Raising awareness about discrimination

By Cathy Campbell

A security guard stops a group of teens at the entrance to a mall. "Each of you has to show me $5," he says. "Or get out of here."

What begins as a friendly shopping trip ends with a group of teens feeling like criminals.

This anecdote spurred the beginning of The Open Door, a project undertaken by The McCreary Centre Society in Burnaby, B.C., to look at the issue of youth discrimination. The youth-run project gathered 3,000 report cards on B.C. businesses from 22 communities across the province in 1996 and 1997.

More than 75 per cent of teens reported that they weren't treated with respect when they went into a store.

Aileen Murphy, project coordinator with The McCreary Centre Society, says that while the survey wasn't scientific, it "raised awareness and started discussion about how young people feel."

Youth gave a thumbs-up to some projects, including a Qualicum coffee shop that joined forces with the local chamber of commerce to start a "Youth are welcome here" sticker campaign. The idea showed support for young people. Youth said they want to be made to feel welcome by shopkeepers. They don't want to be followed around while shopping because merchants assume that they plan to steal something. They want to be treated like every other customer, regardless of their age or how they dress.

According to McCreary's wideranging Adolescent Health Survey II, released in 1999, almost half of youth feel that they are the victims of age-related discrimination.

"To me, what's ironic is young people are a large market ...," Ms. Murphy says. Merchants want their business, but don't give them respect.

"I think what we've found is it seems to be a theme or experience of all young people in urban and rural communities."

Yet, at the same time, youth are not being recognized for their good deeds. For example, the survey found that 87 per cent of female teens and 74 per cent of males had done volunteer work within the previous year.

Reproduced from: Families & Health, September 2000, Volume 13.