Racialized students in search of community, safety, and home.

Nicholas Raffoul, Creative Director

McGill is known for having a large community of international students and frequently cites this fact as a badge of diversity and inclusivity. However, for many, McGill can be an isolating environment. Students of colour, immigrants, and marginalized identities are still forced to bear the burden of building infrastructures of safety on campus, or find it elsewhere, all while risking tokenization by their white peers.


I grew up overseas because of my parents’ jobs. So I grew up speaking Mandarin. [Moving back to Canada] was a super weird experience because I think that as a mixed person a lot of people identified with me but I didn’t identify with other people because I didn’t speak really good English, but people assumed that I did. Being from a mixed-race background, a lot of people don’t really know where [I’m] from, [I] look racially ambiguous. That left a lot of room for people to impose whatever they saw in me onto me, which was hard when [I was] a young teenager and not even sure either.

“And it kind of happened again when I came to McGill. Especially being a West Coast diasporic Asian coming to McGill, I was like Where is everyone? I never hear Mandarin on campus, it’s so rare to hear, which was really weird.”

Their object
“It’s a jade ring that was passed down from my amma, my grandma on my mom’s side, and it’s too big so I have it on a chain.”


Socially, for me [at McGill] I haven’t had the worst of times, and I’ve found my people. Still, [there are] a lot of white people. [McGill] has met my bare minimum for most of my expectations.

I kind of made it a mission to find my people first year, first day here. That’s part of the reason I chose Montreal. It’s an urban area, so if I don’t find it at McGill, I’ll find it in the city at some point. It was very military, like ‘Okay, you look like you’re cool, we’re friends, I don’t care if you don’t want to be friends, but we’re contacts at least.’ I made it a point to have community. I had that in high school, and I realized that community is very much underpinning [my experience at McGill]. I don’t think I would be able to do it otherwise.

Their object
I grew up with a lot of people. It was a community effort. My uncles, my aunties, we all lived in the same house, it wasn’t just mom, dad, brothers. It was a full house, really.


I was born in Beijing and lived there with my mom for thirteen years, then moved to Singapore, and came to Montreal to study. My mom lives in Singapore but her whole family is from Canada. She adopted me when I was one and a half years old.

Their object
My object is a pomelo. I had very vivid memories as a kid growing up in China, and my mom had a Chinese partner and he would often bring different fruits home. I didn’t realize it then when I was living there but I realize it now since talking to other Asian people about the significance of fruit [....] There are certain fruits that you bring to other people’s homes, which are kind of like a sign of respect and joy because you’re able to enjoy these fruits together. I remember whenever you came over he brought different types of fruits like mandarins and pomelos.

Being at McGill, and not through McGill or its administration itself, but through the people I’ve met here, I’ve been able to become a part of different communities and feel stronger with the identities that I hold. Through being in such a white institution, I’ve grown to value and fiercely protect my identity as an Asian woman more and have that solidarity with other people of colour.


I was born in Montreal, [though I am] Palestinean originally, and I lived in Kuwait most of my life.

Their object
The Keffiyeh is pretty standard. I wear it to show my solidarity, my culture, and who I am. It’s a big symbol in Arab culture and resistance. My necklace, which I have a bunch of variations of, is a map of Palestine. I wear it to remind myself where I come from.

It’s very conflicting as a student. I pay university fees to an institution that endorses a lot of things I can’t stand behind. Compared to Montreal, McGill isn’t as diverse as the city, especially in my program. I didn’t feel like there were a lot of associations at McGill for me to find extensive support. I personally found my community outside of McGill.


I’m in a club called the Pan-Asian Collective. Right now, what we’re trying to do is create that space for people within this community. [They started this group] so they can make a space to talk about these things, because there’s not a lot of Asian communities, because they are so split up. We just wanted people to come under one common theme where we could talk about the Asian experience, whether it was people from the diaspora or those straight from Asia and so far away from home.

Their object
In the United Arab Emirates, where I lived, they replaced all the signs of house numbers. They were going to take all the old ones back but I hid it, and brought it with me. I have it right next to my door here as well.


