Category Archives: Uncategorized

How Representation can Fuel Change

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In this blog piece, Tianna Edwards, Officer of Direct Response Appeals in the Office of Advancement at Queen’s, talks about the importance of having a diverse staff and student body as the starting point to achieve a genuinely inclusive campus

 

I was raised in Kingston and spent my elementary and high school years as the only person of colour in most of my classes. To clarify what this means, it means being the spokesperson for all people of colour (answering questions about my race), fighting stereotypes and generally losing any anonymity whatsoever. So when it came to applying to universities, I didn’t consider Queen’s. I felt that I wouldn’t fit into the established culture of sameness and didn’t want to continue the pattern of being the only person of colour in my classes. So I branched out. Like many young Kingstonians, I moved to Toronto. I studied journalism at the University of Guelph-Humber and for the first time in my life, I blended in with my peers.

Now, almost 15 years later, I find myself back in Kingston. Not just in Kingston but working at Queen’s and not just working at Queen’s but studying here as well in the Cultural Studies program (MA). I currently work in the Office of Advancement managing the direct mail program responsible for storytelling and encouraging alumni to give back to Queen’s. I take pride in my role because I get to identify some of the incredible research and student activities happening on campus and share these achievements with alumni. In this role, now more than ever, I am seeing students of colour — that wouldn’t have fit the Queen’s mould more than a decade ago – using Queen’s resources not only to enhance their education but to lift up marginalized voices. This is significant to me.

Though I feel that Queen’s has a long way to go when it comes to diversity and inclusion, the administration is slowly making space. For example, with proper guidance from the Human Rights and Equity Office on inclusive hiring practices, more positions will be filled with people who look like me and that impact will trickle down, depicting how Queen’s is seen and talked about.

Another good example is the Cultural Studies program that welcomes students to challenge these traditions grounded in colonialism and patriarchal perspectives without judgement or scrutiny. This is important for the growth of the institution.

When I left Toronto four years ago, many Queen’s alumni warned me not to come back to Kingston – let alone step on Queen’s campus – because of its negative reputation with marginalized communities. But I strongly feel that change has to start somewhere. It starts with people like me who are willing to have the tough conversations about race with my colleagues with hopes that future employees of colour won’t have to. It starts with the students of colour who are willing to stand up and identify where Queen’s can do better regarding inclusivity. And most importantly, the attention to these issues must not waiver. My fear is the discussion around inclusivity and diversity is a western trend and popular hashtags are fleeting. This work needs to be consistent to avoid falling into old patterns.

As my husband and I start our family and plant roots in Kingston, I am hopeful that if Queen’s continues down this path of inclusion, our children will one day be proud Gaels.

 

Tianna Edwards

Studying the past to dream our future

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In this piece, History professor Adnan Husain talks about using education to combat stereotypes, and he explains how universities provide us with the opportunity of learning from the past to build a better future

As a historian, my reflex is to look to the past to analyze contemporary conditions and understand recent experiences.  When I first began to study medieval European and Middle Eastern/Islamic History as a university student, I did not imagine that my preoccupations with how religious identities were formed through the interrelationships between Muslims, Christians and Jews in the pre-modern world would seem so relevant to so many others.  My interests at the time developed from a more personal perspective as a Muslim from a religiously observant family raised in North America.  I was seeking historical grounding for what seemed an eccentric problem—being what one scholar would later term a “Western Muslim.”   My exploration of inter-religious interaction was meant to satisfy an internal dialogue about identity and its diverse sources and to discover ways to integrate and reconcile disparate influences of my heritage and formation.

It soon became clear that much more could be at stake than my own individual curiosity and exploration, even in such a remote and apparently distant past that initially seemed an antiquarian escape from modern relevance.  But I discovered that so little of the surprising intellectual, humanistic and scientific achievements of pre-modern Islamic societies were generally appreciated or their profound contributions to Europe even commonly acknowledged.  A diverse, complex and interconnected world of commercial, cultural, and intellectual interchange among Christians, Muslims and Jews had flourished around the Mediterranean and even sustained multi-ethnic and multi-religious societies for centuries.  These untold stories and forgotten histories of the Medieval Mediterranean world hardly figured in Eurocentric narratives about our past and seemed crucial to me if we were ever to imagine a collective and cosmopolitan future.

Yet, medieval history continued popularly to be represented as entirely divided by narrow religious bigotry, crusading conflict and cultural isolation.  And this vision of the past seemed increasingly attractive to extreme ideologues—nationalists and religious fundamentalists alike—emerging at the end of the Cold War.  Right at the time I started graduate studies, Samuel Huntington published his infamous article “The Clash of Civilizations?” which attempted to use this distorted perspective on pre-modern global history to ground a conservative investment in exclusivist identitarian conflicts based on religious and “civilizational” identities.

