‘Being a Queen’s student, you have so much power’: Queen’s Student Activists, part eight

‘The Journal’ chats with GAAP founder Jane Mao

Mao hopes to reduce bureaucracy while appreciating all impacts.

When Jane Mao, MEd ’23 and ArtSci ‘21, was in the first year of their undergrad, Queen’s students were divided over a racist Halloween party held off-campus. At the time, Mao’s main goal was to avoid dropping out.

READ MORE: Students protest admin response to campus party

“I felt really out of place. I honestly didn't want to drop out—that was the biggest goal—and I wanted to make friends,” they said in an interview with The Journal.

After finding a community at Queen’s in their second year, Mao was ready and willing to make a difference at Queen’s. They wanted to make sure incoming students would have a different experience than they did.

“Being a Queen’s student, you have so much power to move money and to redistribute that money,” Mao said.

Mao and Sam Connolly, ArtSci ’20, are the founders of the Gender Affirming Assistance Project (GAAP). Jenna Huys, ConEd ’23, joined later. What started as a community-based fund to help trans folks access binders has now expanded into an optional student fee administered by the Social Issue Commission.

“While you can be bogged down by expense forms, you can also work to empower individuals that might not be able to be in the position that you are,” Mao noted.


Since the infamous costume party in 2016, there’s been no shortage of work to be done to support marginalized communities targeted on campus—from the 2020 coronavirus party to many instances of anti-Indigenous racism.

READ MORE: The Chown Hall incident, over one year later

The Residence Society, Roots and Wings Kingston, Queen’s Coalition Against Racial and Ethnic Discrimination (QCRED), and the Education on Queer Issues Project (EQuIP) are just some of the organizations Mao has worked with towards equity.

“In third year, I knew that I had a lot more learning to do, and I wanted to do it in community. I also wanted to do that learning while building friendships and building relationships,” Mao said.

Having been a student activist at Queen’s for a few years, Mao can confidently say they’ve accomplished these two goals beyond what they could’ve “ever dream about.” Of course, this doesn’t mean that the journey has been without its challenges—the key challenge being bureaucracy.

“So much of activism is bogged down by bureaucracy and processes that don’t need to happen, but make everything take 500 years to accomplish,” they explained.

For Mao, it’s been important to surround themself with friends that celebrate any impact they make, no matter how big or small.

“There won't be large systemic change, but there will be little systemic change.”


One of the projects that have stuck with Mao the most has been their collaboration on reforming the Self-Declaration of Brief Absence Form—a form that, when approved by a student’s faculty, excuses them from academic activities and obligations for 48-72 hours following an “unexpected illness or distressing event.”

At the height of the Black Lives Matter movement in the Summer of 2020, many groups on campus were reaching out to Catherina Haba, ArtSci ’21 and then-President of Queen’s Black Academic Society (QBAS). Among these groups was Mao’s faculty, the Department of Psychology.

“I wanted to take something off [Haba’s] plate,” Mao said. “I worked with the EDI committee of the Department of Psychology to expand our definition of accommodation and what gets accommodated.”

Pre-2020, there were no specific guidelines on whether a social injustice or wide social unrest qualified as an extenuating circumstance for a brief absence. Now, due to the hard work of Mao and Haba, a new Brief Absence program is being piloted that accounts for these instances.

“BIPOC students who are really impacted by what’s happening on the ground—whether that’s what’s happening in Ukraine, what’s happening in Palestine, what’s happening all the time—they’re able to take the rest that they need.”


For student activists and marginalized students alike, who may be discouraged or disillusioned, Mao would “affirm” these feelings.

“In first year, in November after that [costume] party, I was very heavily considering dropping out,” Mao said. “My don did absolutely nothing to even engage in the conversation and with residents.”

But they still have cautious optimism.

When re-imagining Queen’s, Mao would like to see a university where students can come in knowing there’s a community they can be part of.

“Even learning that there are communities available that experience the same things or similar experiences, I think that would have been great [for me].”

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