Any claim requires some sort of evidence to back it up. When it comes to racism on campus, the lived experiences of BIPOC students should be evidence enough. Yet these experiences are completely devalued at Queen’s and viewed in a way that’s inherently white supremacist.
This past summer, pages like ‘Stolen by Smith’ and ‘Erased by FEAS’ appeared to bring to light ‘hidden’ experiences at Queen’s. As a brown girl who’s attended this school for years and has learned to surround herself with BIPOC to achieve some level of comfort, I can tell you firsthand that none of what was revealed on these pages was news to any marginalized Queen’s student.
These discussions about what exactly is wrong at Queen’s and what needs to change have been happening among racialized students all along, we were just afraid to speak up. We were—of course—afraid to lose friends or positions on campus, but all of us have also carried a burden of fear that no one would believe us.
University is a place to have your views challenged. BIPOC students know this all too well; we’re taught incessantly to be objective and open to new opinions. This often involves being subject to violent classroom discussions where the validity of our existences are debated and, when the time comes to provide our perspective—often something as simple as ‘my parents aren’t in fact lazy foreigners, but hard-working Canadians just like the white girl sitting next to me’—our lived experiences, and any emotion associated with them, are dismissed as ‘biased’ or ‘exaggerated’.
I’m constantly challenged at Queen’s. When those challenges involve direct attacks on parts of my identity, I’m told I should be less stubborn. However, when I challenge white students’ racist and privileged worldviews by presenting my lived experiences, an awkward double standard arises—they get to claim they’re uncomfortable or unsafe talking about race, and no one questions why they’re not more open to new perspectives.
White supremacy thrives off a refusal to acknowledge the lived experiences of BIPOC. The longer we torment racialized students, forcing them to actively prove they’ve experienced discrimination, the longer we don’t have to acknowledge that the systems in place need to change to eliminate that discrimination.
My experiences matter, as do the experiences of all BIPOC. For centuries no one has listened to us, and the white academy has actively suppressed our voices and interests. At primarily white institutions like Queen’s, the only tool we’ve had to communicate with our oppressors is our lived experiences.
Believe us the first time we say we’re experiencing racism. Don’t force us to relive our trauma for the benefit of white students and, when white students claim we’re making this an unsafe environment for them, consider whether or not you’re participating in babying the dominant class to uphold white supremacy.
Aysha Tabassum is a third-year Commerce student and one of The Journal’s Features Editors.
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