2017 survey mapping student experiences.

One of C-FAR’s goals for our first year has been to generate a dataset which can describe some of what Concordia students are experiencing and a student survey seemed like an effective way of reaching out to everyone.

To construct the survey we partnered with Jess Glavina, a Montreal-based writer and scholar whose projects include work around disability and accessibility in institutions and creating radio and theatre that centres the voices of people of colour. Jess collaborated on this project as the former coordinator of the Gender, Sexuality and Learning Diversity Mapping Project out of the Centre for Gender Advocacy. And with our earliest drafts we reached out to Marcus Peters, Loyola Coordinator to the Concordia Student Union (CSU) who supported us in development and sent our survey out as part of the CSU’s undergraduate student survey.

The goal of our portion of the CSU survey was to measure student experiences with unfair treatment and/or discrimination at Concordia based on: (1) ability/disability, (2) sexuality/sexual orientation, (3) race (including Indigeneity and/or (4) gender. These core themes were then intersected with questions about sexual violence, misgendering, access and helpfulness of student services and representation in classrooms and student groups. And throughout this process we have come to recognize how difficult it is to adequately and thoughtfully capture these kinds of student experiences of violence, discrimination, exclusion and injustice through a computer-generated survey. There are many limits to this quantitative method and while our survey might be statistically robust, it is the first time we’ve created something like this and there are many ways we’d like to improve our process. We also recognize how much can be lost in this type of data collection and we encourage you to reach out if you would feel more comfortable sharing your stories one-on-one.

While the CSU begins the statistical analysis of the survey results (which will be undertaken summer 2017), we’re excited to start making sense of our 1491 student responses. Once we have access to the results we will be sharing what we learn, and you can check back here or subscribe to our mailing list for the subsequent results. If you have questions about our process or would like to access our survey please reach out to us at cfar@concordia.ca, we’d be happy to share our resources or hear your feedback.


We also hoped to use this survey as a pedagogical tool by including definitions of concepts that might be new to some of our survey recipients:

ableism: indicates any form of unfairness, discrimination, violence and/or prejudice you may have experienced based on your physical, mental, or developmental disabilities and/or needs. This includes anytime that you have felt that a space, place, event, information, communication, and/or technology has been designed without considering your particular accessibility needs.

trans-gender: describes people whose gender identity does not correspond to the sex they were assigned at birth.

cis-gender: describes people whose gender identity is represented by the sex they were assigned at birth (ie. a person who identifies as a woman and was assigned ‘female’ at birth, a person who identifies as a man and was assigned ‘male’ at birth).

non-binary: describes people whose gender identity does not correspond with binary conceptions of gender (male or female) and does not identify as male or female.

barrier to service: is any kind of social or physical constraint or obstacle that keeps you from being able to take full advantage of a student service at Concordia or participate completely in services that may provide you support during your time as a student.

sexual violence: any violence, physical or psychological, carried out through sexual means or by targeting sexuality. This includes, but is not limited to, sexual assault, sexual harassment, stalking, indecent exposure, voyeurism, degrading sexual imagery, distribution of sexual images or video of a community member without their consent, and cyber harassment or cyberstalking of a sexual nature or related to a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity and/or presentation (taken from Concordia’s Sexual Assault Resource Centre).

 

inter-realities: the lived experiences of marginalized bodies in art and the academy.

Our first day-long and collaborative event, inter-realities: the lived experiences of marginalized bodies in art and the academia featured two panels and a follow-up community consultation highlighting the voices, experiences and stories artists and academics in our universities and our communities. 

Black, Indigenous, POC, queer and trans academics, artists, writers and activists came together to discuss their experiences navigating the systemic obstacles, discrimination, and oppression inherent to the university and publishing and arts industries in Montreal and beyond. Examining their own careers, the inter-realities speakers described the kinds of support and resources needed for future generations to dismantle barriers to access for marginalized peoples.


