How to fight systemic oppression at Queen’s

Marginalized students must band together and speak up to effect significant change on social justice issues

This piece isn’t for you if you walk around vomiting privilege in every direction. It isn’t for you if you dismiss the oppression of real people as mere anecdotal evidence and claim it’s insufficient to draw conclusions from. We’ve written to you, reasoned with you, and spoken in cafés with you.

At this point, this article is born out of necessity, and it’s not a space originally intended for you so tread carefully.

Now, there’s you, friend. This was originally intended to be a satirical piece. Then I saw you out of the corner of my eye. You were broken, dismissed and silenced. This is for the days when you can’t laugh it off, like when I saw you the other day and you weren’t particularly up for the challenge of going through another day at this place. You didn’t have to say the words. We all know the look. This article is for you.

I’m surprised you made it past Frosh Week. Do you know how many people don’t make it past Frosh Week? I was one of the lucky ones. A word of advice: take some time discovering your foes’ traits. I say foes because there will be times you will feel as though your very existence is under attack. You will be denied the right to exist in peace. In that instant, intentionally or not, you will feel as though your enemy has just assaulted you with all their might. Your understanding of them is crucial to your survival.

For instance, nothing will make them see how they’ve undermined you. Nothing will help them understand how oppression works in a systemic way. A few might, but even when they do, they won’t see how they’re complicit.

The most important reason to discover your foes’ traits because some of them will become some of your strongest allies. Understanding your oppressors will come in handy when you’re shedding superficial relationships in favour of those with substance.

Your opponents won’t be gentle. Because they mark you as different, they’re going to try everything possible to wear you down. They’ll undermine all your stories of struggle and write them off as unrelated incidents. But you know—and I know—they’re related and systemic.

You’ll begin to associate with people of the same mindset—others who either survive oppression or their allies. At this point, your foes will call your groups things like “radical” and “left” (sometimes in the same sentence).

Ignore them. They don’t take into account the diversity of thought within your anti-oppression community. Embrace the variety of expression, because you will take solace in this when they call you the “radical left.” They’re wrong if they think their outdated concepts can adequately describe a community made up of both Right- and Left- and non-associated people.

But here’s where it gets better: you will meet a first-year who will ask you a generic question about Queen’s. Your response will inevitably be an honest one: you’ll say the things you liked and the things you struggled with. At this moment, you’ll feel as though you just did this person the biggest favour anyone could by giving them some kind of warning. Because let’s face it. You weren’t prepared. We were all unprepared for how oppressive this place can be. And you will set the cycle right. You will unmask the ugliness that Queen’s tries to hide. That will be the day when you feel as though all the work you’ve been a part of is so crucial.

An alumna wrote to the Alumni Review last month explaining that she and a few students performed a 24-hour sit-in in the principal’s office to protest the offensive residence rape signs in the early 1990s. Following, the scandal and the sit-in, the Board of Trustees gave Kingston Sexual Assault Centre $10,000 and the AMS and Senate initiated a review of Orientation and Homecoming activities. Their sit-in shaped the University’s response to the incident, as their conversations with the Principal directly led to appropriate measures being taken regarding the horrific incident.

Just last month, a group of students orchestrated the Rogue fashion show to redefine body image, social perceptions and ideas of self-love. Right in the middle of the Queen’s Centre, they reclaimed this campus as theirs to feel safe in and walk proudly upon. Onlookers, including Queen’s Open House attendees, watched the show and some were in tears at the end. Using wit and driven by the urge to correct injustices, a strong statement was made.

Queen’s is a better place today because of these courageous groups who stood up for what’s right, and took a step forward on behalf of those who feel silenced. There are so many of those groups and what you need to do is take refuge in the space they create. In that space, we find the strength and energy to move forward and redefine our existence so we are heard more clearly. Our persistence to exist and our insistence on surviving this harsh environment is a testament of the quality of work that the anti-oppression devotees before us have done. To them, we owe our ability to speak and influence discussions around campus.

I understand it’s difficult. Many get burnt out doing it. But I highly encourage that you speak up against the injustices you see. It’s not only for you, but it’s for those who are on their way to Queen’s University. The work of the anti-oppression community here continues to be an inspiration. Never give up the idea that we deserve space and respect, no matter how radical it might be.
Elamin Abdelmahmoud, ArtSci ’11, is the former ASUS President (2007-08). He’s now a student senator.

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