Humans of McMaster: Rijaa Khan
The Silhouette: Please introduce yourself.
Rijaa Khan: My name is Rijaa, my pronouns are she and her and I'm the [Women and Gender Equity Network] director this year.
What is WGEN?
WGEN is a peer-support service. We cater to women, trans folk, nonbinary folk and people who generally identify outside the gender binary. We also cater to all survivors of sexual and gender based violence, so, to people from all gender identities. We provide a safer space on campus and we're on the second floor of MUSC, room 204. People can come in and just chill. We have a library and many different resources. We run events throughout the year as well, and we have community care groups.
What inspired you to join WGEN?
When I was in first year, it was the year right before the pandemic, [so] everything was in-person and I would come to the space a lot as a service user to read or talk to people. For me, it definitely was a safe space. When you're on campus, you're always running around and it can feel really overwhelming. There wasn't really any space like WGEN on campus that I felt truly comfortable in. Then, because of my love for that, I became involved afterwards. I've been a part of the exec team since then, for the past five years now. Just because of the ways that the service helped me, I was inspired to join and provide that support for other people.
What is your fondest memory from your past five years with WGEN?
It was during the pandemic. We were running a music exchange event where we were sharing our favourite BIPOC artists for our campaign Bodies are Dope. I almost didn't want to go, but I decided, "I’ll turn my camera off and just be there." A lot of people came to the event and I think, like me, they came just to do something. But we ended up going past two hours because everyone became so comfortable talking about music and our favourite artists. I was in the trenches during the pandemic, and I'm sure everyone was, so this memory is so fond to me from this genuine feeling of community that I was reminded still exists.
I really appreciate that. I think the community aspect is really hard to come by even with life in person.
I think it's one of the biggest difficulties in running a service but it's one of the most important things. It can be really hard to make friends. When I was in first year, even though it was in-person, I struggled because I was in this huge program and you rarely see the same people every day. So, the only avenue to make friends for me was through services like WGEN, which is something I hear to this day from other people too.
What do you want others to know about WGEN?
For WGEN, people know us only through the purple room or from our events. One thing I try to emphasize is that we’re involved in a lot of the events they’re talking about. We have three campaigns every year: Transforming Mac in November, where we run the Trans Day of Remembrance vigil with the [Pride Collective Centre] and the [Queer and Trans Colour Club]; Bodies are Dope in February, which is a campaign centered around bodies, body neutrality, racialized bodies; and Making Waves, towards the end of the year, which is very workshop-focused. I've heard that these sorts of things aren’t available for people across campus, but I want to emphasize that they’re here.
What would you say to someone who is uncertain about visiting WGEN?
One user told me she circled the space for two weeks before stepping in. That was so relatable because it's something that I did in my first year. But, as soon as I stepped in, it was so welcoming and comfortable that I couldn't figure out why I was scared in the first place. I was someone who I was always scared of going to events too. We’re mindful to create events where, if you don’t want to socialize or talk to people, you can still come and do something together, like watch a movie or make art. Even if you're feeling anxious or shy, you can just be present and get to know everyone. It is really scary, and I want to validate those fears – I had those anxieties too – but it can potentially be one of the best memories that you have in your undergrad. Taking that leap was the best thing I could have done for myself. So, give yourself and the people in the space a chance to get to know you. From that, you can see how much you like it and whether you want to keep coming back.