Our first panel featured a discussion around the manifestations and enduring effects of institutional and colonial violence in the academy through a panel presented by Travis Wysote and Sundus Abdul Hadi.

T & S - IR

Travis Wysote was the first of the day to share his experiences with us, Wysote is a Phd student in Humanities and [INSERT BIO]. To situate the university as a technology of settler-colonialism, Wysote spoke directly to the violent role of institutions of higher education in facilitating the ongoing occupation of Indigenous land throughout Turtle Island:

“The whole idea of education, as we understand it right now, the type of institution that we’re in right now naturalizes colonialism, it has to just to exist. And it’s an outcropping of religious teaching – missions and churches and all these sorts of institutions – that were created to more or less fabricate a ‘consenting paradigm’ in order to allow this land to be dispossessed. So, I think that in many ways the academy is still doing that. Dene political scientist Glen Coulthard has a fantastic book called Red Skin, White Masks (which is a play on Frantz Fanon’s excellent work Black Skin, White Masks). If you read that be really critical of his sexism, but it’s a very good book. What Glen Coulthard argues basically is that post-secondary is an extension of the residential school system because what it’s basically trying to do is take Indigenous people off the land and put them in schools. If they have jobs, if they’re literally not on the land, they’re not in the way of your pipeline. Period. The more Indigenous bodies you actually have on the land, that’s more obstacles you have”.

Wysote contextualized the specific, embodied effects of colonial violence on Indigenous university students and described the kinds of support networks and resources that are lacking for Indigenous students whose communities are working to resist ongoing and systemic projects of occupation and colonization:

“We’re being attacked on every possible level of our existence, our relationships are being poisoned, our families are being turned against each other, they’re being divided. This is my support network when I’m in school right? How many people have families at home that they call and they relate to, you know? But when you’re Indigenous sometimes your family is out fighting something crazy, fighting the government you know?”

In illuminating the particular barriers faced by Indigenous students, Wysote calls attention to reality that in order to support Indigenous students, universities must recognize and address the specific ways in which Indigenous students are excluded, their knowledges deemed illegitimate and their support networks threatened by ongoing colonial violence. And as a first step in interrupting colonial racism and oppression in the academy, Wysote suggests a collective acknowledgment of the ways in which our universities reproduce the colonial violence upon which they are founded.

Sundus Abdul Hadi complemented Wysote’s analysis with her own stories, as a current master’s student in communications born to Iraqi parents in the UAE in 1984 and raised in Montreal. Abdul Hadi is also a painter and multi-media artist, working around the concepts of media representation, and subverting existing images. Sundus Abdul Hadi shared her experiences in the university navigating racism throughout her arts education post-9/11. One story in particular, describes Abdul Hadi sitting through arts classes where violent and oppressive misrepresentations of Arab identities went uncontested and artistic expressions deemed ‘other’ were either silenced or ignored:

“And then I started having professors trying to tell me to stop and trying to tell me ‘you should do work other than about Iraq, try to move away from that subject’ and I’m like I can’t, this is what’s happening right now and this is what’s speaking to me and this is what I need to say. My critiques used to be a lot of silence”. 

In comparison to her experiences as an undergraduate student in studio art, Adbul Hadi now recognizes how crucial supportive departments, professors and peers has been to her success in her master’s degree in communications, which prioritizes socially conscious critique and where ‘othered’ identities are represented and given space:

“I feel supported, I know that’s a very rare experience which is why I feel blessed every day. Thank God, thank God that I feel I have a support system with my professors who respect my opinions, who respect where I’m coming from who are not trying to change me or guide me in any certain way. I don’t have to compromise my voice and I know every day that that is not the norm and I know that a lot of people probably had to fight to get to that point. And I’m hoping it continues. And the more I see people like me, the more I’m feeling like there’s power in numbers, and that this is starting to change, things are starting to change a little bit and it’s about literally the work that has been done in the past creating more a welcoming environment”.