Since the Gulf War of the early 1990’s to our own era of terrorism, interventionist warfare and massive migrations of refugees, studying the historical relationship between “Islam and the West,” as it is typically and crudely formulated, has possessed undeniable relevance and importance.  However, approaching the relationships from a skewed set of assumptions like Huntington did leads dangerously towards re-enacting the bigotries of the past in the present and regarding them as natural.

At our campus, our challenge is even more immediate than this.  The general absence of curriculum on Muslim societies and diasporas globally affects our intellectual and academic community rather profoundly.  In my two history seminars this term—one on the Crusades and another on Muslim, Christian and Jewish in the Medieval Mediterranean world, we examine and discuss together the episodes of conflict or persecution as well as the long periods of coexistence and cooperation that patterned a shared past and allow us to consider and imagine a shared future.  Rather more such opportunities are needed in our curriculum and at our campus.  Education affords us the chance to critique dangerous misconceptions and to combat the stereotyped fears that fuel Islamophobia and other forms of prejudice.  It allows us to reflect on important contemporary issues or share experiences in an environment of genuine inquiry and respectful discourse.  These are precious opportunities that universities can provide toward dreaming and, hopefully, building a more equitable future together.

Note: One such opportunity this January concerns the more recent past, the killing of six and injuring of 19 Muslims worshipping at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec City on the evening of January 29, 2017.  While it is painful to remember such tragic events, the Muslim Societies-Global Perspectives project has sponsored a lecture Friday January 25th at 6:30pm in 12 Dunning Hall by noted scholar Jasmin Zine entitled: “Lessons of the Quebec Massacre: the Roots of Islamophobia in Canada.”

Embracing Vulnerability

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Mia Berloni, a fourth-year Environmental Science student at Queen’s, writes about the importance of expressing one’s thoughts and feelings, and how vulnerability can shift the campus culture to be more empathetic and open.

The topic I was given for this blog post was re-imagining the future. This is a very broad topic, and there are so many things I believe could be changed and improved to make the institution of Queen’s better. The thing that stuck out the most for me was vulnerability. Attending a school that more openly encourages and embraces vulnerability would have so many benefits for all students at Queen’s.

When space is made for openness, students can feel more comfortable living as their genuine selves, as living authentically in itself is a vulnerable act. Through my work at the Peer Support Centre (PSC), I have seen what incredible things can come from providing space for students to tell their story, be vulnerable and ask for help.

When I think of vulnerable spaces created by the Queen’s community, I think of this year’s TALKS rally hosted by the PSC. This event aims to make space for vulnerability, the Outreach team at the PSC organizes three speakers to kick off the gathering, and then the floor is opened up to attendees to share. I was one of the speakers at the beginning, and I was really scared all day leading up to sharing my story. I knew I was going to cry while speaking and the thought of sharing was enough to make me feel sick, let alone the added element of crying in front of a group of people I did not know. But I did it. I shared my experience, and it was incredible. I immediately felt lighter. Although it was hard, having the people at the event stay, listen and empathize with me made me feel validated, heard and accepted. Many people shared that night, and seeing the Queen’s community’s strength in vulnerability was incredibly inspiring.

Since that event, I have made a commitment to try my best to be more open, and honest with those around me. To share more of myself. This has been resulting in more joy in my life, closer connections, and less anxiety. I believe everyone can benefit from being more vulnerable to one and other.

If you are struggling it is okay not to be okay, it is okay to reach out for help; it is okay to cry. I know I am not alone when I say I feel honoured when my friends, family and peers share with me. If you are thinking about reaching out, I encourage you to do so. You are not a burden, and there are people who would love to hear your story.

If your friend is struggling, listen to them, let them know you are there for them, help connect them with resources if necessary, and take care of yourself too. We all have a role to play in fostering more vulnerable environments, and I think that can start with us asking one another “how are you doing?” and really wanting to know the answer even if it is not “I’m good how are you?”.

Resources:
Good2Talk: 1-866-925-5454
Student Wellness Services: 1-613-533-2506
Peer Support Centre: Open seven days a week 10am-10pm located on the lower level of            the JDUC Rm 34 & 26

Being Who You Are, Inside and Out

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This month, contributor Erin LeBlanc, Director, Strategic Program Development & Accreditation at the Smith School of Business and Queen’s alumnae, discusses themes of identity, authentic self, and belonging. Ms. Leblanc is an advocate for LGBTQ+ people with a focus on education, awareness, and building community for transgender people.

If I can’t be me, who am I supposed to be?

This is a question that I hear time and time again in conversations with transgender people. And with June just around the corner and communities preparing to host Pride celebrations, I am reminded of these conversations. Some people may be perplexed by this statement in that they don’t understand why there is such a great deal of stress for those who suffer from Gender Dysphoria.

