Student-administration collaboration is imperative for diversifying Queen’s

University must emphasize accessibility to be most receptive to student advocacy

Matt, Yara, and Aloka worked together on the SES-SAG this past year.
Credit: 
Supplied by Matt D'Alessandro

In December 2021, the Queen’s Student Experience Survey (SES) Report was released in response to the University’s Declaration of Commitment to Address Systemic Racism.

The Student Experience Survey (SES) was sent to Queen’s students in March 2021, providing Queen’s with a mechanism to inform the creation of a more inclusive campus. It analyzed all facets contributing to the Queen’s experience: university policies and programming, university services, and responses to discrimination and harassment.

For the university to achieve its goal of diversifying and uplifting the community experience, students must have easier and more casual access to an administration that has committed itself to improving campus culture. This work can’t be done in a bubble.

Before the release of the survey results, the SES Student Advisory Group (SES-SAG) was formed in May 2021 to provide input to the Student Experiences project team.

This team—chaired by Vice-Principal (Human Rights, Equity, and Inclusion) Stephanie Simpson and Assistant Dean (Student Life & Learning) Corinna Fitzgerald and comprised of various student leaders—met monthly to discuss results, provide updates on action items, and provide input from the student perspective.

As student leaders in the group, we held the administration accountable to deliverables and timelines—ensuring student voices, needs, and desires were always at the forefront of the SES Project Team. We also played an active role in helping to inform the project team of effective ways to distribute and advertise results.

The survey received responses from over 5,400 students to understand the campus environment surrounding community, systemic racism, exclusionary and discriminatory behaviors, and sexual violence.

Among its responses, the survey revealed equity-deserving students didn’t feel as much of a sense of belonging, didn’t feel as safe or connected to campus, and reported more experiences of harassment and sexual violence.

When asked about belonging, 45 per cent of Black respondents and 35 per cent of all racialized respondents cited they didn’t feel close to people at this school.  

40 per cent of nonbinary and two-spirit respondents, 32 per cent of non-heterosexual/non-straight respondents, and 29 per cent of respondents with trans experiences reported they have seriously considered leaving Queen’s.

When asked to comment about reasons for wishing to leave, students frequently cited mental health challenges, a lack of community, not feeling welcome or supported, financial struggles, and poor academic performance.

17 per cent of respondents said they had experienced harassment and discrimination, most commonly being the target of put-downs and offensive humor, receiving hostile or threatening comments or gestures, facing targeted biased profiling, and navigating offensive comments made by course instructors and faculty members.

Six per cent of respondents experienced sexual violence.

Though Queen’s has the necessary tools and financial resources to improve the university, the potential for tangible change is limited by institutional bureaucracy. By taking an active step to listen to student voices, support student activism, and fund student initiatives, the University could effectively influence a cultural shift on our campus.

SES, like many other conducted surveys, has demonstrated the urgency for institutional reform and a cultural shift influenced by student leadership.

Often, when speaking to equity efforts, administrative groups can make ambiguous promises while activity following statements often goes unnoticed and unrecognized by the student body.

It’s been eye-opening to witness the way Queen’s looks to include student voices and perspectives.

While the formation of SES-SAG itself was a critical step towards promoting better collaboration between students and the University to diversify campus, the experience of sitting on this panel has highlighted where improvement is needed for collaboration between student groups and administration.

As members of SES-SAG, we recognize the great level of privilege we have to sit on a committee with faculty and administration. We can directly share ideas, express concerns, and ask questions to administrators face-to-face.

We’re privileged to have this type of access to the University given the inaccessible nature of faculty and administrators to the average student.

However, no matter how inclusive of students a group like SES-SAG is, there still exists an innate hierarchy between students and administration that will always make it challenging for us to candidly express concerns and ideas in our meetings and interactions.

By having more casual avenues for communication, students would be better able to share their lived experiences on campus with a greater impact.

We saw this first-hand through our meetings with Taryn McKenna, Student Inclusion and Engagement Coordinator.

Taryn facilitated meetings one-on-one with each student member of SES-SAG, allowing us to speak more candidly.

Meeting with Taryn has been a great resource for us. In the past couple of months, we’ve worked to provide student perspectives that inform her inclusion and engagement work.

It can be exhausting and frustrating to share the same stories and suggestions year after year in the current formal framework of our advocacy work. While student activists share similar experiences in seeking to drive change, we also share a similar frustration when met with administrative red tape.

Coming from different backgrounds and identities, we came together in this group with varying levels of experience in working with the University. Each of us held a common sense of frustration regarding how Queen’s as an institution has failed its students.

Jumping through bureaucratic hoops is exhausting, and the feeling of a lack of process can be disheartening. SES-SAG has allowed us to channel the experiences and frustrations of both ourselves and our peers into conversation.

Confining where change happens and decisions get made to formal, internal processes is extremely counterproductive to Queen’s goal of becoming more inclusive and equitable. When these channels are confined, student voices become confined.

Student voices should be the priority of the work.

It’s the lived experiences of Queen’s students that garners us with the expertise of recognizing existing gaps and improvements we wish to see.  Student voices must be prioritized by the University in decision-making processes.

Matt, Yara, and Aloka are members of the Student Experience Survey Student Advisory Group.

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