Reflections on tragedy in our community

Is ‘Queen’s Loves U’ a necessary step for our community’s healing, or a shallow distraction from the real issues?

Elamin Abdelmahmoud, ArtSci ’11

There is no way to begin this but to acknowledge our scars. Some are as fresh as this past week, and the distant trauma from others is still lingering in our memory.

Over my time at Queen’s, so much tragedy has taken place. So much hurt has been felt. So much trauma was experienced, by so many of us. Times called on us to be strong and to break down; to be loud when speaking our voice and to take a moment and retreat to take care of our own health; to be consensus-building and to be disrupting. The terrible cases of isolation and voicelessness are wounds too fresh for so many of us.

These are the realities we have faced at this university. I acknowledge them in this article because it’s crucial to begin here. To ground ourselves in our pain is to also understand our drive and passion for change.

It’s important to face our scars, and recognize them as real. It’s important not to sanitize our experiences—the reality is that Queen’s campus can be an extremely alienating space.

It can be a space of isolation and of marginalization. For many students, it is. And so many try to speak up but are silenced.

Still, hope persists.

In the midst of it all, when I reflect on the Queen’s that I’ve witnessed, whether it’s from within the walls of the JDUC or far away from University & Union, I also have to take a moment to recognize that community exists.

Amazing people have come together to form alliances, create dialogue and start the process for change on so many issues. Strong people have come together for the purpose of healing together.

Today is an event entitled Queen’s Loves U. The event is designed to respond to the crisis in our mental health system.

Its spirit is simple: Health, Counselling and Disability Services is overwhelmed and cannot respond to the needs of the Queen’s community on its own.

So students, not knowing what else to do, will gather to support each other through this difficult time.

Regardless of the issue, the hope I speak about is the willingness of the Queen’s community to engage with the challenges that lay before it.

Our trials have been many, and our moments of forming community in order to respond have been just as numerous.

We have disagreed on how to go about bringing new realities to campus. The ideal environment on campus is defined differently by so many people, and many times these ideas have come into collision.

Queens Loves U has come under criticism for its approach to dealing with the crises at hand.

Those who are critical of the event bring up the correct point that Queen’s has been a place of negative experiences for so many, and Queen’s Loves U seeks to erase their experiences.

Queen’s, to me, is the collective experiences of all of those who have worked towards change on campus. All our disagreements on how one can improve the community should never amount to a disapproval of their efforts.

We lose so much when we think of Queen’s as the institution. Queen’s goes far beyond Richardson Hall, the Gaels, Boo Hoo the Bear and kilts.

Because of the atmosphere at this university or in spite of it, we all do different work with the expressed purpose of making campus a better place.

Queen’s Loves U and the conversation that has developed around it are typical examples of conversations we should never shy away from. That conversation is the very reason for being optimistic about Queen’s.

What we have learned, and what has continued to prove true is that while the institution has been stagnant, the conversations we have been having are making a tremendous impact on policies and atmospheres. We continue to educate each other on how to be responsible members of a community.

The Queen’s community isn’t perfect, but it’s bent on improving this campus whatever way it can. Even in the worst of times, that is never a weakness and can only be a strength.

This is what makes the hope live on, and what makes me proud to be a part of the Queen’s community.

Sometimes there is triumph and accomplishment. Other times—more times, it seems—there is tragedy and pain.

Unquestionably, all is not well at Queen’s. But the spirit of dialogue gives me the sense that all will be alright.

Today, let’s heal. Then, tomorrow, let’s go back to figuring it out.

Kavita Bissoondial, ArtSci ’10

During this, the final week of classes of my graduating year, I’ve been dealt a rather confusing hand. This week we saw the launch of the ‘Queen’s Loves U’ campaign.

The event’s aim is to encourage members of the Queen’s community to support each other. It has rapidly gained a lot of attention, amassing almost 3,000 attendees on Facebook and has sparked intense, heated conversation and debate online.

Why is this confusing to me? It’s because for the past five years I have struggled intensely with my identity as a Queen’s student. This school has been the source of much pain and anger for me, it has hurt and betrayed me repeatedly in so many ways that I’ve yet to understand or come to terms with.

When I talk about Queen’s, I’m referring to my collective experiences with professors, administrators and most often my peers. Queen’s has actually made me sick, and my relationship to it is fraught with anxiety, confusion and trauma. I don’t use that word lightly.

For many of us who fall outside of the margins of what is thought of as ‘normal’ or ‘desirable’ at Queen’s, we have been taught since the beginning that we were never meant to be here.

We were not supposed to exist in a space where we are despised simply for being who we are, be it non-white, poor, disabled, queer, trans, fat or as we’re coming to discuss now, if you have ‘mental health issues.’

For many of us, to survive at Queen’s tests every bone in our bodies. Sometimes it takes all the energy we have to keep ourselves afloat and often, we’re still drowning.

We’re told that silence is the key to survival. To talk about our issues is to raise a problem with the community and the community doesn’t respond well to being told it has a problem.

Often, this process of ‘coming out’ about being unable to survive in ‘the community’ turns into a trial where our experiences are brought up for others to determine their legitimacy. In many ways, this sends the message “be normal, get over your problem or shut up.”

In much of this discussion, it appears as if mental health issues are something we must learn to overcome in order to be considered ‘normal.’ What is lost in that message is the reality that mental health isn’t simply an issue you overcome. It is, like our race and sexualities, a part of us. Often we are truly unable to talk about it even if someone is there to listen.

The ‘it gets better’ message has the aim of providing inspiration, hope and encouragement but also often has the impact of isolating many and delegitimizing our lived realities. Especially those who are most vulnerable.

To say that Queen’s loves me is to completely ignore, dismiss and deny my five years at this institution and the trauma I am still working through.

I am both excited and saddened that we’re at a point where students are initiating dialogue around mental health, in spite of a lack of knowledge, resources and guidance from our administration.

However it’s important that we be self-reflexive in this process, understanding that there is no “ownership” over this issue, that we all have a stake in it and that we absolutely must be willing to learn to engage criticism without resistance.

Until we have a space where people feel empowered to voice their discomfort and isolation within efforts that seek to assist them and until those critiques are not met with defensiveness, real dialogue and change cannot occur. We must also be honest about the circumstances that we are in.

The lack of meaningful action from the administration in response to so many student deaths infuriates me.

Added support for Health, Counselling and Disability Services through the provision of active listening workshops available for students at large, the promotion of the Peer Support Centre, the development of a suicide prevention strategy in collaboration with the AMS, HCDS, Student Affairs and external groups such as the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention and the promotion of free resources by groups such as The Icarus Project are a few steps I feel we could have easily undertaken this year and still can with serious commitment on the part of our administration.

It’s not up to students alone to deal with this crisis, though we must be a fundamental part of any work that is undertaken to develop a safer campus for all.

I hope that we can be self-reflexive, reach out to others when we need to and really listen when someone else needs to reach out.

Creating our own spaces to talk about what a supportive mental health network looks like is necessary in both surviving and healing.

It’s only after five years here that I’m moving on to that next part, I hope you will too.

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