They don’t understand why there is any issue with someone being transgender.

Good for them. They get it. They are enlightened.

However, if you don’t suffer with gender dysphoria, it is hard to appreciate what it is like.

People in the LGBTQ+, in particular the Transgender community, are, for the most part, terrified of how they will be treated if and when they come out. Because society isn’t as welcoming as some people think, or hope. There is still a great lack of understanding and compassion out there. There are numerous examples of transgender people losing their jobs, being evicted from their accommodations, and being disowned from their families. Essentially, they are disenfranchised from society.

And for what? All they want to do is live their lives. Do their jobs. Contribute to the community. But society stills feels threatened by transgender people.

Why?

Usually, it is from a lack of understanding about what it means to be transgender, to suffer from Gender Dysphoria. With some education, they start to be more accepting and can, in many instances, become allies. But many people out there in society still harbor resentment and a sense of confusion, or even disdain, for transpeople.

They refuse to be exposed to any type of information about what it means. How many times have I heard people refer to being transgender as a lifestyle choice.

A choice?

Seriously?

Ask anyone in the community. The last thing I would ever wish upon anyone is to have gender dysphoria. It is something you are born with. There is no choice. Gender is separate from the sex you are assigned at birth based upon a physical attribute. Gender is who you are in your heart and soul and mind. And that too is assigned at birth.

Who would choose to not be congruent in your inner and outer being?

To look in the mirror every single day and not recognize who is looking back at you. To suffer from the depression and anxiety attacks that accompany the dysphoria. To be out of control of your life. To simply be a passenger on the bus that is your life, with no real control over where the bus is taking you. That is frightening and at times debilitating.

A choice?

Not even close.

Think of it this way. You have a can with a label on it that reads “Peas” along with a picture etc. But inside the can, it is actually peaches. On the inside, it is peaches, but to the outside world it is peas. Nowhere near close to being congruent. We can’t change the peaches to peas. Not going to happen. That’s what they are, on the inside. Peaches.

But we can change the label.

That’s on the outside and that can be changed. So, we change the label. We have congruency. Now, people see a can of peaches and guess what. That is what it really is on the inside. All transpeople want is to have the outside match who they are on the inside. To present in the gender they were born with. For some this means surgeries. In some instances, numerous surgeries. For others, it means simply having their external presentation in the clothes they wear, and the way the cut or style their hair etc. match their gender. This provides them with a sense of congruency and hence peace with who they really are.

We are fortunate to live in a country that offers protections by federal and provincial legislation. For many employers, there are official company policies regarding the protection of transgender people from discrimination and humiliation.

And that’s great.

But the work is not done. We can’t take our foot off the gas. There is still a lot that has to be done. Policies are great. But without the processes in place to back them up and implement them, they mean nothing.

Organizations have to look at all the processes they have when hiring, promoting and training their staff to ensure there is understanding and awareness of these policies. More importantly, how it impacts their jobs so they know what to do when a transgender person is asking for assistance or simply wishing to purchase their goods and services. This means front line staff must be trained on what it means to be part of a positive space. To accept all people as equal, to treat everyone with dignity and respect regardless of their gender, race, religion, nationality etc.

Look, all the community wants is to live their lives, do their jobs and contribute to the community.

To live, love and laugh, just like everyone else.

 

That shouldn’t be that hard to accept. It’s not too much to ask.

 

The Road Less Travelled

Our October blogger is Hazem Ahmed. In his piece, Hazem looks introspectively at his own life and the choices he has made over the course of the last 15 years. Discover, how Hazem believes taking the road less travelled, has made all the difference.

It might sound a cliché, but looking back to my past 15 years, I apparently have been taking the roads less travelled whether consciously or perhaps subconsciously! Starting back in 2002, when I decided to pursue my undergrad studies in Computer Science – not Electrical Engineering (like many of my high school peers) nor Medical Sciences (like my siblings).  I enjoyed studying Computer Science so much so I earned my B.Sc. with highest honors (ranked first in class). Not only that, but I was also offered a full-scholarship to purse my graduate studies at Queen’s University, School of Computing, but again I chose a less-travelled road with a specialization in Bioinformatics, which is the intersection between Computer Science and Medical Sciences.

Studying at Queen’s was a truly life-changing experience although my first year as an international student was a bit challenging. I needed some time to adapt to the new environment, culture, and long distance from my family back home in Egypt. However, when I started participating in extracurricular and social activities at Queen’s (e.g., Elected Student Rep at the University Senate) and the broader Kingston community (e.g., Member of the Organization Team of the Kingston Multicultural Arts Festival), the challenges turned into opportunities.  I received several awards at the departmental-level (featured in the PhD Handbook of the School of Computing), University-level (Dean’s Graduate Award), provincial-level (Ontario Graduate Scholarship), and prestigious national-level awards (NSERC Canada Graduate Scholarship and Post-Doctoral Fellowship).  I would not have had similar opportunities, if I did not push the border of my comfort zone, if I did not travel to study at Queen’s, if I did not take a less-travelled road.

