The Silhouette: Please introduce yourself.
Celina Ruan: My name is Celina. I am in my third year of the Honours Biochemistry program. I'm involved in a couple clubs at McMaster [University] such as the MSU SWHAT service. I'm also a part of the Wellness Outreach Team for the Student Wellness Center.
What is SWHAT?
SWHAT is a service under the MSU and it stands for Student Walk Home Attendant Team. We are a group of volunteer walkers that help walk students home. It is a free, confidential and safe service that provides free walks or [accompanied] bus rides to anyone in the McMaster community, on or off campus. We have a service area of around half an hour and we operate seven days a week from 7 pm to 1 am. We can walk anyone home during that time. Say someone has a night class and they don't want to walk them alone, they can request a walk ahead of time or just call in and we'll send off walkers with flashlights and walkie-talkies. Our services are to make sure everyone gets a safe walk home.
Why did you become involved with SWHAT?
I got involved in SWHAT in my second year in the winter semester. I applied to be a walker. I started in that semester and I thought it was just a really great community. All the [executive members] and other walkers are all really nice. It was also just a really nice space to go in the evenings, just to play board games or work while being there to bring safety to the community. Then, in my third year, I saw the opportunity to apply to be an exec. I thought the service that SWHAT provides was really important, especially because there have been some instances on or near campus that have affected the safety of McMaster students. It'd be really important to help provide a sense of overall safety and wellness to my classmates and other people in the McMaster community.
Some students are worried that they are too awkward or that it will be weird to have two strangers walking home with them. What do you have to say about that?
I think that can definitely be a hesitation for a lot of people to start using SWHAT. You might think: "I don't know if it'll be convenient. It'll be awkward." But we can promise you that we'll try to match your energy. If you prefer a quiet walk, we can join you on a quiet walk. But if you would like a conversation, we have two friendly and welcoming volunteers that can provide that for you on your walk home.
We've had walks from campus to Shoppers Drug Mart, anywhere on campus or one of our most frequent requests is to parking lot M. I think some of the most common misconceptions are how many times you can use it. We are a free service and there is no limit to how many times you can request a walk. Our aim is just to provide campus safety.
How would a student book a SWHAT walk?
The usual process from start to finish on the SWHAT walk is pretty straightforward. So we get some requests using our Microsoft Teams form. So that can be booked ahead of time but a lot of our requests come from calls during our operating hours. You can call our dispatcher and we'll take down your name, time, location and even the gender of your choice for the walkers.
Any other comments?
Just don't be afraid to request a walk. Our service is there just so you can use it. We're active seven days a week and we're more than happy to provide a walk. Later in the fall semester, we'll be having an event called the Walkathon. For one month, we will select a charity or a nonprofit organization. For every walk that is requested, we will be giving $1 to that charity. If you're looking to walk somewhere and would like a partner, call SWHAT!
The Silhouette: Please introduce yourself.
Yiming Zhang: My name is Yiming and I’m in my third year of the [Bachelor of Health Sciences] at McMaster [University].
What are you involved with at McMaster?
I'm a pretty introverted guy. So when I go out to McMaster campus, you won't see me during spirit week or anything like that but I'll be in clubs. I'm a part of three clubs: the Meducator, McMaster Extra Life and Homework Help for Charity.
You say you are introverted. What leads you to try new things and put yourself out there?
A lot of times, trying things isn't really the hard part. People often have that mindset where they need to avoid 'wasting' time. I think that's a really big issue. No one wants to waste time. We want to be very sure of what we do. But, to some degree, I'm never going to be sure. Let's say the dance team wasn't mostly girls and let's say I knew how to dance. Maybe I don't know if I want to join the club, maybe it's too hard or maybe I don't like the atmosphere but I have to try to know. For the cover of the Meducator, someone else had the idea and wanted a volunteer. So I just offered. I think too much thought goes into it. It's only embarrassing if you think it's embarrassing. I think you just have to go for it.
