‘You’re more than just the problems you’re trying to solve’: Queen’s student activists, part five

‘The Journal’ chats with Loran Scholar Meena Waseem

Waseem is grateful to be the representation she was lacking when she arrived at Queen’s.
Credit: 
Supplied by Meena Waseem

Meena Waseem, Comm ’23, arrived at Queen’s intending to challenge the ways she and her peers understood business education and corporate affairs.

“I felt like we always view commerce and the corporate world as the ‘Big Bad,’” Waseem said in an interview with The Journal.

“I firmly believe that commerce as a whole is not an inherently Western concept. It’s not something that emerged out of nowhere. I feel like there’s a responsibility that corporations have, when they’re prospering, to share that wealth with their communities.”

Waseem has worked towards these goals within Goodes Hall and beyond, with a special interest in the area of equity, diversity, inclusion, and Indigeneity (EDII). As a visibly Muslim woman, anti-racism advocacy has played a big role in her journey.

“When I first looked at the Alumni Wall of the Commerce program, it seemed like I was the only hijabi in the history of Commerce,” she said.

In the three years she’s been at Queen’s, student demographics have changed rapidly thanks to the efforts of student advocates. Queen’s now conducts significantly more outreach in historically underrepresented areas and is working to improve financial and social support for marginalized students.

“There are three first-year hijabi women in my program. We literally met each other while walking through campus,” Waseem said. “I can’t explain to you what it’s like when you run into somebody and they say to you, ‘You’re the reason that I was inspired to come here.’”

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Waseem was the Commerce Society’s (ComSoc) EDII officer during the 2020-21 school year. Alongside her co-officer Kelly Weiling Zou, Comm ’21, Waseem represented the needs of diverse Commerce students in the face of harrowing revelations brought to light by the @stolenbysmith Instagram account.

READ MORE: ‘A safe haven’: The impact of Stolen by Smith, as told by QTBIPOC students & faculty

“We worked with ComSoc on our first equity, diversity, and inclusion plan ever for the society,” she said. “We basically started consulting clubs on how to transform their interview processes, how to improve their financial aid services; we advocated for non-alcoholic socials.”

In the 2021 Winter semester, Waseem launched ComSoc’s inaugural equity case interview initiative. The program provides case-based EDII questions to students interviewing for ComSoc clubs. Waseem wrote scenarios and filmed videos based on her personal experiences in the Commerce program and as an EDII workshop facilitator.

“It was an opportunity to test students on their learning, as opposed to penalizing them for never having come across these situations before.”

Waseem was also a member of The Journal’s first BIPOC Advisory Board. In her time as a Board member, she reviewed articles concerning race and racialization and ensured balance in the representation of sources.

“For such a long time I had been in so many spaces where I felt like I was always the one pushing against the grain,” she said. “To be on that board, and in spaces like working with [Zou] as an EDI officer, it was cool to have people that saw the world in a similar way that I did.”

On top of her work with ComSoc and The Journal, she’s been a consultant with FreshSight Queen’s, a sexual violence & bystander awareness training facilitator, and is a Loran Scholar.

The latest project Waseem is excited to take on concerns inclusion within Queen’s dining halls.

This year, Ramadan—a month of fasting, reflection, and prayer observed by Muslims—will take place throughout April and into the beginning of May. This is the first year in many that Ramadan will fall during the academic year for Queen’s students, and this will be the case for the next 25 years.

“That means that Queen’s is working to improve their dining services and make sure that they’re accommodating students who fast during the month,” Waseem said.

“As part of that, myself and another student employee at Queen’s are working to create a feedback loop with dining services and first-year students.”

Students and faculty interested in receiving communications or providing suggestions for the project are encouraged to email meena.waseem@queensu.ca.

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“If you’re not doing well mentally and physically, it’s really difficult to sustain the work and the type of changes you want to see.”

Waseem emphasized the importance of taking care of yourself before you take care of others when it comes to activism. For her, it’s been crucial to “fill her own cup” when needed.

“You have to make sure you’re checking in on yourself. No one else is going to be able to do that for you.”

She has also made it a point to surround herself with people who appreciate her outside of her achievements in advocacy.

“Have a community around you who really celebrate you for who you are, where your identity is not the entirety of your existence and where you’re not expected to always be the one speaking out or against something,” she said.

“You’re more than just the problems you’re trying to solve.”

Remembering the hijabi students she’s connected with so far in her time at Queen’s, Waseem always tries to demonstrate gratitude to her communities and others like them—which includes staying true to her values and always approaching her work from a place of love.

“For me, this has always been about supporting communities like mine, and helping them to have a seat at the table.”

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