By Zena Salem
Attending an academic institution means you get access to new ideas and spaces—but it also means learning how to navigate challenges faced by those institutions. Your experiences here can teach you a lot about how much you and your voice are valued and what standard they are held at, but you will also learn quickly that constructive criticism is not always constructive at Ryerson University.
Student advocacy is looked upon in different manners, especially when you are a woman of colour. You might have to put more effort in framing your actions. You have to convince people you are here to seek support and help build an equitable system for those who face daily institutional discrimination and barriers in navigating Ryerson. When it comes to discussing social issues and publicly discussing systemic racism, I found that I needed to make sure I remained visibly positive, while also putting in all the emotional labour possible to explain to people around me that I was not here to cause chaos.
I also learned the importance of sugar-coating my words. Remaining respectful is important, but sometimes giving an opposing perspective is mistaken for disrespect. Remember to always say it like it is—but to do it in a manner that will appeal to a variety of different people, some of whom may have dissenting opinions to your own.
There is only so much students can do of course, even on a student union level, but remember that with great power comes great responsibility: you have the power to create change. Even though your power is limited, it is still important to work with what you have and be smart about how you navigate the system.
In my experience, I’ve heard a lot of “calm down” and, “you make everything political.” Prepare for those who share similar challenges and barriers to be supportive, and for the indifference of those who may not support your ideas.
My greatest piece of advice is to always remember that hearing “we must be inclusive,” is a great step to recognizing that inclusivity is important, but that actual work needs to be done in order for real change to be consistent.
Change takes time, but that doesn’t mean we should be taking our time.