In contrasting these two experiences, Abdul Hadi highlights the transformative power of representation and collective commitments to carving out space for identities historically excluded from the university. She describes the alienation that is felt by students of colour whose classrooms lack both representation and culturally appropriate frameworks for understanding knowledges beyond the white, Western/Euro-centric academic standard. Her stories and expertise demonstrate the urgency of addressing institutional exclusion through self-representation and meaningful support for students, expressions and knowledges deemed ‘other’ by the academy.


Our second panel emerged as an intimate talk-show style conversation between artists Kai Cheng Thom and Kama La Mackerel discussing community, art, success and healing in the face of transphobia and racism across institutions.

KC & K - IR

Kai Cheng Thom is a fiery writer, performer, spoken word artist, drag-dance sensation, essayist, and poet. Her first novel, Fierce Femmes and Notorious LiarsA Dangerous Trans Girl’s Confabulous Memoir was recently published followed by her poetry collection a place called No Homeland. Thom is also as a social worker and co-founder of Monster Academy Montreal, a radical mental health initiative for youth. During her conversation and interview with artist Kama La Mackerel, Kai Cheng Thom shared stories, experiences and advice for women of colour in the publishing world – and transwomen of colour especially.

Thom spoke specifically to the realities of trans women navigating oppressive institutions in which financial precarity and employment discrimination are used as methods of exclusion from the resources and access that make art-making possible:

“There is one reality that I think most trans women of colour inhabit, particularly those of us who have transitioned or come out, I don’t like those terms necessarily but you kind of know what I mean, in our generation and generations before, is one of frankly economic hardship. You know, like employment discrimination is rife against trans women, particularly those of us who don’t conform to binary ideals of gender and what women are, quote unquote, supposed to look like or not. And with that economic discrimination also comes like a class culture, meaning that a lot of trans women, particularly trans women of colour are not equipped to enter the world of publishing and particularly literary publishing”.

Economic and institutional systems of discrimination are not only a barrier to art production but dually act to foster a ‘sense of scarcity’ and competition which Kama La Mackerel expanded on in response to Thom’s point. La Mackerel is a tio’tia:ke/Montreal-based performer, writer, poet, story-teller, curator and multi-disciplinary artist whose work explores aesthetic practices as forms of resilience, resistance and healing for marginalized communities. Kama’s work is both deeply personal and political, articulating an anti-colonial praxis through cultural production. Speaking between her experiences as an artist in community, activist and institutional contexts, La Mackerel described this scarcity as a function of the institution working to isolate marginalized people from collective power:

“Because that’s also what institutions do, institutions will give you the sense of scarcity, like only one of you can make it. As marginalized people we are always put into competition with each other, which leads to even more isolation, right?”

And for La Mackerel, resisting this ‘sense of scarcity’ is how to work towards emancipation, which requires working collectively to build ‘models of cooperation’ in the face of the isolation that marginalized artists are expected to embody:

“It’s such an important point: like for me it’s so important that if I’m going to make it there, I don’t want to make it on my own. I want to make it with all of my people, and part of the work, yes, for me, in terms of rethinking the question of integrity has always been around spaces. Or (…) whom do we carry with us. Because if you want to make it as the one trans woman who’s going to have a cover on a magazine, you’re going to be alone and do we want to be alone? I really believe in the model of co-operation as opposed to scarcity, as opposed to competition actually. Because our work is also about emancipation, and for emancipation to happen it has to be collective, it has to be every single one of us”.

Kai Cheng Thom followed-up with her own take on collaboration: “For me I cannot stress enough the importance of connecting with other marginalized artists, particularly women of colour”. And the two artists demonstrated this advice in the very design of their inter-realities panel as a talk-show style conversation between two trans women talking to each other. In doing so, Thom and La Mackerel consciously interrupted the mainstream and oppressive ‘singular trans women narrative’ that is so often expected by cis audiences. Thom summed it up for the group, simply put: “How you rise in institutions, while also making space for other people is that you just take other people with you as you go up”.

