In January 2016, a new workshop for students in McGill Residences was held for the first time, titled Rez Project: Race and Colonialism. Referred to as Race Project, the workshop was the second part of the Rez Project series, including a segment on gender, sexuality, and consent.
Interim Resident Life Coordinator Emily Yee Clare was instrumental in the creation of the new race-based component to Rez Project.
“Although, [Rez Project] has evolved significantly since its creation 10 years ago, it was limited in scope,” Clare said. “Thus, I approached Ria Rombough in 2013 with the general idea of increasing anti-oppression programming in the Residences. After multiple conversations, the position was created through community needs assessment, proposal drafting, and by securing over $90,000 in funding from various grant sources, most notably the McGill Office of Sustainability and the Sustainability Projects Fund.”
Rez Project Coordinator Kelly Schieder, stated that the motivation behind Race Project was to start a conversation about issues surrounding race and to provide students with a vocabulary to continue this conversation.
“I think that the ultimate goals of Race Project are primarily to set a norm for open conversations around race and colonialism in [residences] at McGill, and in people’s daily lives,” Schieder said. “[Also] to provide some basic vocabulary and groundwork for taking an anti-racist approach to these issues […] to validate what indigenous students and students of colour may have experienced since arriving at McGill, and to offer some vocabulary with which to talk about their experiences; as well as to promote changes in attitudes and/or behaviour—both on an individual level, and more generally within the culture of McGill residences.”
Race Project was developed following popular demand by students and was tested in selected residences last year before being introduced to all residences in Winter 2016. According to Schieder, it expands upon some of the lessons from the initial Rez Project.
“We continue to expand the discussion of what the One Rule of Respect entails, and how to provide residents with the tools to foster a respectful living environment for each other,” Schieder said. “We hope that these conversations will continue beyond the workshop space.”
According to Bradley Miller, U3 Cognitive Science student and a floor fellow, Race Project provided an important opportunity for first year students to adjust to a city that may be more diverse than their previous home.
“Coming out of high schools with relatively homogeneous populations into an international urban centre like Montreal, it is crucial that first years take some time to reflect on the implicit assumptions made by their communities at home,” Miller said. “This is a momentous opportunity for students to form honest opinions and think critically about issues that their parents might not mention at the dinner table.”
Miller expressed that although the curriculum of Race Project is useful for first-year students, it is harder to set definite boundaries when talking about race and colonialism, making the execution of the workshop somewhat difficult.
“For Race and Colonialism, there are fewer instances of definite rule breaking that are addressed by the workshop,” Miller said. “Culturally appropriative costumes come to mind as a phenomenon we try to avoid in Rez, but there is a spectrum of offensiveness [….] This subtlety may have gotten a bit lost in the workshop when complex issues were boiled down to ‘racist’ or ‘not racist’ verdicts in the interest of time. I think my students may have been a bit put off by this.”
Despite this, Miller stated that the workshop was received well by the students on his floor.
“Students who identify as people of colour had a definite sparkle in their eye as they were able to speak honestly about their experience navigating public space,” Miller said. “White-identifying students who were listening were able to open their eyes a bit, if they didn’t shy away from the discomfort of talking about it.”
For Schieder, Race Project was seen as a success and that the workshop will continue to be implemented in residences in the coming years.
“As is the case with Rez Project: Gender, Sexuality & Consent, these workshops were received in varying ways, often related to students’ personal relationships to the topics,” she said. “Overall, we were delighted with how well the workshops were received, with many students expressing gratitude that these under-discussed but highly relevant issues were being prioritized in residences [….] We have high hopes for how this workshop will continue to evolve in years to come.”
Clare echoed Schieder’s sentiments.
“Race Project is really an evolving workshop that should and will be adapted from year to year in response to community needs,” Clare said, “Ultimately, we wanted to create a space for students to develop a common language on how to navigate complicated conversations relating to race and colonialism.