Human Rights Office marking 20 years
When Irène Bujara was appointed to take charge of a Human Rights Office (HRO) at Queen’s in 1993, she never dreamed the office would grow to its current scale.
The HRO was established as a response to then –Principal David Smith’s advisory committee. Bujara stresses that without the support of the advisory boards that have supported the office, it would not be celebrating its 20th anniversary this fall.
Originally established to deal with issues related to race, the HRO now works in collaboration with the Equity Office to address topics of harassment and discrimination on the grounds of race, colour, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, discrimination, disability and gender identity.
The corridor walls of the HRO, located in Mackintosh-Corry Hall, are filled with colourful paintings by renowned artist, Leo Yerxa. Bujara, who directs both the HRO and the Equity Office, feels that art is a powerful medium through which human rights initiatives can be highlighted. Thus the staff has come up with the idea of celebrating the HRO’s anniversary by using art to comment on issues of social injustices.
Says Stephanie Simpson, Artsci’95, Ed’97, MEd’11, the HRO’s Associate Director, “Marking an anniversary for this kind of operation is a strange idea. Initially, we sat around a table and puzzled over how we can celebrate it. It’s not as if clients who’ve come to us would come back. It’s not going to be cakes and balloons and reunions.”
In order to draw interest from the Queen’s community and to shed light on human rights issues, the HRO decided to create a mosaic by calling for various artists’ interpretations of women’s strength in the wake of gender based violence. All the accepted pieces will be incorporated into a large display that will be exhibited at a reception on campus on September 24. There will also be a speaker who will discuss the ways art can be used to create awareness of social issues.
Bujara says, “Even though Queen’s and the HRO have come a long way, we still face challenges, given the fact that the University’s principalship changes every five to 10 years. Any new principal takes time to get familiar with pertinent issues.”
In addition to Stephanie Simpson and Irene Bujara (who splits her time between the HRO and the Equity Office), the HRO staff includes Catherine Wells, PhD'01, the Special Projects coordinator; Margot Coulter, Artsci'84, the Human Rights Advisor who focuses on sexual harassment prevention; Prof. Jean Pfleiderer (Women's Studies), the Human Rights Advisor who focuses on sexual and gender diversity; and, Ruth Santamaria, the HRO's administrative assistant. All say that they are looking forward to this fall’s anniversary celebrations and to future campus initiatives that will promote awareness and positive action on human rights issues.
For more information, please visit the Queen's Human Rights Office web site.
This painting by renowned artist Leo Yerxa served as the starting point for the Human Rights Office's mosaic project. All artists were invited to collaborate and create a piece of art that represents women empowerment and survival using this image as their starting point of inspiration.