A history of triumph & setback

We will only achieve a truly equitable campus environment when we learn from our past, for good or bad

Wesam Aleyadeh, ArtSci ’13
Wesam Aleyadeh, ArtSci ’13
Equity is only possible when we’re honest about our past.
Equity is only possible when we’re honest about our past.

Wesam Aleyadeh, ArtSci ’13

At Queen’s, we talk. We raise awareness. We let students know how they perpetuate marginalization on their campus.

We “call each other out” to challenge oppressive practices and thoughts. We talk about racism, sexism, homotransphobia, classism, ableism, ageism, colourism and how these are all forms of discrimination against those who deviate from what is commonly thought of as “the norm.” We talk about the dark moments in our history. We talk about the time we decided to expel black medical students in order to please racist soldiers and hospital patients.

We talk about how we named a university pub, Alfie’s, after a man who was made to live with a bear in the boiler room of what is now Humphrey Hall.

He was publicly mocked and ridiculed by staff, called names such as “black bastard” and hosed down with water in an attempt to “bathe” him. We then ended up selling his clothes and belongings to pay for his funeral costs.

We talk about how we named the room next door to the Principal’s office (which is considered to be an extremely important space) after an adamant anti-Semite, A.E. Collins, a former trustee and alumni association president who actively petitioned the principal at the time to restrict the admittance of Jews to the University.

We talk about the Henry Report, which was written in response to the departure of six indigenous female faculty members and members of colour, who cited racism as the reason for their departure.

The report concluded that it is not only overt forms of racism—which do occur on campus—that pushed these women out, but more so the culture of exclusion and subtle forms of racism.

We also talk about the shining moments in our history. We talk about how we’ve been pioneers in the past leading the charge towards reform of Canadian universities to a more ‘diverse’ structure.

We talk about how we notably accepted Robert Sutherland, allowing him to become the first Black university student in Canada.

A few years later, he graduated from Queen’s, enhancing our reputation as an iconic university for all members of society.

Friends of Sutherland recalled that he often said Queen’s was one place where “he had always been treated as a gentleman.” His donation was the largest in Queen’s history and helped us battle our way out of poverty.

We talk about Alfred Bader, an Austrian Jew of Czech descent, who was rejected by McGill because of their Jewish quota at the time.

He went on to become one of the most successful Queen’s graduates and a prominent donor to our university.

Queen’s, we’ve had our bright moments and our gloomy moments. And we continue to talk about them.

All we can do is learn from our history. We need to stop arguing about how good or bad we’ve been in the past.

We must accept that we’ve done some right things and we’ve done some wrong things.

It goes without saying that we can’t change them, unless we have our very own DeLorean DMC-12. So what can we do now? What do we need to do now?

We tokenize these good moments in our history even though they are far outweighed by our past and present oppressive culture. We need to be honest with ourselves if we are to move forward.

We are all one body when dealing with subjects relating to equity. Everyone should be striving towards a safe and nondiscriminatory campus.

Everything that we do goes back to Queen’s and our image, but more importantly, it goes back to our students and those who continue to feel marginalized at Queen’s.

We have many resources on campus, including the Social Issues Commission, the Human Rights Office, Queen’s University International Centre, the Equity Office, various student-run clubs and initiatives that are in place to serve students hungry for knowledge. It is time we start using these resources and get educated.

Many oppressive words and expressions have been normalized in our slang. Many oppressive ideas have been normalized in the way we live our lives.

When we are told we are not allowed to say something (e.g. “I got raped by an exam”) or do something (e.g. dress in blackface for Halloween), we immediately go on the defensive and feel attacked.

We blame the “PC” police, without stepping back for a second, and thinking about how our actions create an unsafe space for “different” people.

We do not stop to think about how those actions have historically marginalized communities, and how perpetuating them only makes our university less equitable and tarnishes our image.

We need to realize that we are on the same side, striving for the common goal of representing Queen’s as best we can.

Those of us who are well-versed in these issues need to address them with the assumption of lack of knowledge and those who are unfamiliar with equity-related issues need to keep an open mind, listen and learn.

We are the ones able to make a difference. And I mean a real difference. It should not be restricted to student leaders to influence positive change.

We need to start addressing issues of equity in our everyday life. No more blaming or getting defensive. No more polarizing. No more attacking. I have faith in you, Queen’s. Don’t disappoint your community.

Wesam Aleyadeh is ASUS Equity Officer.

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