With students starting to plan their Halloween costumes, two groups on campus have begun a conversation surrounding cultural appropriation.
On Monday, the Committee Against Racial and Ethnic Discrimination (CARED) and the Levana Gender Advocacy Centre co-hosted an open event to discuss cultural appropriation. The two groups provided students with tips on recognizing and addressing appropriation on campus and beyond.
“We were extremely happy with the turnout on Monday night,” CARED Co-Chair Nisha Khanmaini said in an interview with The Journal. “It showed us that many Queen’s students want to engage in dialogue about cultural appropriation and are interested in educating themselves.”
As a committee within the AMS Social Issues Commission, CARED is an educational committee that examines racism and discrimination on campus and seeks to provide racialized students with a safe outlet to vocalize their experiences. The Levana Gender Advocacy Centre is an on-campus organization whose mandate includes ongoing programming to advocate on issues of gender and oppression.
To orchestrate discussion, CARED co-chairs and a panel of AMS Commissioner of Social Issues Ramna Safeer, Queen’s Native Students Association Co-President Sarah Hanson, Director of the Queen’s Human Rights Office Stephanie Simpson and Levana Gender Advocacy Centre Board Members Asha Gordon and Nadia Mahdi were asked how to effectively address cultural appropriation and be an ally to all students.
“I think part of conversations around appropriation involve effective ‘ally-ship,’ and part of that is recognizing where spaces are that you should be occupying and spaces where effective ally-ship looks like just listening,” Safeer said during the discussion.
Hanson noted it’s important to ensure that the voices of affected groups, namely Indigenous peoples, aren’t drowned out in conversations of appropriation of their culture. “We’ve been stifled for so long,” she said.
For Mahdi, the most effective way to address appropriation is by doing research and learning about what different aspects of any given culture represent. “When we do appreciate specific non-sacred items when we’re using other parts of the culture that we aren’t explicitly told we’re allowed to, we must treat them with respect and give credit where credit is due,” she said.
The discussion was the main event of the week-long campaign, featuring a pledge to commit to beginning open dialogue against cultural appropriation.
“We’re hoping to get a large body of supporters to pledge to appreciate and not appropriate cultures at Queen’s,” CARED Co-Chair Tatyana Gudge told The Journal.
“I think it’s really clear that people want to have this conversation,” Safeer told The Journal following the event. “One of the goals was to create a space where conversations around appropriation would be accessible.”
Anyone who signs the pledge will receive emails both before and following Halloween weekend. These updates will show what progress has been made and how the conversation can continue beyond the discussion event.
The campaign also features four posters that will be showcased around campus, which will address common cases of cultural appropriation in mainstream culture. “Appreciate not Appropriate” buttons for students to wear are available at the AMS Offices, Print and Copy Centre and Tricolour Outlet.
“A lot of people are doing everything in their power to move us forward. That’s going to take a long time and part of campaigns like this is not to end in a week, or a day when the campaign’s over — but to continue conversation and recognize that this is year-round,” Safeer said.
She added that anti-racism work has been “on the radar” throughout the University, given the work of the Principal’s Implementation Committee on Racism, Diversity and Inclusion and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
“Particularly following some of the more racially charged events of last school year, we were lucky that racialized students were once again very vocal in feeling isolated and feeling like their experiences were being erased. And I think we owe it to them to have this conversation,” Safeer said.
Access to the pledge is available online through the AMS website. The site also features an educational chart comparing different forms of cultural appropriation and how to recognize their existence.
Safeer remarked that following the events of last school year, the atmosphere at Queen’s hasn’t seen a substantial change. She hopes that opening the dialogue will allow the community to move forward and create a safer environment for racialized students on campus.
“There’s still a lot of work that needs to be done,” she concluded. “But the best thing about having this discussion tonight and pairing with CARED or Levana is leaving feeling like we did move forward.”
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