Always interested in human rights, Alexander Langer worked as an intern last summer at the Roma Community Centre in Toronto, an organization serving the Roma community across Canada. The organization provides assistance including education, settlements, and legal services.
Langer says he appreciates the work that organizations like the centre do to promote human rights.
“Society is judged on how we treat vulnerable people, especially asylum seekers and refugees,” he says. “They crawl out of poverty, they lift themselves out [by] their bootstraps, and I think it is invaluable for society to encourage them to do so.”
He tells the story of a friend from Hungary, who is a refugee in Canada. As a Roma, he faced persecution in his homeland—he was spit on, fired from jobs for no reason, and threatened—and his family came to Canada to build a better life.
After the friend volunteered at the community centre, the organization helped his family find a sponsor and navigate their way through the refugee system. Now with the help of humanitarian workers, his friend is able to put his past behind him and start anew.
Langer believes he had a tangible impact at the organization. Witnessing the impact of the organization on individual lives has influenced his outlook on the time he spends in the classroom.
“I felt like I managed to concretely accomplish things [at the community center],” Langer says. “I love the university, but a lot of times it seems like it doesn’t really matter to the actual world.”
As the chair of exhibition debates with the McGill Debating Union, Langer has managed to combine his enthusiasm for advocacy work with his involvement in the McGill community. He organizes events that attempt to foster discourse on critical world issues, including an upcoming debate on March 13 to discuss freedom of speech and hate speech.
Given his political science major and his commitment to human rights, Langer says he has considered a future in politics.
“I think if I were to get involved in politics, […] it would be working policy,” Langer says. “I would struggle to contain my out-there views—I am socially libertarian. I would struggle to make the compromises necessary to be an elected official.”
The main point Langer wishes to impart to McGill students is that to make a difference, you have to take real action.
“The disadvantage of [studying in university is] we aren’t actually doing anything,” he says. “A lot of kids on campus sit around and talk critical theory, but they are scared to get out and get their hands dirty. They are afraid of having to swallow [that] the world isn’t like university.
If you want change, you can’t just sit around; you have to get out there and do something and engage with the world as it is.”
McGill Tribune: What is your biggest pet peeve?
Alexander Langer: People walking slowly on the sidewalk right in the middle so no one can get around them.
MT: Salty or sweet?
AL: Salty—sweet is kind of sickly.
MT: Favourite pizza slice?
AL: Chicken with goat cheese, sundried tomatoes, and mushrooms.
MT: If you were stranded on a desert island, what one item would you bring?
AL: Maybe The Lord of the Rings—I could finally get through it. Practically, there are lots of things I would want, but if I could only bring one, I don’t need to be practical. I am going to die at some point.
MT: What makes you the happiest?
AL: Spending time with my family—especially my niece and nephew.
MT: If you could travel to one country, where would you go and why?
AL: This is difficult, but it would be Spain. Three words of explication—sun, wine, and fish.