This year, instead of just ticking items off my New Year’s resolution list, I wanted to make some progressive long term change to help not just in school but in all aspects of my life. Part of my plan included attending more events on campus and improving my interpersonal skills to be more inclusive and critical in my dialogue and written work. Dropping by for an hour at Soup and Substance seemed to fit in perfectly to both of those initiatives. Did I mention there was a free lunch included?
The office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion has been holding frequent sessions on topics that affect us all since Fall 2013. University, out of all places, should never be somewhere you do not feel safe. Learning should be the centre point of our goals, especially when we are paying to be here. Topics discussed at Soup and Substance strive to improve life on campus for staff and students by getting their voices heard first hand, and engaging in critical discussions. There are also amazing guest speakers that come in to facilitate talks on the issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion.
The Soup and Substance I attended in particular was dedicated entirely to student voices and experiences. It was part of a larger series to talk about how someone’s social location can impact how they experience larger global and local events and in turn how they experience the Ryerson campus culture. I attended “Student Voices: Challenges & Experiences on Campus” and the panel had representatives from Muslim, Israeli, trans, feminist, Indigenous, and Access communities. Here are some things I learned:
Student Voices Need Staff Support
Professors and TA’s roles are to mediate the class as they hold the authority. If they do not use inclusive language, what kind of example are they setting for their students? Representatives on the panel expressed concern that professors often do not acknowledge the correct pronouns in classrooms. Language prefered by individuals needs to be discussed with professors to ensure these instances are avoided. Moreover, the university can communicate with transit staff for vigilance when visible minorities are travelling to make sure violent and racist acts are not committed during students’ commutes.
The “Education is Key” Rule Actually Has To Be Implemented
We always say that education is everything but what is it really if it excludes certain folks? Though Indigenous studies is offered as a certificate in Chang School, why isn’t it a degree offered, considering Ryerson’s location on Aboriginal land and our country’s history? Also, professors and staff should receive regular training or workshops on how to facilitate discussions of topics of diversity and equality. Professors also need to understand that if a person from the minority group being talked about in class is present, they are not the representative of the entire community nor should they be put on spotlight to speak in class unless they choose to do so themselves.
There are Privileged Persons within Minorities, too
What I found very humbling was that though one may come from a minority, we can still carry privilege. The students speaking not only acknowledged that but quoted that since they may have invisible privilege, they do not face as much discrimination as other folks. For example, a Muslim man advocated for Muslim women as visible minorities while in hijab; a white person from the trans collective recognized that trans people of colour experience more discrimination, and a Jewish woman said she can fly under radar as she may pass as ‘white’ unlike some of her peers.
Student Leadership Initiatives CAN Make a Difference
Just to list some, there are unisex washrooms on campus, almost all lecture halls and university events are access friendly, and branches like the office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion exist. Sometimes students aren’t taken seriously and that can weigh heavy on us, but it is also something that makes us want to work harder to do better and create change.