While many McGill students struggle to work fitness into their daily schedules in addition to balancing academics and extracurriculars, Chris Gismondi, U4 Joint Honours Art History and History with a minor in Indigenous Studies, has no problem with this. After taking a Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) minicourse in pole dancing, Gismondi fell quickly in love with the sport and is currently planning his second trip to the Canadian National Pole Fitness Championship this summer.
“It’s very close to me as [a] student experience because I started in first year,” Gismondi said. “I’ve always been an active person [and] used exercise as a way to deal with stress. I loved pole dancing so much [….] You forget you’re even doing it because it’s so much fun.”
As he has progressed in the competitive pole dancing community, however, Gismondi has become more aware of the bias that some hold toward its origins in stripping.
“Pole dancing comes from the sex industry,” Gismondi explained. “Some people like pretending that it doesn’t come from the sex industry, and put down sex workers, when sex workers already get a lot of [flak] from society, and I don’t think we as pole dancers should really be doing that, as we take their sport.”
Gismondi’s acute awareness of social injustices moves beyond his experience in the pole dancing community. He has also developed a passion for indigenous rights after become aware in university of the realities of racism and colonialism.
“I came to school and started learning about indigenous issues,” Gismondi recalled. “In public school, elementary school, and high school, you don’t really get that education. I started to learn more and got really passionate, and I just want to keep learning more as much as I can.”
Part of his effort to do so entails serving as a coordinator for the McGill Student Indigenous Studies Journal, which was founded to showcase undergraduate research on indigenous issues and give voice to indigenous students on campus. The journal recently changed its name in response to critique from indigenous groups on campus.
“The [journal] was founded in 2009, and at the time there wasn’t a minor, there wasn’t a lot of dialogue on indigenous issues,” Gismondi explained. “The journal was a way to raise people’s awareness and publish student work [on] these topics. But our context has changed a lot, so we wanted to listen to and respond to some critiques indigenous students here had of the journal, and try to make it a responsible form of allyship. [We also wanted to] make it a space where indigenous students feel like they can contribute or be on the editorial team or have their stuff published.”
In addition to being an ally for indigenous voices at McGill, Gismondi advocates for environmental justice on campus in his position as the sustainable events coordinator for SSMU.
“It’s remarkable how many student groups don’t know that there’s a green fund available for them to apply to for their events,” Gismondi said. “I try to raise awareness for that. I meet with clubs and I help them brainstorm how to limit the impact of any big events they plan on holding, whether it be catering or transport or things like that.”
Gismondi devotes a lot of his time and energy to making McGill more eco-friendly, but he recognizes that the average student is not able to commit to the environmental cause to the same extent. Nonetheless, there are many small ways in which students can lower their carbon footprints by establishing greener daily habits.
“I think there’s something about student culture that can be a little bit apathetic and very convenience-based,” Gismondi said. “[Being eco-friendly requires] planning ahead and making your own meals and bringing tupperware when you go out so you don’t have to get a take out container. I think those are very feasible, we just often don’t think about them. And it’s hard, we’re pressed for time, we’re really busy, so it is difficult, but it’s not impossible.”
Looking back on his time at McGill, Gismondi feels that his involvement in social justice causes has helped define his student experience.
“I really enjoyed getting involved,” Gismondi said. “Being passionate about social justice and environmental issues, […] for me that [has] been very rewarding.”