Cross­ing lines

A re­flec­tion on be­long­ing at Com­mu­nity En­gage­ment Day

The McGill Daily - - Commentary - There are still some avail­able spots to reg­is­ter for one of the many CED ac­tiv­i­ties, all of which are free. To see how you can par­tic­i­pate, visit www.cedm­ Syd­ney Sheedy Commentary Writer

We are all em­bed­ded within com­mu­ni­ties. There are those which we have worked hard to be ac­cepted into, those we have out­grown, those within which we are grouped against our will, and those which may tran­scend na­tional di­vides, his­tor­i­cal pe­ri­ods, and even phys­i­cal realms. But what does it re­ally mean to “be a part” of a com­mu­nity, and what con­sti­tutes an ac­cept­able per­for­mance of be­long­ing?

With iden­tity pol­i­tics per­vad­ing ev­ery thread of so­ci­ety, we tend to be­come ob­sessed with who be­longs in a space more than oth­ers, and for­get that there are many dif­fer­ent ways to cross the lines that keep us par­ti­tioned. Just last week, when I in­vited friends to come to In­dige­nous Aware­ness Week, more than once I was asked if they, as non-in­dige­nous folks, were al­lowed to par­tic­i­pate. While it is im­por­tant to re­spect that not all move­ments and spa­ces will want or re­quire your pres­ence, those who are not In­dige­nous, in this in­stance, are ex­actly who need to lis­ten to and learn from the dis­cus­sions that are be­ing held by In­dige­nous writ­ers and lead­ers. The spirit be­hind Com­mu­nity En­gage­ment Day (CED) comes from this logic: that the things that have his­tor­i­cally sep­a­rated us (some more vi­o­lently than oth­ers) re­quire dif­fer­ent ap­proaches and strate­gies to be over­come, and show­ing up to the dis­cus­sion, and lis­ten­ing to how you can help, is the best way to start.

CED is an in­vi­ta­tion to con­sider those bor­ders that we may ex­pe­ri­ence be­tween each other, and to take dif­fer­ent ap­proaches to ex­pos­ing them, mov­ing them, dis­solv­ing them, or cross­ing them, as well as think about how we can help oth­ers do the same. Ac­knowl­edg­ing the dif­fer­ent lines in the sand that may iso­late us from one another, and con­sid­er­ing our var­i­ous re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to con­front them, is the only way we can be­gin to make room for the dif­fer­ent re­al­i­ties we all ex­pe­ri­ence while still fa­cil­i­tat­ing an ar­chi­tec­ture of in­clu­sive­ness. The ac­tiv­i­ties, work­shops, and con­ver­sa­tions that make up CED are meant to en­cour­age a dis­cus­sion on the mean­ing of com­mu­nity, and to ex­pose those who may eas­ily sub­scribe to the “Mcgill” moniker (and its ac­com­pa­ny­ing re­sources) to dif­fer­ent con­stel­la­tions of com- mu­nity that ex­ceed our ter­rains of com­fort. Ex­ist­ing un­der the Mcgill um­brella does not pre­clude us from other iden­ti­fi­ca­tions or ties we may have, but in­stead in­ter­twines with them to pro­duce new po­ten­tial en­tan­gle­ments, per­spec­tives, and op­por­tu­ni­ties for work­ing with each other.

Far from in­di­cat­ing that com­mu­nity en­gage­ment can be suf­fi­ciently wrapped up in a one- day or week­long event, where the Mcgill pop­u­lace can ‘try on’ and then shed sol­i­dar­ity lenses, CED in­spires us to prac­tice re­source-shar­ing and to re­flect on how one (whether they be staff, fac­ulty, or stu­dent) is si­t­u­ated within a greater web of com­pan­ion­ship, in the hopes of adding to a larger con­ver­sa­tion about what it means to con­trib­ute. As Veron­ica Am­berg, di­rec­tor of the So­cial Eq­uity and Di­ver­sity Ed­u­ca­tion (SEDE) of­fice which hosts CED, points out: “We are all part of the com­mu­nity in which Mcgill is sus­pended … a big part of SEDE’S mis­sion is to foster more eq­ui­table re­la­tion­ships with the out­side com­mu­nity, and in­te­grate those per­spec­tives into the work we do.” Many of the ac­tiv­i­ties, such as the drop in at St James, in­volve guided re­flec­tions built into the pro­gram for just this pur­pose, so that ev­ery­one in­volved has a chance to ar­tic­u­late their im­pres­sions and dis­cuss how their pre­con­cep­tions may have changed as a re­sult.

