McGill University is widely recognized as an international school that attracts students from all over the world. Despite its diverse student body, 24 percent of students report experiencing discrimination per the 2013 Diversity and Discrimination Report. A collaborative initiative between the Social Equity and Diversity Office and McGill Student Services, the McGill Racialized Students Support Project aims to further equity and inclusivity on campus by raising awareness about and responding to students’ experiences of discrimination, while also providing support to racialized students on an individual and institutional level.
“The project came about because there was a lot of talk of increasing diversity at McGill, but we were bothered by the concept sitting on its own because McGill is not a particularly welcoming space for racialized students and for under-represented groups in general,” explained Adrienne Piggott. Piggott is Chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Racialized and Ethnic Persons and is responsible for managing the Racialized Students Support Project's budget. The project was awarded funding from the Sustainability Projects Fund for the year-long salary of a Community Projects Manager (Racialized and Ethnic Students) who will act as the central liaison for racialized students.
Prior to the Racialized Students Support Project, a handful of initiatives dedicated to advancing issues of importance to students of colour existed on campus but they lacked a central figure. “We wanted to bring together the people who were already working on initiatives to create welcoming and inclusive spaces with someone who could leverage those efforts and create new strategies for support,” said Piggott. The Community Projects Manager, Malek Yalaoui, will manage awareness campaigns, outreach initiatives and event coordination to confront individual and systemic racism and discrimination on campus. In collaboration with existing services on campus, Yalaoui will lay the groundwork to promote a sense of belonging and support for racialized students.
Yalaoui explained that there are two parts to her role as Community Projects Manager, "one is institutional support, which means supporting the institutions and offices that we do have at McGill and empowering them to be able to offer a welcoming space for and respond effectively to students of colour,” she said. “The other side is direct support, which looks like setting up support groups for students of colour […] and providing navigational support to help students know where to get the support they need.”
While most students feel confused or isolated at some point during their university years, these feelings can be exacerbated for students of colour who may lack a sense of belonging. Students of colour may also feel a burden of representing all people of colour, especially in classroom situations when students are asked to speak of their experiences with discrimination. Yalaoui explains, "When you are attending university to receive a service, you shouldn’t be put in a position to have to offer a service."
Combined, these institutional barriers make McGill inaccessible to some racialized students. “We see a lot of students who have felt that the burden of not having the support they need is too great and have left McGill," said Piggott. "We lose great people with creative ideas because we are not able to foster the inclusive and diverse community that we promised them when we sent them a letter of admission.” By providing individual and institutional support, the McGill Racialized Students Support Project will help to alleviate some of these barriers. “The hope for this project is that it will galvanize people and make them realize that this work is necessary and meaningful. If the University is truly committed to creating a more diverse, inclusive space, then the only way to do that is to have people who have the experience and knowledge to create those spaces and create that support network,” said Piggott.
For more information on the Racialized Students Support Project, please visit the project's page. If you have an idea that could help to improve environmental, social or economic sustainability at McGill, check out the Sustainability Projects Fund.