Letter to the Editor: February 11th

Dear Editors,

“With an open heart, we can worry less about which side has been wronged and worry more about joining sides to do right.” - Obama

Since its founding in 2015, the Queen’s Female Leadership in Politics Conference (QFLIP) has periodically been criticized for a lack of diversity. I am a black woman who co-founded the conference, chaired it for two years, and passed it on to capable women. This criticism haunts me.

The first time someone told me that individuals of minority identities would not feel as though QFLIP was a space where they would feel welcomed or represented, I wept. I was embarrassingly still at the conference, but I was inconsolable. From QFLIP’s inception at a Ban Righ table, I looked at my co-founder Rachel, and thought:

We are two minority women in Queen’s Politics, trying to start a community where cultural capital can be acquired for the cost of a conference ticket – instead of a life of privilege. Women have worked so hard to be at Queen’s, and are so bold to show an interest in politics. What a sneaky and strategic way to showcase all the women of Queen’s in front of decision-makers, giving them a chance to network in the political realm, which is steeped in privilege and shared identities. It is our platform, and we will create a home where all you need is an interest in politics to be in the room.

Through a recently published op-ed and comments over the years, I have learned that my initial vision is not always perceived by attendees or generally on campus. Through conversation and deep reflection, I decided to write to The Queen’s Journal, the same platform that recently published an op-ed on this subject, because my resolve is as strong as it was six years ago. QFLIP is not perfect – but it was founded and runs exclusively on people getting up and trying their best to create positive change. So, this is a call to action. I am hoping to open up a dialogue and reach into the extensive cast of fantastic feminists at Queen’s who may be able to help QFLIP on its journey to solve these representation issues. 

As a co-chair, I struggled with:

1. Securing a diverse range of speakers

If there are speakers that inspire you that you’d like to see at the conference, please send them to the QFLIP executive team. We attempted to contact Barack Obama to speak during year one; no one is too aspirational for the QFLIP team.  I distinctly remember being in Mac-Corry at midnight, whiteboarding political actors from non-traditional backgrounds or identities. We tracked down ALL of their emails and got ignored or a no about 30 times per tentative yes. My mom used to text me the name of every black person she saw on CBC and say, “Maybe QFLIP?” It is also important to note the pipeline issue that produces far fewer individuals with the legal, political, and business acumen to make them desirable speakers for a conference that has attracted Ministers, Massey Lecturers, the PMO’s Director of Communications, and many others: these individuals face systemic barriers to achieving success in these exclusive spaces. We are only human; we aim to have a wide reach and each team has worked tirelessly to include diverse representation, but we pull from our own experiences and knowledge, so help us pull from yours!

2. How to ensure a diverse executive and conference attendees

The demographics of Queen’s are not a secret, but there are brilliant people from complex identities on that campus. I know that because I have met them; there are brilliant people with complex identities everywhere.  You know where I find it easy to talk about being a black woman interested in politics and my personal experiences? In rooms full of minorities. You know where I find it tough to be a black woman talking about politics, but I feel like I’ve made my most significant contributions? Queen’s, the London School of Economics (where I now study), the government, and every non-identity based space I’ve been in. The former sustains me, the latter is where I make change. QFLIP becomes one group of women’s space when only one type walks in. But no identity is monolithic, so I even take issue with that claim. Psychological, financial, cultural, and attitudinal barriers exist to being apart of QFLIP but there are no structural barriers to my knowledge. Breaking down the existing barriers and assumptions cannot be accomplished by the executive team alone. It is also pertinent to note that QFLIP has allowed all those who have contacted the team to attend at a reduced or no cost in the last 2 years, even if they were unsuccessful in getting an AMS grant. Never count yourself out – QFLIP has space for you.

Some spaces lack diversity due to injustice, but there are also spaces that people choose not to enter because they’re scary or because they have a certain reputation: this is valid. However, when you keep that door shut, you miss out on all the beautiful things that lay behind it: you miss the chance to help build a critical mass, you can’t correct misinformation, and you inadvertently perpetuate the same system that you are trying to dismantle.

 I am incredibly proud of QFLIP. It took me years to say it and own it, but I am proud that Queen’s University has a female-driven conference about women and their role in politics that has attracted incredible speakers. I am proud of every co-chair and every executive member that has taken on the challenge. I am grateful to every delegate, executive applicant, and attendee of our events. I urge everyone to remember that even if this year’s speaker roster was not representative of all identities, this does not mean that the invitations weren’t. Conference speakers drop out, have other obligations, and sometimes say no! One of my favourite political actors from an underrepresented identity told me how difficult it is to balance all the invitations they receive, and how they wish there were more of them so they could be represented at every event. It is also important to remember the phenomenal women of minority backgrounds who have graced QFLIP with their wisdom and expanded our minds, including but not limited to Member of Parliament Celina Caesar-Chavannes, CEO and Founder of Assembly of 7 Generations Gabrielle Fayant, the beautiful words of poet MayaSpoken, legal scholar Hadiya Roderique, and countless others.

When Obama mentioned call-out culture, he aptly said:

“That’s not activism. That’s not bringing about change. […]If all you’re doing is casting stones, you’re probably not going to get that far. That’s easy to do.”

I ask – both the QFLIP and Queen’s community–  how will we get further? I open and value criticism about QFLIP that is informed, constructive, forward facing, and action-oriented. Every individual who decides to step into scary spaces and take action instead of choosing comfort – you are getting US further. This is how far QFLIP made it in our first five years, and I hope you join us in our next five.

Sincerely,

Caroline Marful

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