By: Drew Simpson
The McMaster Muslims Students’ Association recently held Finding Your Momentum, a leadership and empowerment workshop specifically curated for Muslims. Its objective was to increase youth engagement to improve community involvement.
While MacMSA maintains a busy calendar, the process of organizing this event began well before the school year started. While decisions were being made around the structure of MacMSA’s exec-director team, the team realized a recent and significant drop in engagement with the association and the community.
Typically, directorship positions with the MacMSA would attract about 50 applicants each, in recent times however, these numbers have significantly dropped to one or two applicants. The senior executives became worried about MacMSA’s future leadership and lack of engagement with younger cohorts.
MacMSA leaders also saw a lack of Muslims being represented in leadership positions in the McMaster community, such as through the Student Representative Assembly.
Feedback gained from focus groups found a common rhetoric of Muslims opting out of leadership positions to focus on academics. They also found that many individuals were under the misconception that they are not needed by the community.
One workshop attendee and MacMSA representative noted that a lot of students experience a lack of confidence in their abilities and felt that they aren’t equipped with the appropriate skills to take on leadership responsibilities.
The Finding Your Momentum workshop was created in response to these concerns. The MacMSA team realized that they needed to empower their members and create a space where attendees can have open conversations about bettering themselves as Muslims and leaders in the community.
While one of the aims of the workshop was to increase attendees’ engagement with the community, the MacMSA team had to first figure out a way to increase engagement with the workshop itself.
From previous experiences, the organizers found that many people needed someone to both encourage them to participate and attend the event with them. This was often facilitated through invitations by word of mouth.
The organizers of Finding Your Momentum took advantage of this promotion strategy, and it worked. One attendee noted that in order to facilitate empowerment, individuals need someone to give them a little push of encouragement and support.
“When you hear ‘word-of-mouth’, you think of just going and telling someone ‘hey we have an event, just come’. But it’s actually investing in the Muslim community on campus…A part of being a leader is having a community that can look up to you and support your vision,” explained Faryal Zahir, MSA Director and Finding Your Momentum organizer.
“A big part of this year has been making that vision very very clear, and then having people inspired to support that vision.”
This workshop consisted of interactive activities and discussions that focused on introspecting on attendees’ relationships with themselves and others. There was also a focus on utilizing leadership opportunities to serve the community and building connections.
At every MacMSA event, building connections is a recurring goal. The team believes that building connections enables individuals into action.
Finding Your Momentum, like other MacMSA events, aims to break down the barriers that repress interaction, and encourage attendees to have one-to-one connections, first with themselves, then with their peers and greater community.
Time will tell if the MacMSA achieved its goal of encouraging workshop attendees to take on more leadership positions, but one thing is for sure – Finding Your Momentum created a much needed space for empowerment and meaningful engagement for Muslim youth.
With International Women’s Day just behind us, several Hamilton organizations are taking the time to show their appreciation for the women in our community. One such organization is Never Gonna Stop, a youth initiative that is hosting Empower Me: A Women’s Appreciation Brunch on March 16 at the Hamilton Plaza Hotel and Conference Center.
In addition to brunch, the event will feature games, raffle prizes, a variety of visual and performing artists and speakers. The event is open to all ages and genders. It was important for the organizers that this communal appreciation of women be done by not just other women.
“[I]t's really important to have men to support women in our community. Men's voices are heard a lot more than just women’s [so] we're trying to get men to align with women… [W]hen we hear [about] domestic violence, usually it's men doing violence towards women, so… that's what I mean when I say we try to align men with women to support each other,” explained NGS member Gonca Aydin.
The brunch, which is now sold out, is free of cost. Making it free allowed the event to be accessible to everyone in the community. Reducing financial barriers is important for this organization, which is catered towards helping low-income youth.
NGS was created by David Lingisi, Saifon Diallo and Joshua Kiena, all of whom come from low-income backgrounds. They wanted to create an initiative that would provide physical and mental health-related activities for youth from the ages of 13 to 29.
“[W]e've seen how there's a lot of older people… that have talent basically wasted because they didn't have an opportunity… [A]s the younger generation, we basically want to help [youth] out to make their dreams come true. I want everyone to provide a platform for them, to give them an opportunity to… go to the league, allow them to become doctors and [whatever] they want to do,” said Lingisi.
Lingisi was born with sickle cell anemia and has spent his life in and out of the hospital while still working towards his dream of being a music producer. Each of the co-founders have underwent personal challenges, which fuel their desire to help others overcome obstacles. Growing up in immigrant families, they all faced culture shock in addition to financial barriers.
The initiative hopes to provide the support for low-income youth that they feel is missing in Hamilton. They want to support the artistic, athletic and academic talent of today’s youth by providing them with opportunities and the knowledge to succeed.
