Poor attention span for issues on campus

Why we need to do more in the aftermath of events at Queen’s

Gillian speaks to  how students forget about important issues as new ones arise.
Gillian speaks to  how students forget about important issues as new ones arise.

Hey Queen’s, I think it’s time we talk about our attention span issue. In the past year alone, we’ve forgotten an unacceptable number of incidents that at one point were major sources of disappointment or outrage.

You likely already know what I’m talking about, but for the sake of clarity let me provide some examples. I’m talking about the racist Beerfest party, another year of “Daughter Drop-off” signs and the recent reporting that has highlighted a lack of resources available to victims of sexual assault at Queen’s.

These issues have each had their brief moments of infamy. In the immediate aftermath, we throw up our arms, attend protests and create a social media buzz demanding change. But eventually the outcry fizzles, and ultimately, each issue has gone under-addressed overtime. 

It’s not tough to understand why this happens. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve let my anger dissolve before I’ve even given myself the chance to act. With balancing schoolwork, extra-curricular activities  and a social life, it’s difficult to stay engaged throughout the school year. 

It’s also hard and uncomfortable to confront issues of systematic ill-treatment that many of us unknowingly contribute to especially when you feel like you’re speaking alone.

When the racist party first happened at Queen’s, I was on exchange. I found out about it when another student pointed to a HuffPost article with a knowing, “Don’t you go there?”

I immediately felt impassioned and geared up to join the change makers when I returned to Queen’s. But when I finally got back, no one was talking about it anymore. I for sure wasn’t going to be the only one, so I let it slide and then I got busy, all without making any sincere attempt for change.

In addition, motivating yourself to act is hard when it’s not clear how to contribute to meaningful change. This is often the case at Queen’s, especially because we expect our administration to do that for us. In many ways, it’s reasonable for us to expect school officials to be working to ensure our wellbeing, comfort and safety. But increasingly we are learning that we can’t relyon it. 

Chalking up the administration’s careless buzzwords — like “committee” or “working group” — as victories and staying comfortably complacent isn’t the right thing to do. By not keeping the school’s administration accountable, we allow them to not act on the recommendations they made during ourinitial anger. 

Nothing gets changed and we allow the process to continue, continually brushing these issues under the rug until they bubble up again. 

Yes, our administration is inexcusably shrugging off their responsibility to provide us a safe environment. However, our inaction is equally part of the issue. 

For one, our inaction as the student body is unacceptable because it fails the victims and survivors of events that have already occurred. It lets down those who are already suffering. In cases where racism is perpetuated, our inaction suggests we’re unconcerned with the comfort, security and wellbeing of our students of colour. 

While this isn’t necessarily what we mean when we skip that rally we clicked “interested in”, it’s nevertheless the message we send.

Maybe even more importantly, inaction communicates that our community tolerates this behaviour and what it represents. When we don’t condemn and punish these actions, we don’t make clear that we find them inexcusable and their repetition unacceptable. 

We contribute to a culture that’s conducive to more offenses because we don’t tell likely perpetrators that they will be punished or shamed. In addition, when we don’t view these offenses as an opportunity to educate, we allow negative stereotypes and beliefs to continue.

In some cases, people don’t even know that their actions are harmful until you’ve had a sincere conversation with them. Inaction and silence perpetuates larger systematic issues like racism, sexism and rape culture on our campus. 

It contributes to inexcusable manifestations of hate and violence, and it tells some of our peers that they should not feel equally as safe and welcome here at Queen’s. 

Regardless of our intentions, inaction breeds an unacceptable culture that continues to privilege some at the expense of others. 

What I never realized before was that you can’t be neutral in these instances. 

Neutrality implies staying out of it and by doing so we silently consent to the maintained dominance of some over others. By not speaking up, we signal approval to those harming the individuals already systematically unprotected by our society. 

Essentially, what I’m trying to get at is that if you’re not working towards the solution, you’re contributing to the problem. 

The question then becomes ‘what can we do to help?’ For one, we can keep our administration and public officials accountable, even after the recommendation report comes out. 

Currently, this looks like tweeting at Principal Woolf and telling him to implement the on-campus Sexual Assault Response and Prevention centre that was outlined in the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Working Group Report. 

Perhaps you email the Deputy Provost of Academic Operations and Inclusion and demand to know the status of the 2016 Principal’s Implementation Committee on Racism, Diversity and Inclusion. 

Talk to the people you know in student government and email the Rector. The AMS even has a handy contact form on their site for you to voice your concerns. 

Next, it’s important to voice your disapproval to the community at large. Doing so and continuing these hard conversations is maybe the only way to make lasting cultural changes. 

Consider doing so on a national platform, like Letters to the Editor at the Globe and Mail or National Post. Continue to have these conversations with your friends and peers. Tell your neighbours that their spray-painted bedsheet is tacky and shut down racist jokes when you hear them. Share on social media your discontent and your support for the victims and survivors. 

Making noise is a good thing. It tells administrators they have to make change, signals to perpetrators their actions aren’t acceptable and supports those suffering in silence. All we can do is stay engaged, but I think a lot of the time we underestimate how indispensable the involvement of individuals really is.

It’s so important to remember that we can make a difference. Continued complacency and willful ignorance by the student body cannot continue if we want to create a place that is safe and welcoming for all. 

Gillian Moir is a fourth-year Politics major. 

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