As a recent graduate of McGill, I’ve been reflecting on the time I’ve spent over the past five years trying to organize for social change in a university context. I have heard people say that universities are fertile ground for this kind of activity, and it’s not hard to see why: thousands of young people in close social proximity to each other, many of them in a new place, encountering new ways of thinking about the world. Often these new perspectives look critically at the injustice and oppression in the world, and they sometimes influence students to figure out what they can do to make the world a better place. I was lucky in my first year to find groups such as the GrassRoots Association for Student Power (GRASPé), as well as various working groups of the McGill chapter of the Quebec Public Interest Research Group (QPIRG). These groups provided me with opportunities to meet friends with similar perspectives, make connections outside of the university, and start trying to figure out how we’re going to make a better world.
I want to describe some of the ways to get involved as a McGill student, for any of you who are new to McGill, or interested in engaging in social change. To start with, QPIRG-McGill supports a number of projects that provide connections between social justice and the work that you’re already doing for school. The Community University Research Exchange (CURE) is a database of research projects that have been proposed by community groups and that students can do for credit. Students get to do projects that are actually relevant, and community groups get access to research that they may not otherwise have the time or resources to conduct themselves. If you’ve already written a paper that you think is connected to social and environmental justice, you can submit it to Study in Action, the annual undergraduate conference at Concordia University. Or, if there’s a topic that you want to focus on academically, and McGill either doesn’t have a class or doesn’t have one worth taking, you can create your own student-run independent study class with the help of the Indyclass collective, a working group of QPIRG-McGill.
Although academics are obviously an essential part of a university education, it’s important to recognize that you can often learn much more by engaging with issues outside the classroom. For example, I started at McGill majoring in international development studies, but found that my clearest understandings of what development is, and how it works, came through my involvement in QPIRG working groups such as Students Taking Action in Chiapas and FAO-Montreal, which allowed me to learn from the Zapatista movement, and communities opposing Canadian mining in Mexico.
Although it can be inspiring to learn from struggles in other parts of the world, there is also much to be learned from what is happening right here in Quebec and Montreal. The Quebec student movement is one of the strongest and most militant in North America, and radical students at McGill have a history of participating through organizations such as GRASPé. Groups such as TapThirst, Greening McGill, and Demilitarize McGill are focussing on changing McGill itself and the way it contributes to larger problems in the world. Barriere Lake Solidarity is a Montreal-based working group that works to support Algonquin people in northern Quebec by demanding that their agreements with the government be honoured and their self-determination respected. These are just a few examples of the many groups that are active at McGill or through QPIRG.
At the beginning of every school year QPIRG hosts Radical Frosh, for new students who are more interested in getting politically involved than drinking a lot of alcohol. On January 21, the first ever RadFrosh reunion will be held, bringing RadFrosh students back together after their first semester at McGill. It’s also for those students who weren’t able to attend RadFrosh this year, or for anyone else interested in social and environmental justice. There are a lot of people at McGill and in Montreal trying to change the world for the better, and if you’re interested in joining them, organizations such as QPIRG are a great place to find out how you can get involved.
Students interested in getting involved should stop by QPIRG-McGill (3647 University, third floor) between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. or visit qpirgmcgill.org