For many students on campus, university can be an isolating place. The McGill Tribune Opinion section asked marginalized students to write about their personal experiences with representation, or a lack thereof, to answer the question, “Where do students find representation, and how do they create spaces for themselves?”
Leina Gabra, Contributor
My search for representation at McGill was disappointing and short-lived, but not at all surprising. This isn’t necessarily McGill’s fault; as a half-Japanese, half-Ethiopian woman from Washington, D.C. who also spent seven years living in Tanzania and the Philippines, there is no community toward which I feel a strong sense of belonging. Racial identity crises are an experience that I’m sure many other mixed-race people are familiar with. It’s lonely to feel as though one cannot ever perfectly fit into an ethnic community; further, while mixed-race representation does exist, it’s harder to find when neither of your halves is white. Speaking from a lifetime of experience, half-white has always seemed to be the more ‘acceptable’ form of mixed-race, making me feel even more rejected from my supposed communities. I have made peace with the uniqueness of my experience; however, not being included in the groups that make up my heritage and the lack of representation for non-white mixed students at McGill––and around the world––can still be isolating and, sometimes, even painful. It is a condition that needs to be included in the discourse about race and representation.
Thyaga Dahanayake, Contributor
Being a student at McGill feels like a mindless blur because there isn’t a single moment in which I feel like a unique individual. I constantly feel the need to conform to my peers’ expectations and my environment. I follow a mundane, monotonous cycle of going to class, listening to lectures, packing my things, and then leaving. I blend into the large sea of first-year students at McGill. Although I’m a person of colour, I haven’t faced drastic moments of isolation. If anything, I feel safe on campus due to the prevalence of groups, spaces, and solidarity movements like #ChangeTheName. If I want to find representation, I look to groups of like-minded people. Joining clubs and organizations like the Tribune or The Plumber’s Station helped me find groups of people with similar interests. For me, joining clubs is more than just a hobby. It’s connecting with people who face similar struggles and who want to work toward similar significant goals. Joining groups makes me feel like I have a platform where I can voice my thoughts and opinions, and, in turn, reach other people who may be struggling.
Abeer Almahdi, Opinion Editor
As an Afro-Arab woman, I’ve struggled to find a place on campus where I feel fully represented. Two of the hardest parts of my identity to reconcile is my parents’ conflicting religious identities. My mother is a Catholic and my father a Muslim, while I am essentially neither. However, I engage with both cultures. I celebrate Christmas, Easter, Ramadan, both Eids, and even some local folk holidays like Saint Barbara’s Feast, and other festivals. Still, I’ve struggled to find a place in which I can practice the atypical blend of Christian Islam in which I was raised. Growing up in the Middle East with two religions meant that I was on both sides of local conflict. I face Islamophobia, but I also face discrimination from my own communities for being mixed. So, instead of looking to spaces like religious associations, I have decided to look outward and explore other ways of expressing my religious identity. I’ve written and performed poetry; I’ve painted; and, now, I’ve written an article about it. I may never find a place to be holistically me, but I’ve chosen to create my own representation.