Kama La Mackerel furthered this idea, reminding us that we also resist competition and isolation and tap into our collective potential by loving each other! La Mackerel described this is in reflecting on her own strategies for resistance, asking, “how do we get rid of a capitalist, competitive, white supremacist system? And my answer, after all those years for me, is that true love is the answer”.

And finally, it is important that Kai Cheng Thom and Kama La Mackerel are not only creating art that represents trans women, women of colour and marginalized identities, but also that they are both dedicated to creating platforms for people to self-represent and express and share their own stories. Throughout their conversation, both artists contributed strategies for emerging artists working against systemic injustice and barriers, adding that facing and responding to these injustices, as La Mackerel suggests, becomes part of the work “because the angry trans woman poem is also a great poem, you know? It’s a literary piece”. And when asked how to tap into our individual and particular experiences, how to find our stories, Kai Cheng Thom offers us direction:

“We are born wanting, we live wanting, being hungry, needing more love, needing more attention, needing more space, needing more voice, needing more words, needing more strength, this feeling of just wanting. And I think we’re not given any space to acknowledge this, right? Like we’re taught just to be invisible, to disappear, to be self-sacrificing, to give away and those kinds of things. And I think honestly one of the most important parts of finding your story is giving voice to that wanting, like what is it that you want? How long have you wanted it? What did it feel like to have that desire? What was its shape? What was its colour? What did it make you dream about? Just allowing ourselves that room to be selfish. To be centred on the self, because we’re taught not to have selves as women and women of colour, right? To be completely self-less and when we can find that selfishness in ourselves, I wanted something, I didn’t get it. I needed something, it wasn’t given. This is your story, this is your story”.



The inter-realities event then culminated in our first community consultation, centred around the question of how to collectively transform our academic spaces, facilitated by our own Outreach Coordinator Annick MF and freelance journalist, writer, consultant, filmmaker, and radio host Aimee Louw. We designed the consultation to be a platform for reflection and brainstorming in response to the stories, experiences and expertise shared throughout the day’s two panels and as a means to identify which issues are important to our community, what still needs to be done, and how best to support this work going forward. The consultation came together around five key realities identified by our community as foci for addressing institutional injustice:

  1. Building on Kama La Mackerel’s description of the model of cooperation, we must recognize, question and resist the ways in which our institutions encourage competition over cooperation and we must approach our alliances and allyship under a framework of friendship and care. From experience, we have seen that allies, particularly allies with privilege and power, risk appropriating the stories of the marginalized groups they are working with. Allies should work to protect and value each other’s stories rather than exploit them for opportunities, resources, careers or social capital.
  2. Accessibility is one of the primary barriers facing students, this includes physical accessibility, access to wellness and support on campus and access to alternative opportunities for learning for students with different learning styles. Our universities must prioritize accessibility as central to the project of fostering inclusion, not as an afterthought, and this will require the expertise and experience of marginalized members of our community who have been navigating inaccessibility in higher education.
  3. And relatedly, we must focus on mental health and improving mental health services in our universities. Mental health is essential to student success, and yet across universities, students face difficulty accessing adequate mental health services and face oppression in the bureaucratic processes required for access. Students are often penalized (attendance, late assignments) for prioritizing their mental health while their needs are not being met by student services, at times, students feel their only option is to resort to a performance of desperation in order to be seen and supported as only in moments of crisis is student mental health taken seriously.
  4. We must acknowledge that part of what keeps meaningful inclusion from moving forward is that we are speaking across a ‘divide’ within the institution where efforts for inclusion and building open and sustainable care networks seem to get lost. What we are trying to create is a space and environment we have not yet seen, and the reality is that those in positions of institutional power have, for the most part, never experienced and do not understand the systemic injustice that students are trying to address.
  5. And finally, in addition to navigating institutional injustice, marginalized students are tasked with educating members of the university who are not informed about systemic oppression. In classrooms and spaces lacking representation and populated primarily by white and cis professors, peers and staff, this unrecognized and uncompensated labour is expected from marginalized and underrepresented students who are repeatedly called-on to explain injustice to the privileged. Especially in accessing student services or classroom support, marginalized students must first inform professors and staff about their realities, as staff lack adequate training for the support of all students and student realities. 