The idea be­hind CED is not sim­ply to of­fer an extracurricular op­por­tu­nity for stu­dents, but to en­cour­age ev­ery­one on cam­pus to rec­og­nize their own po­si­tion­al­ity with re­spect to Mcgill as an in­sti­tu­tion, and how they can lever­age the var­i­ous priv­i­leges this may award with sup­port that moves out­ward to myr­iad oth­ers. Work­shops such as Eq­uity 101, Anti- Op­pres­sive Child­care, and Col­lab­o­ra­tive Men­tal Health all of­fer per­spec­tives and strate­gies on how to build more ac­com­mo­dat­ing and eq­ui­table com­mu­ni­ties, and panel dis­cus­sions such as “Tak­ing Your Knowl­edge Out­side the Class­room” of­fer tech­niques on how to bridge the­ory with prac­tice in re­spon­si­ble ally­ship. Ac­tiv­i­ties that in­clude doc­u­ment­ing sto­ries at the Mon­treal LGBTQ com­mu­nity cen­tre, pre­par­ing re­source pack­ets for queer and trans in­car­cer­ated peo­ples, and de­liv­er­ing meals with Santropol are just some ex­am­ples of di­rect links forged be­tween par­tic­i­pants and those they will meet, which puts the needs of the given com­mu­nity at the cen­tre. Events tak­ing place at Wel­come Hall Mis­sion, Tyn­dale St Ge­orges, and Chez Doris, to name a few, ex­pose vol­un­teers to the re­sources dif­fer­ent com­mu­ni­ties have in their neigh­bour­hoods, and shed light on the spe­cific chal­lenges they may face.

See­ing Voices Mon­treal, which is host­ing a Deaf Cul­ture & Amer­i­can Sign Lan­guage work­shop for the fourth time, claims “CED has been a great an­nual event that has be­come more suc­cess­ful year af­ter year. We have been able to ex­pose lots of Mcgill stu­dents and staff to the Deaf com­mu­nity and we are grate­ful that CED part­ners with us again and again.” Over the past six years that CED has been run­ning, the So­cial Eq­uity and Di­ver­sity Ed­u­ca­tion (SEDE) Of­fice has en­joyed stronger ties to the com­mu­nity part­ners they work with. This has al­lowed them to re­flect on what it means to carry out eq­ui­table re­search, and how it im­pacts var­i­ous com­mu­ni­ties, and this has ex­panded into pro­grams such as the Ex­pe­ri­en­tial Com­mu­nity-en­gaged Learn­ing & Re­search (EXCELR) pro­gram, which com­bines th­ese ques­tions with aca­demic work in the class­room.

Along­side the typ­i­cal off- cam­pus vol­un­teer­ing events, the past few years have also seen a no­tice­able in­crease in in­ter­est for ac­tiv­i­ties such as eq­uity train­ing, which gives stu­dents and staff the tools to fa­cil­i­tate a more ac­count­able cam­pus. Host­ing events such as the Rad­i­cal Ac­ces­si­bil­ity Au­dit- othon, Café Col­lab’s sto­ry­telling café, and the Evo­lu­tion of Men­tal Health Ser­vices on Cam­pus gives op­por­tu­ni­ties for peo­ple who usu­ally ex­pe­ri­ence ac­cess bar­ri­ers to share their thoughts and to net­work with oth­ers to talk about ways of mov­ing for­ward. Ini­tia­tives such as th­ese pro­ceed from the no­tion that we can­not hope to of­fer sup­port for those out­side our com­mu­ni­ties with­out also ex­am­in­ing the fis­sures within.

It is not the re­spon­si­bil­ity or re­quire­ment of those from marginal­ized com­mu­ni­ties to teach oth­ers about op­pres­sion, in­ter­sec­tion­al­ity, and ac­ces­si­bil­ity. It is up to those who en­joy a cer­tain amount of priv­i­lege to cre­ate sup­port­ive en­vi­ron­ments where th­ese chal­lenges can be ad­dressed, and to hold the mic for oth­ers to do so. In set­ting up part­ner­ships with var­i­ous or­ga­ni­za­tions around Mon­treal, Com­mu­nity En­gage­ment Day at­tempts to cre­ate the con­di­tions for dif­fer­ent venues and or­ga­ni­za­tions of com­mu­nity build­ing to pro­lif­er­ate out­side of the lit­eral and fig­u­ra­tive Mcgill gates. How­ever, it is up to you to take the steps to make that cross­ing, whether you will be danc­ing, glid­ing, walk­ing, or wheel­ing across.

With iden­tity pol­i­tics per­vad­ing ev­ery thread of so­ci­ety, we tend to be­come ob­sessed with who be­longs in a space more than oth­ers, and for­get that there are many dif­fer­ent ways to cross the lines that keep us par­ti­tioned. Ini­tia­tives such as th­ese pro­ceed from the no­tion that we can­not hope to of­fer sup­port for those out­side our com­mu­ni­ties with­out also ex­am­in­ing the fis­sures within.

Peo­ple on Com­mu­nity En­gage­ment Day. Syd­ney Sheedy | The Mcgill Daily

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