Since the creation of the initiative last summer, NGS has hosted a youth panel, a holiday food drive, an All-Star weekend basketball tournament and a talent and fashion show for Black History Month among other events. They are continuously planning new events in partnership with other organizations in the city.
They took on the Women’s Appreciation Brunch because it fits within their goal of creating community. NGS is proud to call themselves inclusive to all genders, races, religions or economic statuses. Setting aside space and time to celebrate women and promote the resources that women can access within the city fits within that mandate.
Most importantly, the Women’s Appreciation Brunch delivers the message of persistence directly to Hamilton’s women. They named the event Empower Me because they want women of all ages to know that they can accomplish any goal that they set out to reach.
“[K]eep following your dreams, whatever it is, don't ever stop, don't let anything stop you. You are able to make it no matter what you're going through, it doesn't matter the situation, just keep going as long as you get one more day… I just want to [say] that everybody's a part of NGS. I'm NGS, you're NGS, anybody going through anything but still fighting is NGS,” said Lingisi.
That is why they named themselves Never Gonna Stop. More than a name, it is a movement and source of encouragement for those involved. Knowing how hard life can be, NGS is focused on motivating others to work hard in order to achieve their wildest dreams.
By: Areej Ali
Nu Omega Zeta is a Black-focused sorority at McMaster that aims to support and enrich the Black community on campus and in Hamilton.
While the sorority was founded in September 2011, plans to launch Nu Omega Zeta were in the works months before the sorority’s founding date.
The seven Nu Omega Zeta founders first looked to Black Greek organizations in the United States, which provided a good perspective on how they should establish their own chapter.
For instance, today, the sorority pairs up new members with a ‘Big Sister’ who provides guidance and support.
The founding members first looked for an executive board and then created the symbols, guidelines and pillars that the sorority would stand for.
According to Eno Antai, the current president of Nu Omega Zeta, members do not need to identify as Black in order to join the sorority.
Nevertheless, the group is Black-focused, aspiring to “promote the growth and enrichment of Black undergraduate students and to enhance their education through the strengthening of the relationships within the Black community.”
In particular, Nu Omega Zeta stands for “Sisterhood, Volunteerism and Knowledge.”
Over the few years, members of the sorority have volunteered at Empowerment Squared, a Hamilton-based charity that seeks to empower marginalized and newcomer communities in Hamilton.
The sorority also runs campus events such as “Chance on Campus,” a one-day event that gives grade 10 and 11 students the opportunity to experience post-secondary life at McMaster and learn about the university’s organizations and academic and financial resources.
“When I look back and think why I wanted to join Nu Omega Zeta, I remember feeling very isolated and alone on campus in my first year,” said Gabriela Roberta, a member of the sorority.
“I had no intentions of joining a sorority. However, Nu Omega Zeta was the first and only organization to reach out to me and make me feel as though my fears are not only my own,” said Roberts.
Roberts added that the sorority immersed her in a community of women that truly understood her struggles and concerns.
She strongly feels that Nu Omega Zeta has been a transformative life experience.
For Jet'aime Fray, another member of Nu Omega Zeta, the sorority means sisterhood. Fray explains that the sorority has allowed for her to create long lasting friendships and has given her a unique opportunity to volunteer in Hamilton.
“In a society that refuses to acknowledge Black women, having a space that allows you to be unapologetically who you are and celebrates you is very needed,” said Antai, who feels that the space Nu Omega Zeta provides to acknowledge Black women is much needed and can give many students a home away from home.
Julianne Providence joined Nu Omega Zeta for precisely this reason.
“I saw it as a space where I could belong. I had seen the ladies on campus and admired the connections they had with each other,” said Providence.
Omega Zeta hosts a number of initiatives throughout the year, including rush events, parties, relationship summits, workshops, networking events about education and support in the Black community and a ‘World AIDS Day’ panel discussion.
On Feb. 2, Sonia Igboanugo, a fourth-year McMaster biomedical discovery and commercialization student and co-founder of Black Aspiring Physicians of McMaster, received the Lincoln Alexander scholarship at the John C. Holland awards, which celebrates African-Canadian achievement in Hamilton.
Igboanugo and McMaster grad student Kayonne Christy launched BAP-MAC during the 2016-2017 school year to support Black McMaster students striving to become physicians and other healthcare professionals.
Igboanugo was inspired to create the club following her attendance at a University of Toronto summer mentorship program geared towards Indigenous and Black students interested in health sciences.
“I felt like that program changed my life in terms of inspiring me in what I thought I could do and what my capacity was as a potential health care professional,” Igboanugo said. “I felt very empowered and I felt very interested in this in bringing the same experience to McMaster.”
Since then, BAP-MAC has steadily grown. Currently, the club has over 100 members, proving a variety of resources to its members.
As part of the BAP-MAC mentorship program, younger students are paired with a mentor who provides academic and career guidance.
