Evanston youth speak out on mental health, school safety in community town hall


Daily File photo by Colin Boyle

The Evanston Youth Advisory Committee hosted a town hall to discuss issues young people in Evanston are facing.

Selena Kuznikov, Assistant City Editor

The Evanston Youth Advisory Committee hosted a youth town hall Tuesday at the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center to inform the community about issues Evanston youth face. 

The attendees highlighted mental health and school safety as primary concerns, and encouraged residents to vote in the upcoming election.

Evanston Township High School senior and 4th Ward resident Andrea Arce, a member of the committee, said she has felt the tangible effects of Evanston’s history of redlining and refusing services to Black and brown Evanston residents. 

“Our city struggles with providing marginalized communities with adequate and available mental health resources which directly affects our youth,” Arce said. “Everybody’s capable of succeeding if they have the right support.”

Formed last fall, the Youth Advisory Committee engaged the city to create community resources and programs benefiting local youth. It also encourages young individuals to advise local government on youth affairs.

The committee hung blank posters with four subjects for the community to comment on: safety, health, housing and mental health. Residents were handed sticky notes at the beginning of the meeting to express their thoughts on how the city budget should be allocated to address these issues.

ETHS senior and committee member Jude Foran said he wants the city to focus on teaching younger individuals about gun violence and school safety.

“A lot of my peers disregard a lot of the community issues as being something more of an adult issue,” Foran said. “Being able to reach and kind of resonate with my peers could really make a lot of difference.”

Foran said he feels conflicted about policing in schools. While he understands the need for school security, he also realizes how added security can make students feel overpoliced. He said his solution to “nip gun violence in the bud” would be promoting access to community centers.

ETHS senior and committee member Sachin Clark cited the relationship between ETHS students and the police department as a major issue. ETHS currently has an established School Resource Officer program in partnership with the Evanston Police Department, with an officer present daily at the school. Many students have reported feeling uncomfortable with the presence, Clark said. 

Clark said he also wants the committee to work on making public mental health services more accessible to teenagers in Evanston.

“With the pandemic and so much national and international conflict, you really need to focus on the minds of the young teens who are going to help shape the future of this world,” Clark said.

ETHS graduate and committee member Davi Hunt said she hopes to help break down structural barriers that prevent young individuals from receiving mental health services.

“Sometimes people our age think that when we go through stuff, it’s like okay to just push it to the side,” Hunt said. “The first step would be making sure that we feel comfortable with speaking up.”

Hunt said she also wants to see youth of all ages engaged in programs like the committee. 

After providing their stances on youth issues in the community, committee members opened up the floor to public comment. Ald. Devon Reid (8th) said he was impressed by the committee’s insightful comments.

“It is really important that young folks with our values and our morals start to get more involved in government at all levels of leadership to truly transform the institution,” Reid said.

Reid also added that he hopes to see more young individuals running for elected office, as he ran for and won the city clerk position at the age of 24.

Mayor Daniel Biss said the town hall shined a light on “real” problems in the community and said he hopes Evanston residents and youth will continue to hold elected officials accountable.

“Stay in the game,” Biss said. “What you’ve done so far is enormously persuasive. It’s enormously powerful. Take that next step, don’t take no for an answer and change the world.”  

Email: [email protected] 

Twitter: @selenakuznikov 

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