Have you been wondering how to increase equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) within your McGill communities? If yes, you may be inspired by reading about an event that one department, Earth and Planetary Sciences, has initiated as a way to open conversations and to learn what it’s like to be an international graduate student in Canada. Perhaps you’ll even have ideas about activities that would benefit your own department.
By Meghomita Das
Once upon this pandemic-riddled year, where we shuffled from one Zoom meeting to another and doom scrolled our way through all of the social media platforms, 34 members of the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences (EPS) at McGill University decided to attend one more Zoom meeting. And it was a very special one.
It began with Catherine Crotty, a PhD Candidate in EPS, announcing, “Welcome everybody to the first edition of Culture Chats! An EDI Committee and Adams Club venture on understanding what different cultures look like around the world.”
What is a Culture Chat?
As part of the Earth and Planetary Sciences (EPS)-Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee, the grad students in the committee came up the concept of a talk series styled after the Oleg-McNoleg* talks but tuned towards international cultures as represented by the diverse student community of EPS. This would be a space for discussion and dialogue. A window to our origin story and how we got to McGill.
The format involves each presenter (an international student) giving a 15-minute presentation about their country, how they got started in geosciences and anything else that they would like to share and want everyone to know about their country.
This came out of the need for students like us to share our stories, especially the ones coming from outside of Western culture and Western education systems, where we have been judged on different scales. Each talk was followed by a Q+A session where everyone submitted their questions/curiosities in the chat box.
For the first edition of Culture Chat, we got a glimpse into Israeli, Indian, Namibian and Brazilian cultures as presented by Inga Boianju, Debarati Das, Moses Angombe, and Angelo Santos, respectively. Each presenter provided us with their take on their home country.
Inga presented the must-see sites of Israel: the Dead Sea, Machtesh Ramon, the Sea of Galilee and the old city of Jerusalem. She also showed a video that gave us a glimpse of Middle Eastern Hospitality. As part of the culture chat package, she shared her Shakshouka recipe and a whole Spotify playlist of Israeli music hits.
Debarati’s talk gave us a rapid-fire round of facts about India that showcased the diversity of this vast country. She featured her mom who is an amazing Indian classical music singer and we saw Debarati’s academic journey in India, featuring fieldwork in different geological settings of India.
Moses took us to the wonderful land of Namibia. From Sossuvlei, Skeleton coast to Etosha National Park and Caprivi strip, we saw the dunes, deserts, oceans, and fantastic wildlife that greets you when you visit Namibia. Moses presented the diversity in the ethnic groups of Namibia and how each tribe has a unique lifestyle.
Angelo took us all the way to Brazil. Post WWII, Brazil witnessed a lot of immigration. These immigrant communities now shape the Brazilian culture. Angelo walked us through his journey as a geologist in Brazil starting with his undergrad degree in UFMG and his love for glacial deposits in Brazil, Svalbard, and Bergen. Brazilians are passionate and informal people, and nicknames are pretty common. They are also seriously passionate about their meats and their glorious churrasco.
All the presenters shared their recommendations for music, their favorite restaurants in Montreal, and their recommendations for movies and books. Each country, as represented by the presenters, is currently going through a sort of revival. There are many grassroots organizations in each country that are actively involved in reforming the country’s stand with respect to land use rights, political discourses, and even diversifying geosciences. Even with the uniqueness of each country, there are several commonalities. Each of these countries values a more community-based lifestyle.
After each of the presentations ended, the chat box was quickly flooded with questions. What’s your favorite dish? How does the government control land resource allocation? How did it feel to do fieldwork in the Himalayas? How do you like your churrasco? And myriad other questions.
All the faces on the tiny Zoom screens were lit up. Catherine concluded the session with a call for future sign ups for Culture Chats. It was quite a popular event and we immediately had people signing up for the next edition of Culture Chats. We, the students of EPS, represent many nationalities. We have a lot of countries to go through and a lot of cultures to explore!
“Culture does not make people. People make culture.”
― Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, We Should All Be Feminists
You can visit the EPS Department website to see who comprises the EDI committee: https://www.mcgill.ca/eps/edi-committee. The committee will share more content over the term.
*Oleg-McNoleg is a talk series hosted by the Adams Club in EPS. It allows students to share their fieldwork adventures with the rest of the cohort. Usually the presenter gives a 15 minute talk where they take us through some of the non-academic challenges they faced during their field campaign. Stories related to baboon attacks or insta-worthy photoshoots in the Antelope Valley California poppy reserve have been features of this event. The series was named after Oleg McNoleg, a very interesting author whose work is linked here: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/009830049500131X