorldLink conference, and every year we have students (and teachers) whose lives are changed as a result of the extraordinary speakers,” said Jonathan Shulman, an La Jolla Country Day history teacher and department chair, who brought an AP History class (pictured). “WorldLink is one of San Diego’s most spectacular educational opportunities for young people and we are very fortunate to be a part of this extraordinary program at USD.”
Representatives from Catholic Relief Services, Bilateral Safety Corridor Coalition, Monterey Institute of International Studies, the United States’ Department of Homeland Security and local law enforcement agencies also presented at the forum.
— Melissa Wagoner