Have you ever used an English name?
I haven't. My name actually comes from a Chinese idiom. I think it's about this songbird that never sings, really just making it a bird. But once it does sing, its song is really beautiful. Here's the curse: I realized that I am painfully average at almost everything. For example, my sister [and I] are decent at swimming. That's good in comparison to other things we don't really know. I feel pretty average at studying. I'm average at piano and I've been doing piano from maybe grade four to Grade 12. A lot of time, I'm left thinking, "Okay, where's my song? Where's my talent? Why can’t I just have the talent?"
Some people just have a really big passion for something. Let's say drawing, you just see them drawing every single day [and] as a result, they get really good at it, right? For me, I think being average is kind of concerning because you can't manifest passion if you don't have it. I think that the passion aspect is critical. It just makes you feel, "Well I'm doing this, it's passable but they're doing this really really well". It doesn't always feel great but that's how it is. But I feel like then you'll find someone who's doing it really really well too. So eventually, being 'passable' isn't enough.
I don't have the strongest passion for piano. I love it but I don't think it's what I want to do. I can still practice for a long time but it can get tiring to practice the same thing for hours and hours and hours every day while I just haven't really gotten any better. I feel like if I had more passion, it'd be a lot easier.
But let me be clear, I'm not [going to] let it stop me from doing what I like. Even though I might say that something isn't my one true calling, I'll still try it. Yeah, it'd be nice if I was amazing at it, but that's all. I can't keep going like that. I can't just think: "Wow, I'm so sad and disappointed". You can still process your emotions like that but staying there doesn't get anyone anywhere. You're still where you started, albeit with a bit less emotional baggage. You can't let that stop you, you have to keep moving forward and do what you want.
C/O Christian Braun
The Silhouette: Please introduce yourself.
Wil Fujarczuk: My name is Wil Fujarczuk. I use he/him pronouns. I currently manage the sexual violence prevention education program and the sexual violence prevention and response office, which are under the equity and inclusion office. My alter-ego is Miss Unita Assk and she's a consent-educating drag queen. I use Unita to open the doors into what can be a really tough conversation around sexual violence and to provide some queer representation.
What inspired you to enter this role?
Fujarczuk: I had a big moment in grad school that flipped my thinking . . . I took a course on gender, peace-building and human security . . . After the course ended, some classmates invited me to San Jose, the capital city, to write anti-street harassment messages. I noticed all the men who came to speak to us came to speak to me. Not any of my women classmates. It was a moment of recognizing what it means to use your privilege for others. I started to learn more about sexual harassment and sexual violence more broadly and these experiences really gave me the opportunity to think about: "What's my role as a cis, queer man in this work? What does it mean to use the social location I occupy, the privileges I have, the oppression I face, all these pieces?" It's also allowed me to reflect on my own sense of self, my relationship to my gender. I think I've become a better human and a better man because of doing this work, grounding myself in feminism and learning from people who have been doing this work for so long.
What inspired you to start doing drag, particularly at McMaster?
Fujarczuk: I know folks in the corporate world who are my age who are not open about their sexuality at work. We know the stats are even higher for trans folks in workplaces. That bring[s] into question: "Is this a safe place for me? Do I have to compromise certain elements of myself to be "professional"?" Part of it is demonstrating to students that — no, you don't.
For me, it's also about queer representation on campus. I think of myself as an awkward, queer, scrawny first-year: had I known that there was a staff member who was a part-time drag queen on campus [and] how that would impact me. It's about that representation and visibility. It's about making this conversation a little bit more approachable. At Welcome Week, [it’s about] having Unita present and that level of visibility. And I'll actually be hosting Mac Welcome this year, which is very exciting.
