At its latest Legislative Council meeting on Jan. 24, the Arts Undergraduate Society (AUS) passed a motion to create an Ad hoc People of Colour Committee to provide a forum for people of colour (PoC) to talk about their experiences as Arts students.
The committee aims to help foster dialogue about discrimination that PoC face, and promote education about race, ethnicity, and culture through events like conversation circles and a multicultural day. AUS hopes the committee will ultimately encourage PoC students to apply for positions at AUS and campaign for its executive offices.
The committee will be open to anyone who self-identifies as a PoC and works for the AUS in any capacity, but events that it hosts will be accessible to all McGill students.
“I think it needs to be understood that PoC already don’t have a lot of space to have these conversations, and it’s more important that [as PoC] we have this space to talk about how we feel right now and what we want before we can engage and interact with everyone else,” Arts Representative Jennifer Chan said. “It’s a first step toward […] greater institutional change. It shows that we, as AUS, are really trying to make student government a more accessible space for people of colour.”
Chan expressed optimism that the new committee will ease the emotional burden on PoC councillors to speak up about racism and microaggressions.
“The labour should not be […] on people of colour to point out racism and so a PoC [committee] would allow for space where we don’t have that burden,” Chan said. “We’re just talking about what happens, how we feel, and I think it would be really productive for us to have these conversations in a safe space.”
The idea for the committee was initially proposed by former AUS vice-president (VP) Communications Chanèle Couture De-Graft, who shared the suggestion with current VP Communications Maria Thomas.
While Thomas says she has not experienced any overt racism during her term, she feels the committee will address passive or subconscious racism in AUS.
“I have come to a meeting and been the only person of colour at the table, and that sometimes, I find is very difficult,” Thomas said. “[Councillors might] be discussing something and being ignorant about something just due to their privilege, and something to me that is so objective and blatant is not so obvious to others, and it can be very isolating.”
In an interview with The McGill Tribune, McGill Environment Students’ Society Co-President Tuviere Okome expressed support for the creation of a space for PoC to discuss sensitive topics within AUS.
“The committee is good because there’s a space to talk about issues which may be sensitive to white people,” Okome said. “I find I get frustrated when I don’t get to speak my mind completely because of an all-white audience who might not react well to what I am saying. The committee helps with the frustration which I imagine a lot of PoC have.”
According to Department of English Student Association VP External Thomas MacDonald, the need for such a space has become increasingly prevalent over the past year following the Students’ Society of McGill University Fall 2017 Referendum question to raise the SSMU General Assembly (GA) quorum to 350.
“This space is especially critical now after many students feel that the [General Assembly] GA quorum raise has effectively shut out some minority voices,” MacDonald said. “Therefore, the onus should not be on this new committee to cater to white students.”