Throughout the year, BAP-MAC also arms students with information about research opportunities and hosts workshops and talks led by healthcare professionals.
At its core, however, BAP-Mac simply serves as a community for Black students on campus.
“For me, the biggest part has been connecting with older students who can help me navigate through university,” said first-year kinesiology student Ida Olaye, who aspires to go to medical school. “BAP-MAC gives you that support group, to know that you’re not alone, that there are a lot of people trying to pursue the same dream that you are pursuing and it is very doable.”
This past year, BAP-MAC received a three-year grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation.
The grant has allowed BAP-MAC to host a conference for the first time. The event is scheduled for this upcoming May.
The grant also allows the club to expand its vision to empower Black youth on a larger scale.
“Because we have a pretty good campus presence, I would say, but the goal was to address the issue of lack of diversity on a more systemic front,” Igboanugo said.
Part of that is a new initiative aimed at incorporating high school students into the BAP-MAC program by connecting them to undergraduate student mentors.
Second-year human behaviour student Simi Olapade, who is also the associate director of multimedia for BAP-MAC, sees a lot of value in the initiative.
“Reaching out to those high school students is an opportunity that I even wished I had to be honest. Seeing someone like you in a place where you want to be helps so much in terms of making you focus more on achieving that goal, making you more goal-oriented and making you more focused,” Olapade said.
Reflecting on the award she recently received, Igboanugo says the work she does as part of BAP-MAC only reflects how others have helped her.
“It was very humbling to actually be recognized for the work because it is the greatest thing or greatest privilege I have to always serve my community or use my strength to better my community and the people around me,” Igboanugo said.
Students wishing to get involved with BAP-MAC can learn more about the group’s initiatives on BAP-MAC’s Facebook page.
By: Rya Buckley
Mia Sandhu’s paper cut outs depict images of women partially or entirely nude, amidst backgrounds of leaves or behind curtains. She began working on these figures four years ago as a way of working through her own ideas about women’s sexuality.
Sandhu is a multidisciplinary artist currently based in Toronto. Her work has been exhibited in Toronto, Kingston, Halifax and Hamilton. She is a member of The Assembly gallery here in Hamilton, has done an artist residency at the Cotton Factory and also exhibited her work at Hamilton Artists Inc.
Last November, Sandhu exhibited her collection Soft Kaur at The Assembly, which featured playful figures who are comfortable with their sexuality. The name of the exhibition, which alludes to both to the softness and fierceness of women, incorporates the half Punjabi artist’s cultural background into her work.
“It's the idea [of] a female warrior spirit and the idea of equality that exists… Singh and Kaur are these given names and it was designed to eliminate status and… [create] men and women as equal. And I liked the play on this idea of soft female spirit slash warrior spirit [and] also the sexual undertone,” Sandhu explained.
There are other motifs in Sandhu’s work that suggest a dialogue between Sandhu’s culture and her evolving ideas on sexuality. A lover of Indian fabrics, silks and tapestries, Sandhu includes these aesthetic features in her work through the exotic plants in the environment her figures reside in. With the evolution of her work, she now references more domesticated plants that humans have formed a relationship with.
The silhouettes that are seen in Soft Kaur are also the result of Sandhu’s art’s progression. Her earlier work featured brown-bodied figures because Sandhu felt it more appropriate to use brown bodies in a work related to her upbringing and culture. Over time Sandhu employed more silhouettes in order to represent any woman, regardless of race.
The silhouettes do not broadcast as a uniform but as a canvas onto which women can project their own sexuality and ideas about sexuality. Sandhu is a believer in the fact that no one should decide for a woman how she should be represented sexually in society.
“I want women to be safe and I want them to feel safe and feel free and strong and empowered… [W]e're autonomous [and] each of us should choose for ourselves how we want to be represented sexually or in any other way because we're individuals. Hopefully we're not represented with any sort of attachment to shame. We should just be proud of who we are,” Sandhu said.
Facilitating space for women to speak about their ideas on sexuality was one of Sandhu’s aims behind this body of work. She finds it interesting to observe how her audiences connect with and interpret her art. By enabling dialogue, she finds that women can begin to realize the experiences that they share.
Exhibiting at The Assembly also gave Sandhu a location to speak with others about her work and to receive feedback. One thing that she appreciates about the Hamilton art scene is the sincerity of the participants who she feels are open to talking about important issues and are creating art that is driven by content.
While there is no linear narrative to Sandhu’s work, the content is obviously evolving as Sandhu’s own views develop. One of the motifs whose symbolism has changed over the years is the cloak that Sandhu’s figures have covering and revealing their bodies.
“[The cloak] represents shame, it represents personal space and it represents a number of other things as well… But it's like they're choosing how much of themselves that they're revealing and then as the work evolves, it's like the… cloak… stops being on them directly and starts being like in their space around them and they're allowing you in, or not letting you in,” explained Sandhu.