Part of the idea with Unita was also to focus on strengths. At grad school, we learned about negative peace and positive peace. Negative peace is the absence of war, the absence of violence. Positive peace is the presence of reconciliation, all these other beautiful things. I think about that in terms of sexual violence. Yes, it's important to talk about what we don't want: a world without sexual violence. But, yes, it's important to talk about what we do want . . . healthy sexuality, healthy relationships, queer representation and people being comfortable with who they are. So Unita's taking it out of this first peace into this peace around: What do we want? What is the world we want to build?
What advice would you give to your younger self or incoming 2SLGBTQIA+ students at McMaster?
Fujarczuk: The first thing that comes to mind is stealing Priyanka's words — winner of Canada's Drag Race season one — just be gay. But I also know that journey of coming to where I am was [a] part of it. I couldn't just be gay because we grow up in, not just heteronormative, but homophobic families, cultures, societies and schools. It's also self-compassion, not "just be gay". It doesn't mean letting myself off the hook for everything. It means acknowledging what's going on in my life. I'm doing what I can and that I don't have to always give it my all.
Also, find people who embrace you for who you are. I know that this isn't new but there's a truth to it. Sometimes we bend ourselves into a different shape to accommodate what we think people expect of us. Then the folks who might be drawn to us in our full, true, authentic selves might not be drawn to us. We miss that connection. By having that self-compassion, by being yourself as much as we're able, I think we can draw folks in who celebrate us. That's key.
C/O Christian Braun
Please introduce yourself.
I am Glenda van der Leeuw. I am a student counselor with McMaster Student Wellness Center and a registered social worker.
Last summer, you ran a program called "You Belong in the Room" [with McMaster University’s Student Success Centre]. How was it?
I decided to facilitate "You Belong in the Room" for Black students to create a safe space for them and talk about imposter syndrome from a Black lens. [In the program] we talk about how that sometimes hinders our drive and, often, how our confidence is really harmed when we have self-doubt . . . We're really trying to stress with students that yes, of course the system is broken. We can all acknowledge that. [But] what do we do from here? In order for those systems to be corrected, dismantled or fixed, there needs to be leadership spaces for racialized people in those spaces.
Another part of the program and my work was learning how to manage the stressors from discrimination. I hope to empower our students [to] learn to love and value their own identity. I'm hoping this group will give a lasting confidence, highlight their value and the unique strengths they bring. Altogether, it also relates to courage. Recognizing your own value can be the instant courage when we’re afraid to take action. It motivates students to seize opportunities and encourages them to step out of their comfort zone to transcend the lack of diversity and racism that's keeping them down.
Since “You Belong in the Room” has ended, have there been other, similar programs?
We’ve established the Black X-scape. It’s a support group for students that centers mental health. It's only been running for the last couple weeks and it's a drop-in. When I first facilitated “You Belong in the Room,” I saw these conversations needed to be furthered. So, we created this space where students can reclaim their mental health and have discussions about the barriers they're experiencing. It's all students, a lot of shareable knowledge. That comfort, that support is really valuable. Our wellness is so important, especially when we're experiencing racism. We need a space to talk about these things and unpack them. That's where community really steps in. Community support is so, so important to thriving. It's where we learn, feel safe and also where we can acknowledge how to navigate these spaces. I'm learning from my past and sharing it with the students in a way we can reflect so they can take away something from these experiences and use it to their own advantage.
What are your goals, both personal and related to your work?
I always strive to reach my own potential. I have my own imposter syndrome and underlying doubts. We talk about the upper limits that, sometimes, we are afraid to reach. We each have to reflect on our upper limits, our fears and how we can confront them. So, I think I want to do some speeches talking about that in conjunction with anti-Black racism. In terms of the students, the students are just amazing. That's really what I want to do with my own role: use my experiences and create a platform for them to share and express whatever they would like. I'm hoping with Black X-Scape, students will further explore what they need and be able to showcase their skills.
Have there been any experiences that really stand out to you?