During my second year at Queen’s, I participated in a Work/Study program. There were several on-campus job openings available at that time in the University library, cafeteria, Information Technology Store (ITS) and one at the Equity Office. I know many students already work in the University library, cafeteria, ITS store, but I did not want to choose a common road. I applied to the Equity Office. At the Equity Office, I had a unique opportunity to learn more about the equity issues in the workplace and the hiring process. A 6-month web developer position led to over a 6-year programmer/analyst position. I was recommending and implementing IT solutions to transform many of the office’s processes; therefore, producing a significant impact in the office and the broader Queen’s community.  I would not have made a similar impact, had I worked at a library or ITS store.  I would not have left a footprint, had I picked a common road.

After completing my graduate studies in Bioinformatics, the most common road was obviously becoming a University professor. But once again I did not take the obvious road. I moved to industry – I am now a Data Scientist at General Electric Aviation.  Aviation is a data-intensive industry, where data science has the potential to offer impactful insights and revolutionize existing traditional ways used to address their multifaceted business challenges. I feel honored to be part of the digital journey of one of the world’s largest companies and work on the most demanding problems of the world’s biggest airlines.

A former student of a Bioinformatics course (that I once taught before moving to industry), recently approached me asking for a career advice and whether he should go with the mainstream or pursue a unique graduate program overseas. I told him undoubtedly travel and explore your far-reaching options, not the easiest ones. But then I told him this is not an “advice”; it is perhaps a biased opinion based on my own personal experience. You should take the road that you think is better for you, not what somebody’s else “thinks” is better for you. The point is NOT to take the less-travelled road just for the sake of being different; the point is to take the road that you can make a difference through.  At least this is what I have been doing. This is what have made much difference in my career path.

It Takes a Native Student Association

In our final blog piece for the 2016-2017 year, we hear from Melanie Gray, a recent Queen’s graduate. In this piece, Melanie explores the concepts of belonging, connection and home through her experiences with that Queen’s Native Student Association.

I am incredibly honoured that I was approached to write a piece for the Together We Are blog about diversity and inclusion on campus. As a Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) woman, I am aware of the adversity facing indigenous people in contemporary Canadian society – and Queen’s is not exempt from that. I would love to only explore the positive aspects of equity on campus as it existed during my time at Queens, but that celebration is not possible without acknowledging the hard work of the indigenous staff and students before me.

It has been a long road to finding equity on campus for not only indigenous students, but also those of other cultures, religions, and identities. While there are many positive things currently happening on campus that foster equity, diversity, and inclusion, it is important to acknowledge the passion that went into creating this present space. I would also like to note that there is still significant work to be done in this field.

In order to accurately discuss diversity and inclusion in the context of Queen’s, and because I was a member for four years, I would like to explore the development of the Queen’s Native Student Association and the work they have done to be recognized by the institution. I would also like to acknowledge that Queen’s University sits on traditional Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee land.

I was fortunate enough to become a member of the Queen’s Native Student Association during my first year at Queen’s. Over the course of my undergrad I had the honour of maintaining several roles in the association – everything from general member to president. Due to the resilience of the members before our time, the QNSA I joined had a lot of strength and opportunity when it came to engaging with the community outside our space at Four Directions. The members in the years before me had done so much work to give future generations of indigenous students – QNSA members or not – a voice on campus. The generation before my time at QNSA had a significant role in the instigation of the reorganization of the Aboriginal Education Council at Queen’s. They were politically active in representing not only their members but all indigenous students. Their work allowed me to enter an inclusive and welcoming space in tune with indigenous student’s needs. A space where I grew as a person, battled the worst occurrences of my life, and enjoyed the fondest memories of my undergrad.

You see, I entered Queen’s at the height of my anxiety diagnosis. I was struggling with social situations and was not comfortable with my body or mind. On top of my personal struggles, my mother was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma first semester. If it had not been for the support and traditional teachings I received from QNSA and the greater indigenous community I would not have graduated. It is as simple as that. Having a space where I could explore my indigeneity made a whole world of difference in my Queen’s experience. I found a community that helped me foster my identity and was (hopefully) able to have the ability to do so for others. I also want to give a shout out to the indigenous students who graduated before me for challenging the traditional cap and gown graduation expectation in favour of wearing traditional regalia to the ceremony. Due to the actions of these resilient and passionate students, I was able to collect my BAH diploma wearing my first ever set of regalia. Here’s to the past and future generations!