Critical Issues Forum 5th Speaker Series Discussed Youth Empowerment, Disarmament Education and Social Justice

December 16, 2021
Masako Toki

The Critical Issues Forum (CIF) aims to empower high school students through disarmament and nonproliferation education with the goal of creating a safer and more peaceful world free of nuclear weapons. In an effort to further this goal, The James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS) hosted the CIF fifth Speaker Series on Friday, December 10th, 2021 to discuss youth empowerment, youth engagement, disarmament education, and social justice.

The topic of this Speaker Series was “How Can Disarmament and Nonproliferation Education Empower Students to Tackle Complex Social Justice Issues?” Three speakers shared views on the importance of youth engagement in nuclear disarmament, the role of educators, and the intersection between nuclear issues, social justice, and climate change. Speakers included Jasmine Owens, the Lead Organizer and Policy Coordinator for the Nuclear Weapons Abolition Program at the Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR), Rayna Rogers, recent graduate from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey (MIIS) with a master’s degree in Nonproliferation and Terrorism Studies, and Andrew King, lead teacher at CIF for over 10 years and Assistant Principal of the Alliance Dr. Olga Mohan High School.

Introductory Remarks

CNS Senior Project Manager Masako Toki started the event by introducing the goals and objectives of CIF. Next, CIF alumna Akemi Terukina, graduate of Kansai Soka Senior High School and current junior at Soka University of America, shared her experience in the CIF program as a student. Terukina explained how participation in CIF helped develop critical thinking skills and how these skills are currently helping her pursue her goals.  She also discussed her current engagement in the nuclear disarmament field.

Akemi Terukina

Akemi Terukina

“My big dream or hope was that to create a society where we don’t build our happiness upon others’ misfortune. Having this core motivated me to engage in the topic more. These two things, to have questions and to have a big purpose, is something that I’m always reminding myself to do

By Akemi Terukina, CIF alumna

Opening statements

Jasmine Owens began the discussion by highlighting the importance of engaging younger generations in the nuclear disarmament field. Based on her current work experience at PSR, she emphasized the importance of having a diverse group of passionate youth in nuclear disarmament. Owens added that young people can tackle nuclear issues with fresh ideas similar to the way they are already fighting against the climate crisis.

Rayna Rogers discussed the disproportionate impact of nuclear weapons on communities of color, including indigenous communities affected by nuclear testing and uranium mining. She argued that it is important to see nuclear issues through the lens of social justice. Rogers noted that it is important for young people to find something they can do to promote nuclear disarmament, even if that effort may seem small.

Andrew King, an experienced and committed high school teacher, articulated the reason why it is so important to engage high school students in nuclear disarmament discussion. King explained that usually high school students are intimidated and do not believe they can have any impact in the nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament field. It is critical that high school students are encouraged to participate in the field and that opportunities to become involved are created. King emphasized that participating in the democratic process by voting to promote disarmament is very important as a concerned citizen. He also recommended sharing the importance of nonproliferation with social media influencers and supporting nuclear weapons divestment efforts.



“It’s so important that we get people involved in the disarmament movement at a young age and break down those barriers to accessing this information and understanding those threats…. One of the most effective ways to engage people is social justice and showing how this issue does intersect with all these other looming threats that people are facing every day.”

By Jasmine Owens

Rayna Rogers

Rayna Rogers

“It’s important to have experts, but you also need people who aren’t experts who are also passionate about the issue…. You need to understand that this is something that affects your daily life, even if it doesn’t feel like it.”

By Rayna Rogers

Andrew King

Andrew King

“If we start letting high school students know that there are many ways to access these global issues whether it be through science, through politics, through international relations, we can start preparing the next generation of nuclear professionals earlier on…. The role of educators is to simply say it is okay to not know, it is okay to want to learn. Tell me what you’re curious about and if I don’t know let’s go find the answer together.”

By Andrew King

Panel discussion

Event photo

During the panel discussion and question and answer session, panelists discussed how more youth can become engaged in nuclear disarmament by learning from and partnering with the environmental justice movement. Jasmine Owens explained that nuclear threats are often perceived as hypothetical threats which may or may not ever happen in our lifetime, whereas on the other hand, environmental threats are experienced and witnessed by all, especially through the effects of global warming today. Unlike environmental threats, nuclear threats may not seem as urgent or relevant in everyday life but in reality, pose serious existential threats to humanity, and we must raise awareness of nuclear threats among younger generations.

Andrew King encouraged young people to continue to raise their voices. He stressed that young people’s voices matter, and that they are the future of our society. All panelists agreed that the tens of billions of dollars devoted each year to nuclear weapons should be reallocated to support education, healthcare, addressing the climate crisis, and the betterment of society.


After the panel discussion, participants had a chance to share their thoughts and views more candidly in small breakout groups of five to six peers. To conclude this Speaker Series, each speaker shared a final message to encourage high school students to continue to discuss this important topic with their friends and families. Giving youth, including high school students, an opportunity to learn and engage in global issues is essential. Participants learned that there is a way for each citizen to contribute to nuclear disarmament, no matter how small it may seem. This Speaker Series highlighted the importance of engaging youth in nuclear disarmament discussions and activities.

The Critical Issues Forum is supported by the Tom and Sarah Pattison Fund, Saga Foundation, Mr. Gregg Wolpert, and many private donors.

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