We talk about celebrating your achievements, something that really internalizes confidence. It prepares you for the next challenge. When you reflect back on all of your skills, your assets, what prepared you for this moment. When I think about that, I feel overall just happy with myself and my drive despite the struggles and barriers I’ve overcome. This last year at McMaster has been a whole new journey for me. I'm really excited to see what McMaster has in store, to expand on the potential and go from there. Not to mention, I’ve really enjoyed learning from my Black elders. Listening to them has created positivity for me and informs how I’m moving forward, understanding my role as a learner and as a leader, developing further understanding and honouring our identities. That's what I aim to do in my space: honouring students' intersectionalities, their whole identity. It's so important to live completely in your own identity and be confident.
C/O Jayhan Kherani
Please introduce yourself.
My name is Kayla Willis-Simmonds. I'm the president of LABS, which is the Law Aspiring Black Students club at McMaster [University]. This club was created on the basis that we have a disadvantage when it comes to having the correct information when pursuing law and what law school is going to be like. We're here to provide members in our community with information, essentially and give them viable pathways [and] show them something that they can see themselves doing. We also connect them to like-minded individuals not just here at McMaster, but in other universities as well. It's also corresponding to the BFL chapter, the Black Future Lawyers. That's orchestrated by the University of Toronto. All of this is to just help Black undergraduates know what law school is like and prepare them for their futures.
What kind of law are you interested in?
That is something that has varied. Of course, with How to Get Away with Murder and Suits, a lot of people want to do the corporate route. But after seeing the competition and the environment there, I don't think it's the right fit for me. Now, I'm thinking about either family or immigration law. I definitely think immigration could be beneficial and a better fit for me.
What are your goals?
One of my personal goals is more immediate: to graduate this semester and get on the Dean's List. Then, another goal that's personal to me is to take the LSAT. I was supposed to last summer, but my anxiety stopped me and I ended up canceling. I think my anxiety came from just not wanting to fail . . . What happens when everything you've constructed from childhood to young adulthood to prepare you for this might "fail" here? It hurts, so I think that's one thing that prevented me from at least attempting and trying. However, I'm going to be a little bit more mature about the situation and tap into my mental health to know when I'm feeling too anxious so I can be in a good mental state and prepared.
What was your favourite experience with the club?
Just recently, in this academic year, I would say our most successful event was with the Black Student Success Centre. We partnered with them and our members got to ask an ex-lawyer about her experience. We asked what her experience was like, manoeuvring that type of journey . . . as a Black woman. We really got to ask any question we wanted from an expert. We're really thankful for her expertise. She really did put us in a good position to move forward and know more about what to expect.
With everything you've learned, do you have any advice for your younger self?
A big thing would be to enjoy the process. I would tell her to relax and not be so headstrong . . . Tell her to enjoy the many aspects of university, high school — all of it. In terms of first-years, my advice is just to connect with us. You're not the only one that's going through this journey. I know that was my biggest thing coming to McMaster, just finding like-minded people, people who are going through my journey. It's very hard to find people that identify with your race who are also going through the same journey. That's why LABS was created.
You said that it was hard for you to make those connections. Do you mind elaborating?
Being a minority here at McMaster, it's hard to make friends and make those connections and it's even harder when you're really passionate about something. So, again, that's why I'm here. That's the biggest thing, just making those connections with like-minded people. I think McMaster should try to acknowledge that there's an issue when it comes to making connections. There should be ways to make it easier, especially for the first generations [university students]. I know that universities are trying to tap into the minority groups in terms of admission and things like that. That's a great goal, but that's not where it should stop . . . Sometimes, we don't have parents or grandparents to ask for advice. Even with the Black Student Success Centre, that is a great system but so many people don't know it exists. It's great that [universities] want to extend your admissions to minority students, but once we get here it shouldn't stop there.
C/O Mike Wong
The Silhouette: Please introduce yourself.
Mike Wong: My name is Mike Wong and I'm an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences.
What inspires you to research what you do?
