Soup builds community at Queen’s Ban Righ Centre

‘I came for the soup. I stayed for the people’

Image by: Curtis Heinzl
People stop by the lounge between classes for jigsaw puzzles and peanut soup.

Serving soup to female-identifying students has been a staple at the Ban Righ Centre (BRC) since its inception in 1974.

Every day during lunch, BRC work-study students, staff, or guest chefs cook a vegan, nutritious soup to be served to students with bread or rice.

According to BRC newcomers Emmanda Zhang, ArtSci ’23, and Sam Lacy, ArtSci ’23, their visits to the BRC started with soup, but soon turned into breaks to rest and rejuvenate.

Zhang and Lacy expressed feeling Queen’s campus was hostile at times. As a racialized student, Zhang has simultaneously felt invisible to her peers and hyper-visible for her differences.

“I was going through a really hard time in terms of being able to afford food consistently or prepare meals with school being rough. [Lacy] was talking about Ban Righ and how they provide soups for that purpose,” Zhang said in an interview with The Journal.

“I learned the power of a good conversation and being fully fed—both emotionally and physically—with soup.”

  The Centre’s nearly 50 years of archives and history is documented.  Photo by Curtis Heinzl

The BRC was founded to support mature female students at Queen’s who have experienced a gap in their higher education experience. The community has evolved to include undergraduate, graduate, professional, domestic, migrant, and international women students.

“Ban Righ provides an emotional safeness and it’s also a physical safe space,” Lacy added. “I’ve seen [Zhang] passed out on the couch here—you can’t do that in most places on campus.”

Situated in an old house, the BRC has quiet rooms for studying and napping, gathering spaces, counselling services, and a breastfeeding room.

BRC Director Susan Belyea was herself a mature student, completing her PhD at Queen’s while facing food insecurity. She understands how difficult it can be for mature female students to navigate the Queen’s community in both academic and social settings.

“Money is a universal challenge,” Belyea said. “We do whatever little things we can [to] take the economic pressure for our students.”

Unlike other services on campus, the BRC intentionally limits its formal programming, instead focusing on fostering community.

“Staying fluid and small and nimble and not over-programming things is what’s really lets us respond quickly to things going on,” Susan Belyea, BRC director, said in an interview with The Journal.

“If we need to make space for our Iranian students to have a conversation about violence and misogyny in Iran, we have a space to do that. If Turkish students need a space, they have a space to do that. When queer and trans students need a place to paint flowerpots, there is a place for that to happen,” she added.

The BRC provides advising for students, with advisors Lisa Webb and Taylor Cenac providing emotional support and triaging students to other services on campus to address the individual’s needs.

“A lot of our student advising is actually just reminding students that they already have done really hard things, and they already have a whole lot of internal resources—they are worthy and capable,” Belyea said.

“What happens is students engage with each other and can help each other, and it all happens over soup.”

 The Ban Righ Centre is located on Bader Ln. beside Ban Righ Hall.  Photo by Curtis Heinzl

The BRC provides $150,000 to $180,000 annually in bursaries available to mature, female-identifying students in financial need. However, BRC users report it’s the BRC community that is most valuable to them.

“I ask myself, ‘What can you do for them?’ For the international students, the mature students, and the students with children,” Ozlem Atar, a student representative to the BRC board said in an interview with The Journal.

Atar is a student from Turkey completing her second PhD, studying migration narratives for people moving across borders in North America.

For Atar, a chair in advisor Lisa Webb’s office has served as an “unofficial therapy chair.”

The BRC serves students searching for a safe space on campus, with 50 per cent of consistent visitors identifying as international students and 33 per cent identifying as mothers.

“As an international student, you hit walls,” Atar said.

“You’re separated emotionally and physically from your family [and] there can be financial hardship. This is where I’ve built my second family.”


A previous version of this article referred to Oziem Atar as a postdoctoral student when she is in fact completing a second PhD. The article now reflects this.

The Journal regrets the error


Ban Righ Centre, Mature, racialization, students, women

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