Updates made to ‘Our Shared Spaces’ to help promote equity on campus

McGill’s Rez Project workshop series, designed to educate students on issues of social justice and equity, was rebranded this fall to better reflect the message of the program. Created 16 years ago by a group of floor fellows, ‘Our Shared Spaces,’ formerly known as Rez Project, aims to promote a more inclusive atmosphere in residences and on campus. 

The educational workshop, which serves as an opportunity for conversation on race and sexuality, was revamped to include a new name, website, and improvements to the content. There are now 20 facilitators, as well as a new name, logo, and website. Today, ‘Our Shared Spaces’ educates thousands of McGill students living in residence on issues of race and Indigenous issues, gender, and sexuality. McGill’s Equity Education Program Manager Eve Finley explained the nature of the changes to the program’s image and delivery. 

“We also, largely because of the new online consent module swapped the workshop order,” Finley said. “The workshop that [now] happens in the fall is the race and colonialism workshop, and the workshop in the winter is [about] gender, sexuality, and consent.”

Finley also hopes that the rebranding will help the workshop reach more students outside of residences at McGill.

“We are also expanding to other spaces on campus,” Finley said. “We gave a bunch of workshops to incoming medical students and [….] students [living off campus].”

The renaming of Rez Project comes as part of a move away from the term ‘Rez,’ which is considered offensive by some Indigenous students for its connections to Canada’s history of reservations and residential schools. Determined by an online competition last year, the new name is more representative of the nature of the workshop, according to Equity Education Program Administrator Charlene Lewis-Sutherland.

“In the last few years, I think there’s been a larger conversation, on campus and off, about how we use our words, even words we inherit,” Lewis-Sutherland said. “We asked [students] in a survey what would you name the [workshop] if you could name it something. [Our Shared Spaces] really stuck out to us because it hit that note of what we are trying to do. We are trying to talk to people about how they share space [and] about what it respectfully means to share space.” 

The changes made this year are a continuation of a series of updates that began last year when the project moved to the Office of the Dean of Students and received a budget increase to help facilitate its operations. 

“Instead of having a hundred volunteer students that were trained for ten hours we hired fifteen students [who] are now paid by the hour to give the workshop, and they go through […] 40 hours of training in August,” Finley said. 

Adi Sneg, U2 Arts, works as an ‘Our Shared Spaces’ peer facilitator said that budget increases are important to improving the workshop’s accessibility. 

“I’m just hoping our budget increases [further] so we can get more people, more diverse bodies in the room,” Sneg said. “When you learn about this kind of stuff, it’s important to feel as though you are learning it from someone who has some sort of commonality to you.” 

Sneg explained that these updates are all part of the goal to facilitate more conversations about sensitive topics on campus. 

“The goal is to have people walk away with having learned something new, Sneg said. “[It’s] something they can critically consider every day when they live in residence and when they move and navigate through campus at McGill.” 

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