Personal and interpersonal experiences. I think I'm at a point in my life where I don't want to do things that aren't meaningful to me. I'm fascinated by neuroplasticity. I'm fascinated with research in all the areas I've done in the past but I've gotten to a point where I want to do things that are also meaningful to people on a broader scale. For example, stress-related research. I teach and stress comes up a lot. Feelings of burnout or being overwhelmed is something students really struggle with. I always try to think back to when I was a student and I definitely struggled with that. With this work, eventually, I'd like to use it for recommendations to student wellness centres to find different strategies for students. With the educational practices, I'm interested in getting the word out there to make our classes more inclusive, to make our classes less stressful. What can we do as instructors to improve the student experience? How do we build a community, how do we reduce stress and how do we support students as they go through what is arguably one of the most difficult chapters in their lives? I find that really, really meaningful.
You said in a previous interview that if you didn't pursue science that you might want to go into culinary arts. Has this changed?
I struggled a lot with what I wanted to do as a career in my third and fourth years. I went all over the place. I had a really big interest in ancient Greco-Roman history, I actually wanted to do [graduate school] in ancient history. I thought about politics. I thought about business. I thought about teaching at a high school level. I had a huge list and I made a spreadsheet of all the pros and cons of all the different careers I could see myself in.
Another part of me wanted to leave academia, wanted to leave science. I looked into the real estate world. I looked into culinary arts. I was exploring. My brother always wanted to be a chef but he never did so that trickled in my mind. If I were to ever leave academia, I think I would still consider becoming a chef and going into the culinary world. I love food. I love plating my food. There's just everything about food that I love. It makes me so happy.
Do you have any advice you’d like to share?
I won't frame it as giving advice, I'd frame it just from personal experience. You can plan and plan and plan but sometimes the unexpected happens. When I hear the word success and I hate the word success, I'm always reminded of this diagram where you have the word success and you see a linear arrow. When we look at people and I know I am guilty of that, too, you see someone who seems really put together and you think they're so successful, they're so smart. But I think for most people, that journey isn't linear. There are a lot of these twists and turns. That learning journey is very messy and life is no different. I remember when I was an undergrad, I thought “Oh, I'm going to finish undergrad, I'll do some postgraduate work and I'll get a job and everything is going to be great and dandy.” But that isn't my experience. I've had to face a lot of ups and downs over the years but I've learned to really trust the process. Things will work out in the end. It may not be what you expect, but I think it will work out. It may be tough at times but I'm a true believer that things do work out in the end.
The other thing I've learned is to let the journey take you; let the journey guide you. I think sometimes we get tunnel vision. We think, “This is what I want and I'm going to focus all my experiences on this end goal.” But I think by doing that, we're sometimes depriving ourselves of all the other experiences that could have been. I know uncertainty is scary, but there's almost a beauty to that because rather than funnelling all your experiences to this angle, you're allowing yourself to explore all of these different opportunities that can ultimately lead you to something that may be more meaningful to you.
The Silhouette: Please introduce yourselves.
Hilary Menezes: My name is Hilary Menezes. I'm a third-year student at McMaster and I'm currently pursuing an English and cultural studies degree with a minor in political science and a certificate in leadership.
Madison Menezes: I'm Madison and I'm in my second year of mechanical and biomedical engineering.
Please elaborate on the Love Packs project.
HM: Love Packs was started in the pandemic around Valentine's Day last year . . . We realized that there are a lot of people who are super generous and donate around Christmas time and holiday season. But, moving into the new year, we realized that there weren't really many supports for those facing homelessness or abuse [and] in shelters . . . So, when my work hosted a goal funder, we came up with Love Packs. When we were stuck at home during the pandemic, we wanted to pick up something actionable. That was the main driving force. Just hearing about the reactions of all of the women and children and homeless folks that we provided for inspired us to continue it to be more than a one-time initiative. We ended up getting to do another one in the summer and now we're taking it into 2022.
