Humans of McMaster: Glenda van der Leeuw
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.