Cassandra DeFreitas

Cassandra DeFreitas

In Cassandra’s Own Words:

    In my first year of university I decided that I wanted to get involved in school clubs and find out what I was truly passionate about, as there were not many opportunities to do so in my home town. Entering my first year of social work, I knew that I wanted to help people; but that was very broad. Before the annual club’s fair at my university, I spent a Sunday afternoon reading through all 500+ clubs York has and made a list of which organizations I wanted to go talk to and find out more information about.

    Amnesty made my list, along with many other ‘helping’ organizations. After the fair, I had joined 4 clubs all with different focuses; one on youth mentoring, one on governance, my student association, and Amnesty. After seeing the first-year representative executive application open for Amnesty, I decided I wanted to apply- and if I did not get the position, I would stay a general member and also get more involved in the other clubs I joined.

    I had gotten an interview with two executives that I still stay in touch with today. I showed up in a blazer, dress pants, and flats, had woken up extra early to do my hair and makeup and printed off my resume. I was a first-year student in my second or third week at a university that had more students than my entire town, I really did not know what to expect. Upon walking into the Amnesty office, I knew two things. One, I was overdressed, and two, that this would be a space I would make memories in for the rest of my university career. The posters up on the wall of protests, messages of solidarity, placards on the floor, and two outspoken women sitting across from me conducting my interview; I knew this was the place I wanted to be, not in my stuffy blazer and mascaraed eyes.

    Throughout the interview, I had an amazing conversation about the issues with modern approaches to concerns over missing and murdered indigenous women. I was successful with my first-year representative position and hit the ground running. By the end of my first year, I was co- coordinating events with directors and was already employing the Amnesty way of thinking in my studies and daily life.

    From here, I ran for a director position in my second year. I was originally set on becoming the director of events and campaigns, but unfortunately lost to an amazing candidate who I still have the pleasure of working alongside today, and became the administration director (secretary). This position was a blessing in disguise and really helped me in understanding the behind the scenes aspects of advocacy and aided my in learning to navigate bureaucratic spaces, especially when fighting for ‘radical’ causes. My third year would be my final year in classes before moving onto field study. It is common that presidents are in their fourth/ final year and have been with the club for longer than two years. However, I knew that I needed to run because I would forever regret it if I was not able to finish off my last full year on the York campus without carrying the Amnesty name on my back. I went out on a limb and ran for the position and was successful; which has brought me to where I am today.

    Today, I am the president of Amnesty International at York University’s chapter. In my second year, a staff from Amnesty Toronto and I had a discussion about me getting more involved in Amnesty as an organization outside of the University community. I then became the co- chair (president) for Amnesty International’s Action Network on Women’s Human Rights where I work with amazing people in the GTA around issues directly affecting women and support/ creating local events around similar topics. Most recently, I was chosen as one of 8 other youth in Canada to serve on Amnesty International’s National Youth Action and Advisory Committee to work towards implementing the Youth Strategy nationally and internationally to better equip youth to conduct these important conversations around human rights.

    Now, I have been asked to declare ‘one experience’ that really inspired me as an activist with Amnesty International, and I honestly do not think that I can answer this question. Amnesty consistently amazes me at how they are able to conduct themselves on a global scale. Time and time again I have been reading a textbook and I see Amnesty quoted up and down the page and I am inspired. I read their reports, articles, petitions and I am inspired. When politicians do something awful for human rights development, I think, “how is Amnesty going to tackle this one?”. They have always amazed me with their publications.

    I will say, however, I do not really know if 2016 Cassandra knew what she was getting herself into until I attended my first Write for Rights event. I had heard the current president, executives, directors, and team talk about how it was the biggest and most important event of the year. However, I do not think I realized how large and important this event or Amnesty was until I attended my first Write for Rights in November of 2016. Sitting beside someone else who was writing for the same case as me and getting to know why that person decided to take 5 minutes out of their busy university day to write a letter for someone they had never met, and will probably never met, really meant something to me and made me realize the beauty of human rights defending.

    Before attending Write for Rights, I was questioning whether or not human rights advocacy was for me. Would I ever even be able to make any sort of impact? Should I just go into something that would make me money? I was also feeling a little low at that point because I was now in midterms and finishing final case studies and papers for my social work and human rights classes. We never covered any ‘happy’ topics because there always is some sort of injustice going on. I was discouraged that not as many people cared and that there were people dying and suffering and there was virtually nothing I could do about it. After going home that November night of Write for Rights, I had done more research on Amnesty, on Write for Rights, on some of their campaigns like No More Stolen Sisters and I Welcome and had a restored amount of faith in the future, and knew that my future included me in the scene fighting for human rights.