MM: Just thinking about the degree of how much more difficult the pandemic is for someone living in a shelter was also part of my reason for wanting to really help. We just wanted to make sure that we could provide them with things that they could use day to day and then also other gifts that would make them happier.
HM: To add on, something kind of unique about Love Packs is we tried to go beyond things like toilet paper, deodorant, toothbrushes and toothpaste. We provide that but we also try to include little gifts. We wanted to give people things that they might consider to be luxuries and might not have access to. These are actual people who deserve to be celebrated. So, we had the opportunity last year to give some fun gifts like makeup, snack packs and different kinds of fancy coffees and teas. We had Starbucks donate some fancy coffee. We really try to incorporate that into our philosophy of not only just giving the essentials but trying to go a little bit above and beyond that.
Could you guys talk a little bit more about the Love Packs team?
HM: Last year we did it with just the two of us in our basement. Especially with COVID, it was one of the things where we thought that we can't get more hands because at that point, vaccines weren't so much a thing and cases were through the roof. Still, it was great to see so many people text me. We even had some friends from middle school who we hadn't talked to in five years offer donations. It was cool to see people helping in that capacity. Even then, two or three of my close friends and our parents helped us transport different things when we had super large donations or for the final trip when we brought everything to the shelters. Our communities helped out a lot and we were so grateful. That inspired us to make it bigger this year and grow the team. We’re gaining some traction and are actively recruiting volunteers right now. In fact, we just hired our [executive] team because we want to grow this to reach out to more people this year and give Love Packs to more people.
How have you guys been feeling about just the General McMaster community then? And I guess the communities that you've been interacting with as a whole
MM: I started at McMaster without really having been on campus. But I found it fascinating even with online learning. It's just a really welcoming environment and I definitely found a lot of people who are happy to connect. We've even had one of the local doughnut shops, Donut Monster, donate to our project. It was just really nice to see people in Hamilton contributing as well.
HM: It's been amazing to see how many people from McMaster have either donated to us or businesses have supported us. Actually, the guy who drove the doughnuts from Donut Monster to our home in Mississauga, I met him through mock trial at McMaster. So, I had only known him for maybe not even a year through meetings once a week. But he still said that he'd do it. It was great to see how people are so willing to help out.
C/O Pasha Malla
The Silhouette: Please introduce yourself.
Pasha Malla: My name is Pasha Malla. I’m the 2021-2022 Mabel Pugh Taylor Writer in Residence. I'm also teaching a class in [the arts and science department], a special inquiry class on speculative fiction.
What is your role as the Writer in Residence?
I'm available to the McMaster community and the broader Hamilton community via the Hamilton Public Library for manuscript consultations, which means that people send me excerpts of their work, poetry or prose and I read them and give them some feedback. Then we have a meeting on Zoom and have a little conversation about it. That's part of it. The other half of the program is various workshops and talks. Tonight, I have a workshop on suspense and urgency that I'm posting on Zoom. I'm doing the art of writing workshops through the Hamilton Public Library and business writing workshops through [McMaster University].
How have your meetings been so far?
I've been having the best time. Because the program includes people outside the [McMaster] community, regular old folks from wherever can join as long as they're affiliated with Hamilton in some way. It's been a really nice and diverse group of people and quite a nice variety of kinds of writing that folks are doing. It's been really encouraging and inspiring and kind of fun to read for people and have conversations with folks who are at various stages in their writing. I'm working with some published writers and some new writers. It has been really enjoyable in all kinds of ways.
What inspires you to write?
Lots of different things. Writing has been a nice place to just experience a little bit of joy. I've been working on this project that just makes me laugh and I have fun working on. Each project has its own goals and intentions or whatever else and results.
Do you mind elaborating on the project?
It's actually a sequel to the last novel I had out which is called Kill The Mall. It's an absurdist story with supernatural elements. This is a sequel to that, it's actually the second book in what I think is probably going to be a trilogy and I'm going to finish it before reading week, probably.