Some of themes that come out of our inter-realities consultation, especially around frameworks of care, were reiterated and expanded upon in our follow-up bordered-realities community consultation.


We acknowledge and thank our participants and speakers for joining us in consultation and for their generous and essential contributions to this work. We also want to thank you for the work you do to make our communities better places in which to learn, live and create. And if these experiences and stories resonate with you, or if you have your own story to share, please reach out to us at cfar@concordia.ca. We would love to hear from you.

And we would like to thank our hosts at Concordia’s Milieux Institute, our co-organizers the Committee for Equity and Visibility in the Academy (CEVA), and our sponsors the Concordia Faculty of Arts and Science (FAS), the Concordia Student Union (CSU) and the McGill Black Students’ Network (BSN).

bordered-realities: families, migration & displacement.

On March 26 2017 we invited members of the community and their families (across all generations) into our second community consultation which featured a facilitated discussion centred around how displacement and migration affect family dynamics, sense of community, social development and daily lives.

We were engaging in these conversations as part of the process of ideating our university as one that is inclusive for all forms of family and identity. The consultation was facilitated by our own Outreach Coordinator Annick MF, and came together around themes of migration, displacement, status/citizenship, gentrification, diasporic realities, barriers around education and social development as well the necessity for meaningful links and relationships between communities and the academy from elementary into high schools, CEGEPS, the university and other professional institutions. Annick’s presentation included sound clips of parents and students describing the kinds of barriers that have come up in accessing education based on their citizenship, language identity and social location. Some of the clips are taken from interviews conducted by Annick for the Matriarch podcast while others are recordings from inter-realities, our first community consultation. 

After listening to the sound clips all together, we presented our participants with themes that would centre our discussions, including: advocacy, art & activism, culture & language preservation, education, employment, family understandings & expectations, food access, health & wellness, housing & community, religion/spirituality, status & instability.

We then had the group split up into smaller groups to workshop these question prompts: What does this theme mean for you? What moments in the video prompts spoke to you? Do these themes affect your daily life? If so how? Do you address these themes in your daily life? If so how? Do these themes affect people you care for? Affect your community? How would you like to address this theme? What are the needs, concerns, questions this theme brings up for you?

Our day culminated in a round-table discussion in which each participant was given a moment to share something they had experienced or a feeling, impression or thought from the workshop.

Participants were thoughtful, collaborative and generous with their experiences and shared their expertise navigating an educational system that marginalizes and excludes their identities and knowledges. We heard stories, strategies and solutions, and collaboratively, the group generated five key institutional injustices that must be addressed:

