Every Queen’s grad I’ve met remembers with great precision what move-in day was like for them. For me – as I’m sure was the case for many of you – the day consisted largely of carrying boxes to my small residence room in Leonard Hall, meeting my roommate Matt for the first time, and grabbing dinner at the cafeteria with my new floormates.
There is no way to avoid introductions and small talk. My introduction often went “Hi! I’m Rico Garcia, I’m an Artsci’13 from Monterrey, Mexico, and I want to major in Economics.”
More often than not, the reactions I would get would be “But you barely even have an accent!” or “Okay, your family is from Mexico but where in the GTA are you from?”
My lack of an accent and lighter skin colour often allowed me to blend in at Queen’s, in what a friend would later describe to me as white-passing – when a person classified as a member of one racial group is accepted (“passes”) as a member of a white majority. Depending on the setting, I would play up or down my own culture and background to my advantage, ultimately looking for belonging.
The reality, however, is that not everyone has been as privileged as me in finding that sense of belonging at Queen’s. This has especially been the case for many Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC) – as evidenced by the hundreds of shocking stories of racism and discrimination recently shared by both students and alumni in various social media channels.
While the university has made strides in improving the BIPOC student experience (for instance, through actioning the recommendations of the Principal’s Implementation Committee on Racism, Diversity, and Inclusion (PICRDI), or the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Task Force), there is still a long road ahead to ultimately ensure BIPOC students feel like they belong on campus.
The same is true of us as at the Queen’s University Alumni Association.
The establishment of the Queen’s Black Alumni Chapter and the Indigenous Alumni Chapter and this year’s reform to our Alumni Assembly to ensure it is representative of the diverse Queen’s alumni community are all great starts. However, there is still a lot more to do to ensure that all 152,000+ Queen’s alumni ultimately feel a sense of belonging in our community.
To this end, our board recently struck a committee to identify a list of short, medium, and long-term actions that can help make the Queen’s University Alumni Association a more diverse and inclusive body moving forward.
While the committee is still in its early days, I’m encouraged by the fact that we have already identified a preliminary list of initiatives that can be owned and actioned by every director on our board in their respective portfolios.
The QUAA's mission is to “to reach out and foster a lifelong association with Queen’s, to engage our members in the life and work of the University, and to serve the alumni community in all its diversity”.
We still have a lot of work to do to fully live up to our mission, but I’m hoping that these first actions, along with additional ongoing efforts, will help us get closer to fulfilling it.