Student clubs inspire & infuriate

Whether good or bad, on-campus clubs are close to the centre of student life

Credit: 
Supplied by Emily Townshend

With over 250 student-run clubs, Queen’s has more clubs per capita than any school in North America except Harvard. 

Getting involved in a student-run club gives students the opportunity to be part a group focused on anything from social causes to healthy eating to Quidditch. 

Emily Townshend, Sci ’15, says her involvement with a Queen’s club has been a defining element of her Queen’s experience. 

Townshend became an instructor at Science Quest, a non-profit student organization, the summer after her second year. 

Science Quest runs workshops and summer camps to educate youth about science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Townsend, who had gone to a Science Quest camp as a child, said joining the camp changed the course of her time at Queen’s.

At the start, though, she said she was uncertain whether she’d be a part of Science Quest at all.

“I almost didn’t get hired as an instructor. It was last minute, someone quit and I was still unemployed and they hired me two days before camp started,” she told The Journal via email. But after she joined, she said it gave her renewed purpose and a new home.

Three years later, she’s a Senior Instructor at Science Quest this summer and the School Year Clubs Coordinator for the club next year.

“I’ve done a lot of other stuff with the Engineering Society, but Science Quest will always be first in my heart,” she wrote.

The AMS clubs system gives students a means to engage in virtually anything that excites and interests them. 

But it hasn’t been without controversy. With a student population with wide-ranging passions and personal beliefs, this freedom has also created tension between students. 

Clubs Controversies

Men’s Issues Awareness Society

Before the club’s event that would bring Dr. Janice Fiamengo, a controversial anti-feminist speaker, onto campus, a group of students in opposition attempted to have the group de-ratified as an AMS club. 

The vote to de-ratify failed at AMS Assembly — a meeting of student leaders with representatives from each faculty society — and the hour-long event proceeded with hundreds of student attending. 

During her talk, Dr. Fiamengo questioned the authenticity of commonly cited statistics on sexual assault, referred to “safe spaces” as a means to stifle free expression of ideas and described modern-day feminist activists as “totalitarian”.

Queen’s Alive

Queen’s Alive is a campus pro-life club. In the spring of 2015, a Queen’s student  accused the club of spreading misinformation about abortions and collecting biased survey data to support their claims. 

The club ran a booth on campus where they surveyed students about their knowledge of abortion laws. Club members informed students passing by that women can get an abortion up until the day a baby are due, which some students said was erroneous. 

Few hospitals and clinics perform abortions upon request past 20 weeks of pregnancy, and those abortions performed past 20 weeks are usually in response to a life-threatening medical emergency, according to the Canadian Federation for Sexual Health.

The club’s then-president, Christine Helferty, defended the survey by stating that the club aimed to “educate people that human life does indeed begin at the moment of conception, and see if they also believe [that] that human life is equal to all other human life”.

Queen’s Students for Liberty

In April 2013, the Queen’s Students for Liberty erected a “free speech wall” to encourage students to freely express their opinions. In the evening after the club installed the wall, university security guards took it down, stating that it contained “racial slurs” and “hate speech”.

Queen’s Students for Liberty opposed the wall’s removal, arguing that nothing on the wall constituted hate speech or violations of Canadian laws. The student group, which still operates on campus, promotes the ideals of “freedom, libertarianism, classical liberalism, and Austrian economics”, according to their club description.

Ability to restrict membership based on race, religion or social status

In 2005, the Alma Mater Society (AMS) discovered that a religious club applying for re-ratification changed their club constitution to restrict membership to certain demographics. 

After a lengthy debate, the AMS passed a policy amendment that allows certain clubs to limit their membership on the basis of race, skin colour, religion or social status where it’s necessary for the club to fulfill its mandate. 

The amendment, made on the advice of the Queen’s Human Rights Office,  was reportedly added to reflect a provision in the Ontario Human Rights code. The provision lets organizations restrict membership to a particular marginalized group to correct an existing power imbalance. 

For example, the Ontario Human Rights Code permits women’s shelters to hire only female workers.

The original version of this article mispelled Emily Townshend's last name. The spelling has now been corrected. The Journal regrets the error.

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.