Deconstructing the student identity

Student-run symposium set to discuss Homecoming weekend issues

Francis Darwin, ArtSci ’06, is determined to make an organized student voice heard on the topic of Homecoming.

“Students need to take intellectual responsibility, not only for constructively thinking about what happened at Aberdeen [Street], but also about their identity in general,” Darwin said. “Once you expose the structures of your own identity, you are able to understand other people’s identities more clearly.”

Darwin is organizing the first student-run symposium following Homecoming, which she has tentatively named “Student Symposium on Queen’s Identity 2005.”

The symposium will discuss more than just the events of Sept. 24, she said.

“I think that the reaction [to Aberdeen] caused a lot more passion than action itself,” she said. “I think this symposium [will] give people the chance to think constructively about their social situation and identity.”

An estimated 5,000 to 7,000 people flooded Aberdeen Street on the Saturday night of Homecoming weekend. Kingston Police arrested 36 partiers, laid about 20 criminal charges and administered at least 324 tickets for liquor license infractions. Aside from emotional reactions, the event has prompted University-wide discussion regarding issues such as race, class, culture, power and identity.

Darwin said she was motivated to organize a symposium after attending a sociology class about student power.

“I was very upset to realize that in our contemporary time, students are viewed and view themselves as having one kind of power—and that is consumer power,” she said. “I think that we should realize we are a very privileged group of individuals with experiential knowledge and an education which offers us power that we don’t utilize, which is our intellectual power.”

Darwin added she thinks the discussion surrounding the “Aberdeen riot” and the “Mercier controversy” exposed issues like race, culture and identity that are usually hidden from students behind a Queen’s aesthetic, referring to the “Queen’s bubble” and the general atmosphere of the University.

“If these ideas are not intellectually medicated, they are going to scar over and fade. In other words, they are going to slip back into the darkness of ignorance.”

Darwin said she attended an Aberdeen-related symposium organized by Samantha King, a professor in the School of Physical Health and Education, on Oct. 12, and thought it was “brilliant.”

“I loved it, but I was disturbed by the number of students that weren’t there,” she said. “I really want to ensure that the symposium that I am creating reaches out to a larger amount of students.”

Darwin said she realizes it’s students’ responsibility to get themselves involved.

She will also film a documentary about the whole process, she said.

“I want to document the process of students learning to cooperate with each other and learning to reclaim their responsibility to think,” she said.

She said she thought the opportunity for students to be self-critiquing doesn’t come along very often.

“I think that life is searching for your identity, but rarely do you have people come together to create a positive goal to aspire towards,” she said.

She added that the student-run symposium will directly relate to the vision outlined by Principal Karen Hitchcock in her discussion paper, “Engaging the World.” “I think you could look at Aberdeen as an example of some of the issues facing the world today,” she said. “Engaging in a discussion like that is also a ‘common quest of discovery ... to enrich our global community.’ ”

Hitchcock’s discussion paper, published in the the Oct. 11 issue of the Queen’s Gazette, envisioned the University “as an institution international in scope and international in impact ... deeply engaged with and responsive to the society which supports it.”

Darwin said she has received a passionate response from a number of students who want to help.

She organized a meeting, open to all students, which took place last night at The Grad Club and discussed the direction the symposium is headed.

“Hopefully those students and I will go to the AMS assembly to discuss our perspectives to the AMS,” she said.

Darwin said a date hasn’t been set for the symposium because she is working out details with some AMS members.

The AMS has been working on a similar activity, and two symposiums are unnecessary, she said. “So if the opportunity arises that the AMS would like me to help them about their symposium on Aberdeen, then I will most likely do that.”

She said however, the symposium she’s suggested wants to look at something different.

“I think the AMS is offering the ability for individuals to get grievances about Aberdeen off their chests, and my particular perspective is that it is not about individuals. It is about a culture.”

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