If you’re anything like I was in my first year at York (several years ago) then your life is basically going to class and going home. I remember aiming to spend as little time as possible at York. As you can imagine, this led to a life of isolation (not to mention adding to my social awkwardness). It wasn’t until my second year when I thought to myself that I needed more. I had a part time job but still my life was only about my classes. Life should not only be about academics! I started walking around campus trying to figure out what else I could do. It was then that I decided to get involved around campus, so I started volunteering. Being a volunteer opened up a whole new door of opportunities. I was interacting with more people than I ever thought I would. Food for thought: If there ever was any benefit of getting involved, it is the opportunity to meet new people. Anyway, I started educating myself on everyday issues beyond the classroom. I can say now with confidence that I am a much more different (and better) person than I ever thought I would be, as my volunteer experience has helped shaped my worldview. A lot of these lessons were around social justice and equity. For example, I learnt that being an ally is the most significant thing that anyone can do in their lifetime.
So, who or what is an ally? In everyday people terms, an ally is basically a friend. In human rights, we define an ally as a person who is able put aside their own oppression and stand in solidarity against another form of oppression (Source: Ann Bishop). An ally is a person in what is considered “a position of privilege” supporting the rights of individuals in positions of “less privilege”, for example an able-bodied individual against ableism; a cisgender/heterosexual person against transphobia/homophobia. Every single one of us needs allies! Therefore, we in turn need to be allies to others.
So, how can we as York students be allies to one another? None of us is perfect and we all make mistakes, I know I have. Being socially conscious takes effort. Here are some tips that I have learnt over the years that ensure that everyone is treated with dignity and respect.
- Student leaders, when you are planning an event make sure it is as inclusive as possible. Create a checklist: My event is accessible to everyone; my event will not leave anyone feeling left out or leave a “bad taste” is anyone’s mouth etc.
- Practice the use gender neutral language – e.g. instead of saying “hi guys”, try “hi folks”. It is also useful not to assume people’s sexual orientation e.g. instead of saying “boyfriend or girlfriend” try “partner”
- Make a habit of using language and terms that do not belittle individuals or cultures –Hint: Think Peter Griffin in Family Guy. If it’s something he would say, then it’s probably a big no no!
- Do not tolerate transphobic, homophobic or racist comments or jokes – York U is a beautifully multicultural and diverse environment, let’s not make anyone feel out of place.
- Speaking up against incidents that do not sound or feel right and reporting discriminatory practices. Don’t know where to start? , try the Centre for Human Rights.
Being an ally goes a long way especially in supporting mental wellness. After all mental wellness is a universal concern as it affects all of us.
On a side note, have you seen the Diversity Peer Education Team on campus yet? We are usually at Vari Hall at the RED Zone kiosk every Wednesday between 10:00AM-2:00PM and we always have fun and free giveaways.
That’s all folks…for now at least