Are there any people or another writer who inspires you in writing?
There are so many writers whose work I read who are just so far beyond what I'm doing. I find that trying to achieve things that other writers are doing is motivating. Most recently, I've been reading a writer from Argentina whose name is Juan José Saer. I'm just blown away by this guy's genius. Reading something like that makes me, as a writer, try to pick it apart and see how he's doing what he's doing. So yeah, I get inspired by reading a lot.
Have you encountered any challenges in your own writing or within the Writers in Residence program?
No, this program has been terrific. That's a testament to how great the people who are sending their work in, who I've been meeting with and [who] have been attending these workshops with [all] are. That's the reason why I did it. If there's any challenge, it's just seeing each piece to try to figure out what the writer is trying to do and then doing my best to help them get there. Giving different suggestions and feedback that will be, I hope, encouraging and motivating but at the same time rigorous constructive criticism.
Is there anything you would like to say to aspiring writers?
Go into engineering school so you can get a job. No, I'm just being facetious. I think there's all kinds of generic advice already. You know, you should read, you should write. For me, I think being a curious person in the world is the most important thing. To ask questions, to speculate, to wonder. To tap into that thing we all had when we were kids where there's so much imagination and possibility is a large part of who you are and how you engage with the world. I think that is more important than figuring out the craft. Really being curious, engaging in curiosity about other people, about places, about experiences, about yourself.
C/O Ester Chow
The Silhouette: Please introduce yourself.
Ester Chow: My name is Ester Chow and I'm the Assistant Director of the Food Collective Center, the FCC. I go by she/her pronouns. I'm in my fourth year of [the health sciences program] in the Child Health specialization.
What is the FCC?
You can think of it as the food bank on campus. It's a major hub for anything to do with food. We have a community kitchen program where people can learn to cook food. We have food boxes where you can get a big box of fresh produce for $15. A big part of what I oversee is the Lockers of Love program where people can access food and health items confidentially. You basically just fill out a form. You don't have to put your name on anything. Then, within two to three days, we'll send you a locker code and you can go pick up your food and health items.
What inspired you to join the FCC?
In my second year, I participated in one of the community kitchen workshops. It was a five- or six-week thing where you get to go and cook with other people and learn a new skill. One thing I really appreciated about it was the community aspect. There's a lot of great initiatives and clubs off campus but it can feel a little bit like working in isolation. With this community kitchen, it wasn't about learning by myself — we were a team. In fourth year, I also realized that I was missing something that really made me feel like I was making a big difference. I joined a lot of clubs and was really interested in research, but also just doing a lot of things I was told I should be doing. In my fourth year, I wanted to do something for myself. I really liked the FCC and even though it was kind of a new experience, I just went for it.
Can you elaborate on the community aspect?
When Morghen, the Director and I were choosing the [executive] team and volunteers, we really wanted to give people the opportunity to join us whether or not they had experience at all. We wanted to give everyone an opportunity because food isn't really something that you necessarily have to have a lot of academic or personal background with; it's something that you have to have every day. We also really try to think about the community impact even in small things. For example, we have Trick or Eat, which is our Halloween food drive. We emphasize that it's not food that goes just towards [McMaster] students, but also to the nearby community. So we set up bins in Westdale and Emerson and all around campus. People who can access Lockers of Love, which is what most of the donations go to, are not just [McMaster] students. It can be for someone who's affiliated, it can be for a family member. So that's another part of how community plays a role. It's not just the students that are affected by food insecurity, but it's a deeper intersectionality that also affects a family, affects their ability to do well in school [and] their ability to exist as a person.
What continues to inspire you in the FCC?
