Trade the student apathy for student activity

Students should engage in more grassroots efforts like petition signing or holding rallies

Photo: 
Students from Students Taking Action Now: Darfur protested on campus last week.
Students from Students Taking Action Now: Darfur protested on campus last week.
Credit: 
Journal File Photo

Approaching the final six weeks of my time as AMS social issues commissioner, I find myself like a lot of my counterparts: in a state of reflection.

I’m a bit of an anomaly having received the honour of being selected a member of the AMS council, starry-eyed and inexperienced at the end of my first year at Queen’s. I honestly had no idea what was in store for me, and if I were to do it again, I’d do a lot differently.

However, my experience has taught me a lot and offered me a unique perspective into problems existing on campus. How can Queen’s be better? Well, like the rest of Canada and the world, obviously Queen’s would be much better if we were able to eradicate sexism, racism, homophobia and all other forms of discrimination. However, instead of compiling a litany of problems on campus, including the inaccessibility of many campus buildings or the sometimes too-quickly dismissed discourse on the culture of whiteness, I would like to touch on some of the barriers that exist for groups and individuals that work tirelessly to address these crucial issues.

First off, I believe Queen’s students have too often underutilized their ability to act as driving forces of change. There are exceptions to this statement, of course, but I find it so disheartening to have discussions with students who have no idea about important campus issues and/or simply don’t care. This sort of student apathy impedes the evolution of social change on campus. I’ve heard one administrator say, on more than one occasion, that Queen’s students think too much with their heads as opposed to their hearts. In my view this apathy translates to a tragic lack of empathy.

The technological revolution has also greatly altered student activism. Many students are content to try and make change from behind their computers, often anonymously. This stands in great contrast to eras past, where students would not hesitate to stand loud and proud behind their messages by taking them to the streets and personally engaging with their peers.

Movements have become fragmented. Signing an e-mail petition simply does not have the same effect as a rally with banners and signs. Signing and forwarding an e-mail petition does not truly engage one with an issue. Despite this critical barrier, change on campus is possible and does happen. However, groups need to educate themselves on the most useful channels through which this is achieved.

I think a group that has been really effective at this recently, has been STAND (Students Taking Action Now: Darfur). The group has met and made presentations with administrators, the Society of Graduate and Professional Students and the AMS. They have presented realistic goals with professionalism and have made great strides in their efforts to have the University divest from Darfur.

One quick tip: the people who hold the power to make changes at the University are more likely to listen to you if you have the support of students elected by their peers. Aside from elected representatives, mobilizing other students can be extremely helpful. However, people that are spearheading new initiatives have to be willing to demonstrate understanding and realize that a lot of people, in the course of their loves before Queen’s, may not have been exposed or recognize the inequalities and human rights violations that have been lived in the lives of others.

In other words, what is obvious to some may not be so obvious to others. When attempting to find supporters for an initiative, methods are often as important as the message. Too often this year I’ve witnessed groups in a state of frustration alienating people that, with some education on an issue would otherwise be fantastic allies.

Patience needs to be demonstrated with people who are uneducated or ignorant of your fight. To gain the support of the people, you have to make them feel personally invested in your cause. This is achieved by making positive communication a priority and reminding students of their power. The more unified the student voice is, the more likely student demands for a sustainability office, fair trade purchasing policy or other initiatives to be prioritized, will be met.

Finally, acknowledge your successes. Incremental progress is still progress.

—Allison Williams is a second-year political studies student and is the out-going AMS social issues commissioner.

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