‘There are going to be people taking the torch after me’: Queen’s Student Activists, part four

‘The Journal’ chats with Commissioner of Social Issues Samara Lijiam

Image supplied by: Supplied by Samara Lijiam
Lijiam is grateful for the work that’s been done and hopeful for accountability still to come.

Samara Lijiam, ArtSci ’23, has wanted to be a part of the Social Issues Commission (SIC) since grade 12 before she arrived at Queen’s.

“Getting accepted into Queen’s, my family didn’t want me to go because of the lack of diversity and concerns about racism,” Lijiam said in an interview with The Journal.

“I applied to [Queen’s] randomly, and I didn’t even want to come, to be honest. But hearing that was upsetting. I remember saying, ‘This is crazy, it’s 2018,’ which feels really naive looking back.”

Having been an active member of her high school’s student council, Lijiam researched the AMS before starting her first year and knew the SIC was for her. Now in her fourth year, Lijiam is Commissioner of Social Issues and shows no signs of slowing down her involvement in student advocacy.

“Joining in first year was really incredible. I had a good SIC, so I knew that it was something I wanted to do and something I wanted to stay in.”


According to Lijiam, the SIC exists to address oppression on-campus while supporting marginalized students. For her, this has meant providing resources to marginalized students as well as education for non-marginalized students to build a preventative approach to harassment, discrimination, and sexual violence.

“Education is something big that we do,” she said. “As well as a lot of lobbying and working with admin like the AMS.”

One of her favourite projects she’s been a part of involves photoshoots for Collective Reflections—an “anti-oppressive” student publication supported by the SIC. This year, the editors are bringing back a theme from the 90s and early 2000s, when the AMS published Culture Shock, a magazine by and for students of colour.

“[Culture Shock] has been one of my favourite things to flip through in the office. Seeing these creative shoots, for and by BIPOC, that’s entirely about what they feel comfortable in and entirely inspired by their aesthetic and style, it’s a cool experience.”

In her time as Commissioner, Lijiam has also proposed and passed three separate fees to support equity grants for students.

READ MORE: SIC advocates for equity grants in upcoming referendum

“I’m not going to be here when the money comes in and is dispersed, but it’s good to know, at least for the next three years, that that’s going to be happening,” she said.

As grateful as Lijiam is for the support she’s received in her work, it does often feel slow-moving, which can be discouraging. In these times, she aims to remember that while she may not complete the work crucial to making Queen’s a more inclusive place, it’s just as important that she starts it.

“I know there are going to be people taking the torch after me and that, while I’m not finishing things, I might be starting them and we all play an important part in that process.”


Beyond the SIC, Lijiam has worked with Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG) Kingston, Queen’s Black Academic Society, the African & Caribbean Students Association, as well as with the Arts & Science Undergraduate Society (ASUS) as Director of Student Affairs.

“OPIRG actually taught me everything I know, honestly,” she said.

OPIRG remains one of her favourite groups to this day. Lijiam was an outreach coordinator with the organization in the summer of her first year, where she worked on their People’s History Project—a campaign that recognized the untold stories of student and Kingstonian activists.

Later, with ASUS, Lijiam conducted focus groups and surveys to improve financial accessibility and the experience of ArtSci students of colour before joining the AMS full-time, where she continues that same work on a larger scale.

“Every year, I feel like I’ve approached advocacy differently, and it’s been a journey.”

As one of Queen’s most active student leaders, Lijiam is also aware of the perceptions of organizations like ASUS and the AMS as being racially homogenous. It’s important to her to recognize the validity behind these views, which are based on a history of excluding students of colour from opportunities in student politics, and contribute to changing these organizations—however slowly that change may come.

“A lot of people say that the AMS or a lot of other groups I’m in are white spaces. While I definitely understand, after being in them, that it’s to protect me and very well-intentioned—it still makes me really upset to hear,” Lijiam said.

“I try to advocate to change these spaces. I don’t know that I always do. It’s definitely not easy.”


Lijiam is still working on taking care of herself as an activist, which can be difficult in a space like Queen’s, where there’s always work to be done. For her, it’s most important she stays true to herself and her values.

“Trying to have respect for myself and standing up for myself when I can,” she said. “So I can leave with no regrets—that’s how I cope.”

A brighter future for Queen’s students, in Lijiam’s eyes, looks like more accountability on campus, especially in the realm of institutional accountability. While she’s proud of the work done by the SIC and countless other groups in creating resources and networks of support for marginalized students, she wants to see solutions that are more than just temporary.

“I want to see our campus become a more flexible and inclusive place for diverse needs. With the pandemic, I thought that’s where we were going,” she said. “Club events being less expensive, and remote opportunities being more accessible, I wish that were the direction that we were still going.”

Most importantly, Lijiam wants to see a day where the image of a “niche Queen’s student”—one from a specific racial and socioeconomic background—no longer exists.

“Overall, all of these things would look like a culture where people feel included.”

All final editorial decisions are made by the Editor(s)-in-Chief and/or the Managing Editor. Authors should not be contacted, targeted, or harassed under any circumstances. If you have any grievances with this article, please direct your comments to journal_editors@ams.queensu.ca.

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