The Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Legislative Council heard a presentation from representatives of the Indigenous Affairs Committee (IAC) of McGill. IAC Commissioner Carlee Kawinehta Loft highlighted the work of the committee in its effort to bring awareness to Indigenous issues.
Loft discussed the 2016 Indigeneity and Allyship Report, which details aspects of the McGill environment that negatively impact Indigenous students, including underrepresentation and tokenism. The report also delves into ways in which allies of Indigenous communities can act in solidarity with Indigenous students on campus.
Loft also presented to Council last year’s IAC report, which identifies the various steps that have been taken to strengthen Indigenous awareness on campus. These include the Indigeneity and Solidarity Week, which featured Indigenous speakers giving presentations on Indigenous identity and experiences with settler-colonialism.
The IAC is assembling a “Consultation and Solidarity 101” guide to inform non-Indigenous students of ways to better work alongside their Indigenous peers. The guide gives an overview on how to properly consult with Indigenous groups when engaging with Indigenous issues. The guide will specifically mention the significance of land acknowledgements, often spoken before lectures or presentations on campus.
“The important thing is to understand the words [of the land acknowledgement] beyond just saying them,” Loft said.
Questions about Alleged Sexual Violence Within the Faculty of Dentistry
Joshua Chin (Faculty of Medicine), a member from the gallery, brought up a recent CBC report alleging incidences of sexual violence and other forms of harassment within the McGill Faculty of Dentistry, and asked whether actions were taken by the Dentistry Students Association to address the allegations. Chin directed his question to Dentistry Representative Nishath Syed, who was not present for the meeting.
“Students in [Dentistry] do not feel safe coming to single out problems or express concerns,” Chin said. “I wanted to ask the representative from the Faculty of Dentistry whether actions have been taken by the Dentistry Students Association, whether or not we have responded properly to support students who have managed to speak out, and others who are not able to.”
Arts Representative Corinne Bulger thanked Chin for bringing up the article, but could not speak for Syed. “I think it’s really important that we bring that up and make that a priority for not only our [Legislative] Council, but also our student body in order to protect our students,” Bulger said.
Vice-President (VP) External Connor Spencer also acknowledged Chin’s concerns by informing Council that an Our Turn task force has been assembled in order to deal with cultures of sexual violence within McGill Faculties.
“The point of this task force is to look at what is happening within the Faculties, what is the rape culture that exists in each of these faculties, and to try and unpack that very specifically,” Spencer said.
Executives Commit to SSMU Reform
SSMU President Muna Tojiboeva summarized the final executive committee report of 2017, highlighting a commitment to reform the student union. The report emphasizes two main objectives for reform: community awareness of SSMU’s functions and increased engagement of membership.
The report details methods of tabling and workshops in order to send a consistent message about SSMU’s relevance within McGill, Quebec, and Canada. With regards to membership engagement, Tojiboeva stated that SSMU will set up surveys and face-to-face conversations in order to understand and address membership concerns directly.
Spencer stressed the importance of moving forward with a framework for systematic reform in order to make future reform efforts easier in the coming years.
“We’re in a position where we know where the problems are because we’ve been working with them for six months,” Spencer said. “It is a huge project. Are we going to be able to put it all together in one semester? Probably not, but we need to start somewhere, and we might as well start now when we have a team of people that are actually committed to doing this work.”
VP Internal Maya Koparkar echoed SSMU’s commitment to reform: “If you’re not going to come into the system with plans to actually try and see through changes then you shouldn’t be an elected official in this system,” she said.