Queen’s lacks the social advocacy, progress, & morality it prides itself on

Only ‘tolerable’ discourse is accepted at Queen’s

Student reflects on the dissonance of social justice at Queen’s.

I never expected to be involved in social justice and advocacy.

I’m a first-generation Canadian born in a major city. I was raised in a relatively conservative immigrant family who came to Canada after escaping a war that tore my homeland wide-open along its ethnic and religious fissures.

Disturbing the establishment was never in my high school plans. I was a brown kid who spoke Arabic in public, making grown folks look at my family with terribly concealed suspicion.

In my world, advocacy meant a future of social ostracism. I was taught that silence was compliance, not complicity. Being quiet was framed as being considerate or respectful.

I was told that no well-raised person should be getting involved in others’ business.

I applied to Queen’s in 2016 without considering my racial identity.

I never considered that I was walking into a predominantly white school. More importantly, I never realized how much silence was ingrained in me until I saw others like myself on-campus fighting to have their identities recognized and protected—brown, Black, Indigenous, and Asian activists, LGBTQ2S+ advocates, and Jewish and Muslim revolutionaries.

I learned that in this world, we have to uplift each other to be recognized as equal students. After seeing my racialized peers in action, much of what I studied and participated in went towards learning how to make things easier for racialized and cultural minorities—to understand why we had to fight and how we could win some recognition.

We all hold shared beliefs and use them to motivate us in our advocacy. Unfortunately, it’s tough to stay true to those beliefs when an entire community is ready to silence your voice.

In the past two years, I’ve seen Queen’s students come together to achieve amazing feats. We’ve made a tangible push towards divestment from fossil fuels thanks to the efforts of groups like Queen’s Backing Action on Climate Change (QBACC), and last summer marked a momentous push for the affirmation of Black rights and recognition of the discrimination faced by Black students at Queen’s.

Unfortunately, such movements only seem to thrive in specific circumstances. Alongside incredible student advocacy, there are blatant reminders of the underlying racism in our community. 

On Apr. 5, 2019, students walking through Summerhill to BioSci saw anti-Semitic and racist graffiti sprayed across the sidewalk.

On Oct. 10 of the same year, a disgusting poem was posted on the door of a fourth-floor Chown Hall residence room, an Indigenous and Allies community area, threatening racist and homophobic violence in prose.

Indigenous flags have been repeatedly torn down from the Four Directions Indigenous Student Centre, one of the few spaces designated as safe for Indigenous folks at Queen’s.

Various Instagram accounts, including the widely-publicized ‘Stolen by Smith,’ have highlighted the undeniable racism and microaggressions within the Commerce community.

The coronavirus party in 2020 accused Chinese students of bringing COVID-19 to Kingston, and was attended by a former Undergraduate Trustee.

Above and beyond all else, I cannot begin to comprehend how students advocating for the safety and liberation of Palestinians—an internationally recognized oppressed peoples—can have their physical and mental wellbeing put in danger.  

For an institution that claims to uphold values of social advocacy, progress, and morality, there seems to be an awfully noticeable lack of it.

Pro-Palestinian stances on campus are condemned and buried under threats. Queen’s has a history of boycotting and divesting from apartheid governments, but our community seems to have forgotten this in favour of ‘neutrality.’

It’s been made abundantly clear that only ‘tolerable’ discourse is to be accepted at Queen’s University.

For a group of people flaunting Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility across their social media in the summer of 2020, a good number of Queen’s students have shown themselves unable to cope with their flaw of neutrality.

I’ve seen countless interest groups, clubs, and individuals silence their personal beliefs for fear of reprisals, any of which span from a few mean words on social media to doxxing to outright threats of physical, academic, or social harm.

Students fear challenging a stagnant status quo, directly going against the liberal-democratic values upon which so many of us have founded our beliefs.

History has often shown—most visibly in instances of apartheid, human rights violations, genocide, and civil unrest—that our voices are one of the few weapons we can unequivocally bear in the fight for equality.

To silence them—or to support those who silence them—in communities such as ours is equal to complicity in the crimes we condemn.

In matters such as race, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, and gender, this is doubly the case, as power is not always distributed equally across our communities.

I recognize that criticizing without trying to provide a solution is not conducive to progress. In light of this, I would like to urge Queen’s students to take action.

Educate yourself. No matter how much you think you know, no matter how many perspectives you think you’ve taken into consideration, you can always do more.

Make an effort. You don’t get a participation medal for progress and equality by simply not participating in a discriminatory practice. A lack of condemnation, neutrality, or active efforts to prevent widespread discussion is practically the same as endorsing such practices.

If you’ve been affected in one capacity or another—and are comfortable speaking of your experiences—please do so. Don’t allow people to distance themselves from an issue by pretending it doesn’t affect them or those they value. If you haven’t, consider putting your ego aside to listen to others’ stories.

And above all, always remember to stay safe to fight another day. This is a reality that not a lot of unaffected people understand. One voice silenced is one less calling for change, and unfortunately, people will always try to silence us.

At the end of the day, when an issue calls for solidarity, how many people will stand with those affected? How many people are willing to raise their voices to condemn immorality, persecution, oppression, and silence against others,especially if they don’t look like you?

At Queen’s, the answer so far: heartbreakingly few.

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