I guess I’m from Vancouver, but my family is Iranian. My dad was exiled from Iran and lived in India for thirteen years. My parents met and got married in India. They applied for refugee status to Canada because certain circumstances made it that they couldn’t return to Iran. I grew up in a big community of Iranian migrants, so in a way I was shaped by both what was happening in Canadian schools and also the migrant community of Iranians, which was very culturally rich.

I’m really happy to be in the Islamic Studies Program. I feel like it’s rare to find that warmth and community in an institution that hits you as so cold, rigid, unfamiliar, and very intimidating in a lot of ways. [WIMES] is really just a hub of warmth. The [WIMES] lounge, the people. Having people who look like you or want to study a similar history, or are part of the same diaspora and hold a lot of the same questions is really nice.

Their object
[This glass decoration has] always been in my house. It’s one of the earliest objects I remember my mom would hang [up] and decorate [with]. I think it’s also one of the most grossly overused images of the Middle Eastern & North African diaspora, but this specific object was one of the first things I really admired. It was one of the things I brought from my family home when I moved here last year because it reminded me of my mother, and it reminded me of my home.


I feel very hyper-aware of my space at McGill. Campus can feel unsafe, especially when groups I think are supposed to have my back do not, like the Arab Student Network.

I really appreciate the work that other groups and faculties on campus help foster. I really enjoy being in the WIMES lounge, where you can have a conversation with a stranger, where it feels like you’re both on the same page.

Their object
My object isn’t exactly what home is for me, but more so what home should be. I wear the Beirut Pride 2018 and 2019 bracelets. People flatten racialized identities where they think that you can only be racialized or queer, but my bracelet reminds me that my identities grow together, they interrelate, they exist together. I feel like a lot of people notice my bracelet and I can’t explain it but I feel like it’s unreadable to them that an Arab man is very proudly queer. It’s not the Middle East that people see in the news or expect from a ‘fresh off the boat’ like me.


My thoughts [about] McGill [have] changed over the years. The longer I’ve stayed here, the more I felt out of place. I’ve struggled to find comfort at McGill because it isn’t as diverse as I imagined. Not speaking French in Montreal is alienating, [and] being a black female was alienating as well. I also struggled relating with some of the Nigerian people who grew up in Canada because I grew up in Nigeria so most of my hobbies were very Nigeria-based and I couldn’t find that here.

I do go back home very often. There was a point where I didn’t go back home often, but I found that that affected my mental health. Now, I try my best to go for winter and summer breaks.

I brought a jersey from the World Cup from 2018. It was one of the first collaborations that Nigeria had done with an international body like Nike. It triggered a movement in millenials in Nigeria to be more proud of being a creative [individual]. Most people in Nigeria aspire to be doctors, engineers, lawyers, so it really excited a creative movement in Nigeria.


During this past summer, I wore my earrings almost everyday and when the fall semester started, I was moving around a lot and lost one of the earrings. For months, I would look everywhere for it. In December, when I finally settled down with people who made me feel safe, I found it on the floor of my new apartment. I was confused for a second and then realized that I had both. Those few months settling down and finding somewhere I felt safe were very hard, and finding that earring again symbolized closure for that time of my life. Now I have both earrings and wear them all the time.

In my childhood, I was disconnected from my family like my grandparents, aunts, and uncles. In the past few years, I was able to get little snippets of who they were because they were nearing the end of their lives. And now that most of them have passed away, I try to stay connected with them. So I carry with me especially jewelry that my grandmother passed down to me. Through this jewelry I can remember who she was and carry myself with her essence. I wear her gold earrings and try to wear them everyday to remind myself that she’s with me. I like wearing her rings even if they don’t fit well on my fingers. I always wear the hamsa necklace which symbolizes protection from the evil eye.

At McGill, it happens a lot for POC students to feel unsafe and feel like they have nowhere to go. If you’re ever feeling like that, I promise you that other people are feeling that too and you’re not alone. Support other POC students at McGill, go to events that they organize, reach out to them, create that protection with them, and make sure they know that they can be safe with you.