Pointing out the problems & seeking the solutions

From campus diversity to town-gown tensions, organizers of the Student Symposium on Queen’s Identity hope that active discussion will lead to decisive action

Members of the committee organizing the Student Symposium on Queen’s Identity, from left to right: Frances Darwin, Laura Stoll, Alex Van Der Muelen, Lindsay Patrick, Aaron Lemkow and Jonas Gerson.
Members of the committee organizing the Student Symposium on Queen’s Identity, from left to right: Frances Darwin, Laura Stoll, Alex Van Der Muelen, Lindsay Patrick, Aaron Lemkow and Jonas Gerson.
Darwin said the symposium isn’t about Homecoming but about the events that caused it.
Darwin said the symposium isn’t about Homecoming but about the events that caused it.
Journal File Photo
Former AMS President, Greg Frankson, will emcee the symposium.
Former AMS President, Greg Frankson, will emcee the symposium.
Journal File Photo

Frances Darwin is the first person to admit that talking alone won’t solve problems.

Instead, the ArtSci ’07 student and director of the September 18 Student Symposium on Queen’s Identity hopes that by facilitating discussion about issues like campus diversity and tuition hikes, the event will push students, faculty and Kingston residents to take action and address problems in their community.

“We’re not looking for solutions. We’re just looking to make people aware that issues exist,” she said. “I find that at Queen’s there is a lot of ignorance. People are pushed to do well in their classes, and they don’t take what they learn in the classroom and apply it to the outside world.” Along with a committee of students and alumni, Darwin has spent a year planning the symposium, which will be held in Grant Hall and will feature a documentary created by the committee, free food from University clubs and Kingston farmer’s market vendors, and a performance by the Golden Dogs.

“Our crude marketing slogan is free food, free music, free movie,” she said. “Hopefully this will give people an extra little push to come out and share their opinions.”

Darwin said she was motivated by last year’s Homecoming events to plan the symposium, which will focus on seven topics: diversity, student apathy, education and curriculum, sustainability, Kingston and Queen’s relations, Queen’s identity and tuition.

“We tried to pick vague topics that would allow for discussion of anything someone wanted to talk about,” she explained. “There is a lot of overlap, but this is good; we want people to see how things are connected and how these connections may have been what allowed something like Aberdeen to happen in the first place.”

Although the symposium will occur directly after Homecoming weekend, Darwin said there were difficulties booking Grant Hall, which caused what she called “unfortunate timing.”

“We desperately wanted to hold the event there; it is so symbolic and the architectural epitome of Queen’s,” she said. “The timing is my most sincere worry. We want to reinforce that the event isn’t about Homecoming, but the events that caused last year’s issues to happen.” Darwin said that although she had hoped to hold the symposium last year, it was difficult to obtain adequate funding.

“A big obstacle was funding. Eventually, I learned that if you really want funding, you don’t fill out forms; you go to the heads of departments and you ask personally,” she said.

Darwin said that the committee eventually received a total of $5,500 from an AMS special projects grant and several University departments.

Greg Frankson, ArtSci ’97 and Ed ’99, will emcee the symposium. Frankson said he spent much of his time at the University lobbying for increased acceptance of diversity, including the creation of the Sutherland Prize in memorial of Robert Sutherland, the first black Queen’s student. He said he hopes the event motivates the community.

“I think Queen’s is more diverse now than when I was a student, but it lags behind more urban schools like U of T in both diversity and how it handles this diversity,” he said. “The symposium needs to be the catalyst for action. There is no more time for messing around.”

Although Darwin and Frankson both said they want to promote progressive ideas and decisive action, sociology professor Richard Day, who is interviewed in the symposium documentary and hopes to attend the event, said he thinks students need to look at how questions are being asked in the first place.

“Everything is about so-called engagement. If I hear that word one more time, I’ll vomit,” he said. “Let’s challenge what engagement means, where it comes from. Maybe that is some of what will go on at this event; people will challenge the questions.”

Day said that while he supported the goals of the event, he wants community members to change their focus.

“A lot of the questions being posed are the same as those asked by the University administration, and these questions assume certain kinds of answers,” he said. “We use pretty words instead of talking about what’s really happening, like ‘why is Queen’s so racist?’ versus a liberal framework like ‘let’s talk about diversity.’”

Participants will be divided into discussion groups led by student mediators. Darwin said the mediators were trained to keep a neutral perspective.

“We’re working with 10 mediators right now, training them to handle different situations,” she said. “The main role for the mediators is to listen; we don’t want someone radical to control the discussion, but listen and moderate it instead.”

After the discussions, organizers said they hope participants will turn words into action by getting involved with the student-run clubs that will be set up around the periphery of the room.

“Students can visit these clubs to start getting involved,” Darwin said. “It gives people a chance to get moving and make changes.”

Committee member Jonas Gerson, Sci ’08, said he hopes the symposium becomes a recurring event.

“The ideal outcome, in my mind, is to have this become a yearly event supported by the University, with students, professors and residents coming out and presenting their ideas,” he said.

Gerson added that he wanted the symposium to prove that students cared about their community.

“People here are talented, interested and motivated by their subject matter. Student apathy is an illusion; people are doing things, but it is so fragmented,” he said. “By doing this, maybe we can motivate talented people to unify and act.”

Claire Baillie, an applied science professor interviewed in the symposium documentary, agreed that student apathy isn’t the real issue.

“I don’t really relate to the word apathy; I think it’s a question of motivation,” she told the Journal. “There is potential for students to do great things, but we aren’t tapping into it.”

Baillie also said she thought the University could do more to help students consider the implications of their behaviour.

“Class size is very important. When you’ve got 600 students, there isn’t enough care and attention to help them think through the challenges and deeper problems,” she said. “We want students to think about the environmental and social implications of the work they might go into, so that they start to think about the daily impact of what they’re doing.”

Darwin said she heard similar frustrations from several of the professors she interviewed for the documentary.

“I think there are quite a few professors frustrated by the university situation, who feel like they are held down by the system. They don’t feel like students want to be involved in community change,” she said. “One of the reasons I want to invite professors is so that they can see that Queen’s students want to make a difference and are interested in positive change.” Darwin said she hopes to write and release a report summarizing the symposium discussions, and the committee plans to broadcast a longer version of the documentary with footage from the event in the winter semester.

No matter what the outcome of the symposium, Day said, he’s thankful that members of the University community are finally aware that things need to change.

“I think it’s good that Queen’s is being woken from this outdated, 1850s slumber,” he said. “It is just now beginning to deal with things that other groups worked out half a century ago.”

What to expect: a guide to the student symposium on Queen’s Identity

The symposium will be held on Sept. 18, 2006 at Grant Hall.

The event will kick off with speeches from organizer Frances Darwin and emcee Greg Frankson, followed by a 30 minute documentary featuring interviews with University students, professors, and Kingstonians.

Participants will then be divided into discussion groups, with rotating topics from 7 p.m. until 9:40 p.m.

Discussions will be interspersed with 10 minute breaks to visit student club booths and enjoy free food from Kingston vendors.

Finally, guests will enjoy performances by both Frankson and The Golden Dogs.

Anyone interested in attending the symposium can pick up an invitation from event organizers on University Avenue and Union Street all week. The event is free of charge. Invitations will also be distributed in community mailboxes and handed out on Princess Street. For more information, visit queensidentity.org.

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