I think that the opportunity to oversee Lockers of Love made all of these intangible numbers about food insecurity much more real. For example, something simple is in first year when you have a meal plan. You kind of expect everyone in residence to have the same amount when you're living together. That kind of thought can be really damaging when you go into second or third year and you're living on your own, you're working and cooking for yourself and you see other people are getting takeout all the time or you're struggling to get fresh foods. There are all these things that you compare yourself with. That was a big part of contextualizing everything through Lockers of Love when I realized how many people were using it. Another thing that Morghen and I continued from last year is the e-card version [of Lockers for Love]. Just because we're slowly transitioning to in-person [classes], it doesn't mean that those cards aren't valuable to people who might not be able to get to campus. I've just learned so much from people who are contacting me and saying that Lockers of Love has helped them and how we can make it better. That's the biggest part. For me, I'm just doing this as a job and I really enjoy it. But for some people, they really rely on this to survive. So being able to connect with those people, even though I don't know their names, makes me feel that this campus needs the food centre.
C/O Lianhao Qu
The Silhouette: Please introduce yourself.
Lianhao Qu: My name is Lianhao. I'm in my second year of [the health sciences program] and specializing in child health. My pronouns are he/him.
What drew you to photography?
I think it was when my dad bought me my first [digital single-lens reflex camera] for Christmas in my second year of high school. I think my dad mainly wanted it for family photos since I'm the designated family photographer. But then I got distracted because we go in nature a lot. I took fewer photos of my parents and my sister and just started shooting nature. This eventually progressed to the city, architecture and it evolved from there.
What subjects inspire you?
I usually lean towards landscape photography. I’m mostly in the city so it usually ends up being a lot of city architecture. I've also tried to get into shooting candid photos of strangers. I just basically go into the city, [with] no plan whatsoever, and take a photo of whatever catches my eye. But really, it's just shooting anything in the streets. Whether it's the buildings around you, the way the light reflects off the water or the water reflecting buildings. Small things like that.
How long have you been interested in photography?
I only really got into it in my later years of high school. I really enjoyed photography as a hobby and sometimes as a side hustle too. There was one summer where I was a freelance photographer. I worked with a union at one point and I was the photographer for this unit who was a part of the parade for the Caribana Festival. I got to go early in the morning and see all the dancers prep and everything. It was a fun experience — definitely out of my comfort zone — but it was a nice change.
Out of your own photos, do you have any favourites?
I think this one's the most pleasant for me to look at. It's just very calm and is a nice background to look at. This was in North Bay at Lake Nipissing right after dinner. I had to leave dinner, actually, run to my hotel to grab my stuff and then I ran back to the lake just to make it in time. I set the tripod up in the water and I looked ridiculous. The hotel owner saw me suddenly running around the street. But the photo is nice.
And then there's this photo. The style is different from what I usually do. This is when quarantine happened. I just searched around for ideas so I could take photos at home. I had the knife already pre-stabbed into the cutting board and one of the apple halves hanging from above. There was a flashlight above too and the lighting is very botched because you have to take this at a very high shutter speed. My mom had to splash water and drop the apple and then I just had to go to take the photo at the right moment.
This is my most viewed photo. As popular as this photo is, I'm not a big fan of it. I think the main reason is this was one of the first photos that kind of blew up. This is when I first got into editing as well. So, to me, the colours here are so saturated and if you look in the far distance, you can see the colours are off.
What is the hardest aspect of photography for you?
Sometimes you go to extreme lengths just to get the right angle for a photo so you look kind of weird. On the first day, it can be frightening when you're in public and you're holding this huge camera and you just stop in the middle of the road. But you have to get rid of that scary thought of how you look in public. I stopped caring what people think of me and I stop in the middle of the road. I don't recommend doing exactly that but the thrill of the photo also makes it fun. Another thing is not forcing yourself to find that perfect angle or photo. Most of my photos I find nice are complete accidents. Usually I'm planning how to get there and how to set up my stuff to take that photo but sometimes it just doesn't turn out the way you want. The photos you take some other day tend to be a lot better and they tend to be complete accidents. Let it come naturally. Don't force it.