AMS Special Project reveals history

Project explores history of marginalized identities at Queen’s over 169 years

Gerri Lutaaya, ArtSci ’10, is researching the history of marginalized identities at Queen’s for an AMS Special Project.
Gerri Lutaaya, ArtSci ’10, is researching the history of marginalized identities at Queen’s for an AMS Special Project.

When Safiah Chowdhury saw a photo of the 1896-97 AMS executive she was a little bit surprised.

“I noticed there was a man of colour in the council,” the AMS president said.

The man’s name is unknown but Chowdhury said attending Queen’s as a non-Caucasian student in the 1800s and becoming a member of the AMS executive makes the man’s history one worth investigating. To do so, she started up an AMS Special Project which has yet to be officially named.

According to Chowdhury, funding for the project is coming jointly from the AMS and the Office of Advancement.

“The funding for the summer research position is something we partnered with Advancement over. Money for the rest of the project will be coming from the AMS,” she said, adding that aside from paying the researcher, the only major cost is for the exhibit.

After research is completed, a visual exhibition will be made on campus in order to inform the Queen’s community of the project’s findings.

Gerri Lutaaya, ArtSci ’10, the researcher for the project, is going to put the exhibit together once she has come to some conclusions but said she is still focusing on gathering information at this point.

“I met with all kinds of different people. I spent a lot of time in Queen’s archives and went to the Journal,” she said. “This job was a lot about meeting with people, talking and getting their different perspectives on events that took place on campus.”

Lutaaya’s research meant she spoke to professors, staff, faculty and students, many of whom had been marginalized themselves.

“Basically, the project is looking at the history of the AMS and the history of Queen’s through photos etc.,” she said. “We want to highlight contributions of people and inspire a greater consciousness of what has helped shape the Queen’s we know.”

Lutaaya cited the example of Queen’s alumnus Alfred Bader, BSc ’45, BA ’46 and MSc ’47.

“He wasn’t accepted at McGill because there was a Jewish quota,” Lutaaya said, adding that Queen’s accepted Bader and as a result the University has benefited greatly. The Baders have made numerous donations to Queen’s including Herstmonceux Castle in England.

As a Global Development Studies major, Lutaaya said she knew a lot about the history of marginalized identities at Queen’s even before starting the project; however, she was astonished at the history she uncovered.

“I was really surprised at how much I didn’t know and that re-emphasizes the need for this project. We need to know what’s going on at this university and what’s happened,” she said. “We’re just trying to generate awareness.”

The project could potentially cover much of Queen’s history, Lutaaya said, which includes the following incidents.

In 1890, Alfred Pierce began sleeping in the boiler room with the mascot Boo Hoo the bear and the unnamed Black man took office with the AMS a few years later. Since then, there have been many more instances wherein students, staff and faculty have been impacted by their race, gender, sexuality or nationality.

In the early 1990’s, a student ran a call centre for Heritage Front, a white supremacist group formed in 1989, from her residence room in Vic Hall.

In 2004, professor Frances Henry concluded in the Henry Report that “white privilege and power continues to be reflected in the Eurocentric curricula, traditional pedagogical approaches, hiring, promotion and tenure practices and opportunities for research” at Queen’s.

In 2008, Rachel Kucharczuk, ArtSci ’09, found her car outside her home defaced with anti-Semitic comments.

Lutaaya said these and other recent events will be incorporated but that the project won’t focus solely on positive contributions made by individuals. Research into controversial and negative incidents in Queen’s history will be included too, such as recorded instances of discrimination.

“Negative things can stir positive outcomes,” she said. “From those instances, we’ve seen those things and said ‘that’s not okay.’

“Safiah and I know there’s a lot of information [in] over 169 years of history. We narrowed it down to a couple of people and different groups on campus such as Alfie Pierce, Robert Sutherland, aboriginal groups, sexual diversity, women and gender issues,” she said.

“I’m definitely trying to get the entire history but it’s really, really hard. We are including more recent stuff too like the emergence of different clubs, underrepresented groups on campus and things like the Henry Report. We want to include things people are aware of and also expose them to new things. We also need to think about what we’ve done and the achievements we’ve made.”

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