Celebrating human rights

The Human Rights Office celebrates 20 years of supporting the Queen’s Community

Irene Bujara, director and Stephanie Simpson, associate director of the HRO.
Irene Bujara, director and Stephanie Simpson, associate director of the HRO.

The University began its focus on human rights with the creation of the Queen’s Human Rights Office (HRO), now celebrating its 20th anniversary.

The HRO, which opened in 1992, mediates human rights abuses on campus and educates students as a preventative measure against such abuses.

Queen’s was one of the first universities to create an entire department dedicated to human rights, according to Irene Bujara, director of the HRO.

This Thursday, the HRO will be showcasing commissioned student artwork to mark two decades on campus.

Faith Ringgold, a feminist, anti-racism activist and artist, will speak at the celebration.

“You still get the incidents that are not that dissimilar from 20 years ago,” Bujara said. “The difference is that there is a faster understanding … students tend to very quickly examine the situation and recognize that there was a problem.”

Projects such as the multifaith calendar and the creation of Queen’s Positive Space Program are some of the most notable endeavours that the HRO has undertaken.

The multifaith calendar, an online resource that displays important religious days for a variety of faiths, is the first of its kind for a university, said Stephanie Simpson, associate director of the HRO.

Positive Space strives to create a campus that is hate free, and to provide spaces that support students who identify with the LGBTQ community.

Since its inception in 1999, the Positive Space Program has over 800 participants on campus. Participants serve as an educational resource to students about LGBTQ issues and are responsible for creating “positive” spaces.

Although students are more aware of what constitutes abuse, incidents of racism, homophobia and sexual harassment, in particular, continue to plague the campus, she said.

Other than sexual harassment, Queen’s has historically had issues with racism and discrimination on campus.

In 2007, a black faculty member was subject to verbal harassment by four students wearing Engineering jackets, who spewed racial slurs at her.

Bujara said that in terms of diversity and racism on campus today, much can still be done to make campus a more inclusive space.

“Words are fairly simple. But what actual action that you take to ensure that you are progressing on that front, that seems to be a little more complicated,” she said.

Simpson said students can be conscious and hinder possible future abuse by recognizing that everyone does not have the same experiences.

“People can refuse to be bystanders, they can take a step back and reflect on what’s being said or done … [it] truly creates and inclusive environment for everyone,” she said.

“[Students] have a lot of influence and power, and the ability to say something can make a huge difference in people’s experiences.”

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