  1. Students working to transform the university and advance inclusion are faced with resistance from professors and administrators. And students critiquing colonial teaching styles, syllabi and subjects feel hostility in their classrooms from other students and faculty. Students are lacking an inclusive community in which they can thrive and feel supported and which also honours their diverse identities, experiences, and realities.
  2. And relatedly, the centering of western and Eurocentric knowledges and canons excludes non-western, Global South and Indigenous knowledges. And students who do not fit into these ‘academic’ knowledge systems face distinct challenges producing knowledge without an institutional framework that teaches them how to communicate or engage with their own realities, communities and knowledges.
  3. Immigration and displacement hyphenate the identities of students and members of our community. Students with hyphenated identities have the added challenge of speaking across their different identities and languages to be legible in institutional learning spaces. And this hyphenation moves through generations, challenging our communities to navigate raising interracial families and children who can self-advocate in the face of institutional injustice with little support. The effects of exclusion from institutions of higher learning are intergenerational and are felt as early as students’ first years in the educational system.
  4. Students responsible for the labour of carework and students who must balance their studies with their commitments and obligations to family and community care face particular barriers that have been made invisible in the university. Current institutional resources in place to care for members of the university are mechanical and do not adequately address the diverse needs of our students and we lack an institutional framework with which to recognize the emotional labour, carework and social reproduction that students are engaged in. The university is also lacking crucial community relationships that could root institutional work in wider social movements and make the university a more accessible space for many excluded members of the community.
  5. In the context of Montreal’s declaration as a ‘sanctuary city’ for refugees and undocumented immigrants, our educational system lacks a clear and holistic framework for supporting and educating the members of our community who are without status. And while students might be invited to sit in without registration, undocumented students do not receive viable recognition for their intellectual labour. At a national level, universities cannot provide funding for members of our local community who are not recognized by the state, private and donor funding therefore plays a role in deciding who is supported (funded) and ultimately who is included. From students’ earliest years in our education system, our schools mirror the power imbalances and hierarchies of our social world; immigrant and refugee students and their families are often excluded from the community, criminalized and profiled, struggle with language and identity preservation, are perceived as different or ‘other’, face poverty and lack access to adequate housing and food. And all of these phenomena are perpetuated (rather than interrupted) in the classroom.

And after working out these five key institutional injustices we asked our participants to share their visions for moving towards equity and inclusion in our educational spaces. But before we could discuss moving forward, the group spoke about how difficult it is to reach solutions without the platform and space to share their experiences of injustice that often go unheard and unacknowledged. These five transformative directions were developed collaborative by the group and have come to inform and ground our institutional work moving forward:

  1. We must first make space and time for engaging in meaningful conversation around the experiences of our community’s marginalized and excluded. This will demand collaboration and consultation, it will require recognizing the expertise of our community and specifically the historically excluded in transforming our educational spaces towards inclusion.
  2. And because institutional barriers at the university level are intergenerational, we must simultaneously match our efforts to foster inclusion here with initiatives in elementary schools, highschools, CEGEPS and daycares. We must produce programming and opportunities for young people in our communities to participate in the transformation of our educational system. In particular, part of this work will demand decolonial efforts to interrupt the way students are (or are not) taught histories of colonialism and displacement (on Turtle Island but also throughout the world) from the earliest point of educational formation.
  3. We must acknowledge that our institutional relationships are fractured, that students and communities who have historically been excluded from the academy experience this exclusion at the hands of faculty, administrators, staff and students who participate in the perpetuation of discrimination, colonialism, racism, sexism, homo/transphobia, and ableism. It is then the responsibility of our entire community and especially the privileged of our universities to work towards inclusion and to listen and respond. This institutional transformation demands a university-wide approach and professional development at every level of university operations (staff, administration and faculty) to empower our community to be familiar with and able to support every identity, experience and reality.
  4. Relatedly, this institutional transformation demands a complete reinvention of the university towards a holistic framework of care in which students and members of the academy are supported and are able to care for themselves and their communities and also have this labour be acknowledged. Under this system we recognize that the activity of care can actualize thinking and theory, and that accessible education demands that students are able to use the university to integrate their activism, community work and education.
  5. And finally, institutional transformation demands a physical presence and a physical home. An emerging equity and inclusion framework will require a body or a space that is directly connected to the community and community organizations locally, nationally, globally and across both academic and national borders. This institutional body or space will act as a liaison between students and administration to advocate for and recognize students’ political, emotional and activist labour and community contributions. It will develop support and service networks in the university and focus especially on strengthening services that are meant to support the academy’s marginalized and . This institutional body or space will develop programming and training for all members of the university to foster inclusion through pedagogies and curricula, hiring and recruitment.

We acknowledge and thank our participants for joining us in consultation and for their generous and essential contributions to this work. We also want to thank you for the work you do in your own classrooms, lives and communities. And if these experiences or visions for our collective futures resonate with you, or if you have stories, strategies or solutions you’d like to share, please reach out to us at cfar@concordia.ca. We would love to hear from you.