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This is us...Basmah Rahman

This is us...Basmah Rahman

[photo of Basmah Rahman outside McArthur Hall]
Bernard Clark

Basmah Rahman outside McArthur Hall

Basmah Rahman, ConEd'19

Ms. Rahman just completed her BA in English and is now pursuing her BEd with a focus on teaching intermediate-senior classes (grades 7 to 12).

Last year, she became involved in the English department’s diversity committee, which was tasked to examine how courses in English include (or don’t include) writings by authors from equity-seeking groups and then suggest changes to the department’s curriculum. The committee was struck in response to the recommendations of the Principal’s Implementation Committee on Racism, Diversity, and Inclusion (PICRDI). “Lots of students were finding that there wasn’t much diversity in the works we were reading,” says Ms. Rahman, “just a lot of old white men! So we came up with suggestions, did surveys, and we’re still working on it into the summer.”

Why is representation important in an English syllabus?

“It’s really for engagement. That’s a huge one. In some classes, there aren’t that many people of colour, so already you feel scared to talk. When there’s no work that represents you, it makes you feel even more scared. Imposter syndrome is real! And I felt it, from first year all the way up to third year. I think in fourth year, I got my footing. But I think lots of us are scared to talk about our viewpoints. And for many students, English isn’t even their first language, so that’s another hurdle.”

“Basically, I’d be in the classroom and when someone was talking, even if I had an answer, it just felt like I didn’t belong there. I remember I was questioning whether I should pursue English, especially in second year – it was in an English 200 lecture and it was so big. I just felt like I didn’t belong at all. I never spoke up.”

In another class, she was uncomfortable when reading Thomas More’s Utopia and coming across a passage about foreign slaves. “So everyone was raving about the book, and I just put up my hand and said ‘Umm … I’m not feeling it!’ It was a utopia for a certain class of people, but others were brushed aside.“I have a laid-back approach to talking about how I feel. I use humour a lot more than actually saying ‘This is wrong!’ all the time. I feel it is easier to connect: otherwise,people may label you as ‘that bitter POC.’ And unfortunately, if people do that, they will quickly start to filter you out. So I use a more comedic approach to explain myself and judge for myself when to directly call people out.” She still sees the value of reading books like Utopia, but also knows the benefit of making time and room in the classroom for discussion of topics that don’t resonate with everyone.

“Even if the curriculum doesn’t always include works by people of colour or different sexualities or different genders, we could still approach those perspectives through theory. I think that would be very useful, if we were just introduced to scholarship that approaches things in different ways. So it’s not just about having that person of colour in the text, it’s being able to see them.”

This summer, Ms. Rahman began working with Youth 2 Kingston, a regional initiative of youth advocating for youth. “We work with different groups within Kingston, like ISKA [Immigrant Services Kingston and Area] and Youth Diversion and other groups that cater towards kids and help them adjust to Kingston life and really get involved in the community.

“It can be really daunting for immigrant youth. Everyone around you already has their friend groups; there may be a language barrier. So we work with them. It is a job, but it’s more fun than anything. Anything they are interested in, we help them pursue. We create those connections and guide them to the right place to seek help or information.” They also connect young people (ages 12 to 24) with opportunities on the Mayor’s Youth Council, MP Youth Council, and MPP Youth Council. These councils enable local youth to share their perspectives and priorities with their government representatives. “We did away with resumés for the applications: if you have a 12-year-old and a 22-year-old applying for a role, obviously the 22-year-old will have more work experience on their resumé, and not just babysitting. So instead, we have them write about why they are interested in the position. This made me really happy because it supports accessibility and representation of different age groups within the community.”

 

[cover graphic of Queen's Alumni Review, issue 3-2018]