As a Black girl navigating predominately white environments, I always understood the demand for a safe space that’s wholly and authentically centered around the experiences and perspectives of Black individuals. Despite the countless student efforts to provide these spaces to the growing number of minorities on campus, Queen’s still has a long way to go.
Individuals of colour, and other marginalized people, have no choice but to maneuver life with the heavy nuances of intersecting identities—be it race, gender, ability, or religion.
There’s been an influx of anti-Semitic, racist, and discriminatory behaviour on campus recently. As one of the most prestigious public institutions in Canada, Queen’s owes it to affected students to provide a supportive environment that uplifts without anyone experiencing the fear of invalidation or discrimination.
The AMS airdrop incident was a much-needed wake-up call for some, but a confirmation to many students of colour of what they already knew.
While the perpetrator of this anti-Black photo has stepped down from future and current leadership positions, several issues must still be addressed. This individual was a major proponent of community outreach throughout the Kingston area.
Holding this bias and ignorance—regardless of how long ago this original photo was—had the ability to inform her actions and interactions toward people of colour in the community, possibly subjecting them to isolation and depriving them of the safe space she was meant to provide.
Audre Lorde told us “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” The oppressive, powerful systems in society are typically controlled by those who hold the most power and privilege. In this, oppressed individuals are decentered and sidelined, working counterintuitively when enacting change.
The malicious way in which the photo was shared was redundant, ill-advised, and did more harm than good. Exposing racial violence against Black people with more racial violence sets us back to square one and it’s evident those who shared the photo in this manner did not recognize the traumatic element of the situation.
Black students and people of colour in that debate room, or otherwise, are entitled to emotional, physical, and mental safety. That right was immediately stripped from them the moment they received that airdropped photo.
Again and again, the mental well-being and value of individuals of colour are placed last in the fight for racial justice. Genuine change cannot and should not be enacted at the expense of Black students.
To receive a photo perpetrating callous anti-Blackness robs students of any safe space they held claim to. You are no longer just a student at Queen’s; you have been othered and subjected to racial trauma just by existing.
Marginalized students need a space that centres their existence and does not use it as a means to an end. What students needed for accountability was not some Gossip Girl-esque moment, but a thoughtful approach that centred Black students in that room.
In the words of Queen’s African & Caribbean Students’ Association: “[Black] students have had to directly deal with the consequences of [that] privilege for generations.”
Countless clubs on campus like SBBA, ACSA, and QSDP built on the pillars of promoting equity and creating safe spaces they wish they had access to as incoming and new students at Queen’s, from networking sessions to cultural events, inclusive socials, and diversity-focused outreach. Student leaders have been putting their blood, sweat, and tears into creating a safe and inclusive space for other students who look just like them.
Queen’s has seen improvement since I was in my first year, and racialized and marginalized students are able to find support through these clubs on campus. However, how are minority and equity-focused clubs on campus meant to thrive in “the master’s house” when the available tools hinder our ability to thrive?
Safety for racialized and marginalized students cannot exist in an environment with foundations of racial ignorance and discriminatory structures. Equity on campus is more than increasing the representation of diversity through marginalized individuals; it’s about dissecting current structures that maintain discriminatory practices and beliefs. It’s providing proactive rather than reactive measures and education to address privilege.
Safe spaces allow for the expression of unique cultural and social identities without the fear of being dismissed, marginalized, or invalidated. They serve as places where we can feel heard, understood, and supported, and where our voices and contributions can be recognized and valued.
In creating and maintaining such a safe space, we can build a stronger sense of community and foster a more inclusive and equitable society on campus.
Safe spaces that thrive on diversity and inclusion cannot exist in a vacuum or a bubble on campus.
Queen’s must continue to reflect on these safe spaces. It’s imperative to the community that Queen’s embodies beliefs surrounding justice and equity to expand these spaces and ensure the safety of marginalized students—now and in the future.
Makaila is a fourth-year English student.
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