Our failure to acknowledge different perspectives sets back our progress

Over time, my complacency about campus advocacy has transformed into a desire for change

Pravieena believes that complacency isn't only a Queen's issue, but a global one.

When I was in my final year of high school at a diverse school, I remember telling my friends I was planning to accept my offer to Queen’s. I was instantly told about the university’s stereotypes: that it’s a snooty school that’s predominantly white. I brushed off these comments and refused to let my friends kill my vibe—I was excited to attend a school that had such a beautiful campus, and that embraced traditions and community.

Then, I went on to complete my first year at the Bader International Study Centre (BISC) in the UK. I distinctly remember feeling out of place—there weren’t many students who looked like me. It didn’t prove an issue for me though, since our mandatory BISC courses focused significantly on culture and community. While the castle wasn’t a perfect experience, I met some of my best friends at the BISC.

The next year, all 100 or so of us in first year at BISC came to Kingston. Here, we split into cliques. I was a Don in my second year and, as I met other Dons, I encountered some really nice, passionate people. The Dons I worked with were dedicated to fostering a safe, educational environment geared toward social change and advocacy work.

Then the racist party of 2016 happened. I was shocked when I saw photos of students actively participating in cultural appropriation. I’d surrounded myself with so many thoughtful people at Queens, which also meant I’d been living in a bubble of naivety—I assumed that everyone was like those thoughtful peers.

I’d surrounded myself with so many thoughtful people at Queens, which also meant I’d been living in a bubble of naivety [...]

The incident reminded me of my high school friends’ comments about Queen’s stereotypes. The University started making national headlines. My family members in the GTA started texting me to ask what was going on, and if I was okay.

In that moment, I didn’t know if I was okay. I reminded myself the party was wrong, and as a self-proclaimed optimist at the time, I challenged myself to speak up using social media. I shared Facebook posts that condemned the students’ actions, supported my residents and peers, and talked to the Residence Outreach Counsellor.

That same year, a student called me an “exotic mitt” on social media. For those who don’t know, those are two deeply offensive words. "Exotic” was presumably referring to my Sri Lankan background, whereas “mitt” is a horrible derogatory term used to describe women. I barely knew this student and had no public presence on campus, so I couldn’t understand why he did it.

During the next few years of my undergraduate degree, I noticed that these hate-fueled issues on campus were becoming increasingly frequent. With each of these instances on campus, I felt more and more hopeless.

When Jordan Peterson came to campus in 2018, I found myself disagreeing with those who protested him. I wondered why we couldn’t have peaceful conversations to educate each other on different perspectives. I remember thinking at the time that Jordan Peterson had every right to speak about what he believed in—free speech is an essential right.

But the more people talked about his speech, the more uneasy I felt. I realized that, no matter how important free speech is, I didn’t know the other side of the story to the true extent—that basic human rights were being dismissed based on discrimination against people with different gender identities. I based my opinion on what I was initially hearing: complaints about protestors and people being “too sensitive.”

As a result, I began to surround myself with people who had differing opinions about the protests and the speech. I used to think of it as seeing “both sides of the coin” until I realized that there are actually more than two sides to every story.

This comes up all too often in my studies as a global development and gender studies student. When I tell people what I’m studying, they either give me a blank stare or ask me about my job prospects. But I also encounter a handful of those who ask: “So, are you going to change the world?”

This question has always bothered me. One person can’t change the world, especially when we constantly finding ourselves divided.

I see it on campus all the time: when we disagree with each other, we decide to argue about it on the Internet. I’m guilty of this, too.

After the Coronavirus-themed party, I felt a sense of hopelessness once again. We’re one of the most prestigious schools in the country, the admission process is supposedly competitive, and yet we’ve made national news for hosting racially insensitive costume parties more than once?

I decided to use the Facebook to showcase my resistance and frustration. I posed the question, “Why are y’all so racist?” to the 30,000-member group, Overheard at Queen’s. I sincerely wanted answers. More than 700 people expressed similar feelings in the comments or by liking the post, but a large amount of people questioned me. Most of the students were white. It made me even angrier.

White people told me—a brown woman who has experienced racism on campus—that my broad statement implied that Queen’s as a whole is racist. The hypocrisy of that frustrated me.

Of course, I don’t think that everybody is racist at Queen’s. But I do think that as students, we are often more inclined to be complacent of our school’s racist history, and the gaslighting that occurs on this campus. “Gaslighting” is when you make somebody feel that their experience isn’t valid enough to turn into a progressive conversation.

A lot of people on campus tend to gaslight others, telling them how they should feel.

I was gaslighted by the students who challenged my question on Facebook. But as a student here, I have every right to question the system that makes me and so many others feel this way.

But as a student here, I have every right to question the system that makes me and so many others feel this way.

As an outspoken student, I’ve been told on numerous occasions to “let go” of certain things or to “accept” opinions different than my own to broaden my horizons. But the road to broadening my horizons has been made more difficult in the face of adversity, and I know I’m not alone.

When I reflect on my years at Queen’s, I can identify what helped me when I felt like I wasn’t being seen, heard, or validated on campus. Specifically, I joined extra-curriculars with anti-oppressive mandates and surrounded myself with students that take part in and support equity initiatives.  I made an effort to find people to listen to me and to talk to people who share their differing or similar opinions, without negating my feelings and experiences.

On top of all of this, I adopted the mindset of not expecting to find people that agree with me about everything. I think that would be a boring way of looking at the world.

Complacency isn't just a Queen’s issue. It’s a global one. Our failure to acknowledge different perspectives sets us back as a whole. But listening alone won’t create change either. We have to question the systems that divide us.

We need to collaborate with the people who are willing to listen—the bigger the group, the more perspectives.

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