Through her work, Sandhu is also choosing to what extent she decides to let her audiences in. She is working on a new set of drawings and will continue to explore women’s sexuality and empowerment in the future. Her artwork is her diary, the paper cut outs and pencils replacing the thousands of elusive words that would be required to speak on the complicated ideas that she depicts.
And it's over.
The MSU Presidential elections. The incredible race which led to a historic voter-turnout of nearly 41 per cent at McMaster.
Seeing so many unite and others abstain has been quite the experience for me. Never in my life, did I think I would realize so many epiphanies all at once.
Nonetheless, I’d like to take the time to address one of the offensive comments that had come up during the elections to ensure more minds are enlightened: “How can you call for equity when you are wearing a hijab? Hijab is a symbol of womyn’s oppression.”
If anything, the hijab I wear is a call for equity. To me, it’s a real life manifestation for the definition of women’s liberation, rather than oppression. Your statement, despite the immense ignorance it encapsulates, had strengthened my attachment to the value system I hold. I have been a passionate advocate against oppression and a proactive visionary towards building an inclusive community ever since I chose to wear the hijab. Note the “I chose” in the aforementioned? Exactly.Though, you’re probably not the only one who doesn’t “get it.” Let me shed more light here.
The hijab has been used by the media as a symbol for oppression to reduce an entire population and strip away its identity to ensure its voice is eliminated. To ensure all those who practice the hijab are rather degraded and their opinions undermined…And I know exactly how that feels like.
So yes, the hijab is a symbol of women’s oppression brought forward by a dark cloud of stereotypes and misconceptions. I am oppressed and I am undermined, but this begs the question…by whom?
If you refer to the values I hold dear, then I would beg to differ. I carry forward a call for integrity, a model of self-respect and these same values have been the source of my empowerment. So no, I am not oppressed by the value system I hold.
It’s the society I am living in, the one that’s swayed by the media. The media that advocates for profanity, hate, lust and women objectification. That, I can say with absolute confidence, is the source of women oppression in general.
The hijab is a model of self-worth and an entire advocacy system for women empowerment. It’s a pursuit for focusing on the intellect and strengthening of the identity. Despite the propaganda. Despite the hate and despite the political agendas thrown here and there, the hijab to me is a beautiful way of life. A life I will forever cherish and love.
So yes, I dare call for equity. And no, I am not oppressed.
After all, I did run to be the next president of the McMaster Students Union.
In the past few months, it has seemed as though the world has been shocked to learn that people grow up.
Miley Cyrus has been under heavy scrutiny for breaking away from her Hannah Montana image in favour of twerking and sticking out her tongue. Evidently, she’s no longer a role model to the young tweens who watched Hannah Montana with complete adoration of Miley’s sweet Southern demeanour. Yes, the young tweens who are now legal adults themselves or nearing adulthood.
Irish singer-songwriter Sinead O’Connor took it upon herself to write an open letter to Miley advising her after she called O’Connor a role model of hers. O’Connor warns Miley against letting the industry prostitute her and berates her actions basically implying that Miley is a puppet of the industry, controlled by thinking men care about her because she swings naked on wrecking balls and tells her exactly what “real empowerment” is.
Sinead O’Connor. The same shaven-head lady who ripped up a photo of the Pope on national television now writing that Miley’s actions are “absolutely NOT in ANY way an empowerment of [her]self or any other young women.” A lot of people praised this letter but I think it’s just another example of the way we shame woman into conforming to an ideal. Personally, I think the entire letter straddles the line of victim blaming and slut shaming. As women, do we have an obligation to other women to act in a way that empowers us all?
What is this “real empowerment” that O’Connor speaks of? I think Miley’s actions are empowering, just as I think O’Connor’s actions on Saturday Night Love were also empowering. “Real empowerment” should be doing what you want to do, despite social pressure to do something else. Isn’t that all what we’re fighting for? The right to not have our actions scrutinized and judged against some measure of morality and empowerment.
I may not agree with Miley’s actions for myself, I would most likely never hump giant teddy bears, but I support her because she does not give a crap about what anyone says. Her actions in no sign show any characteristic of her being prostituted by the industry. Sure, I’m sure that her manager and label are thrilled with her album’s success and would prefer her to keep doing what she’s doing, but make no mistake that Miley’s actions are done because she wants to do them, not because anyone is telling her to.
We do have an obligation to each other as women, but this obligation isn’t to cover our bodies and think that every man is out to pimp us out. The obligation that we have to each other is to let ourselves be individuals outside of this gender identity. If I want to gyrate half naked, I think that I have the right to do so.
I would completely understand if you didn’t want to watch that, which is why I think a world stage isn’t the best platform for it, but I do think that our actions are governed too little by what we actually want to do and governed too much by what others want to do.
Whether you identify as woman or not, you do not owe anything to anybody. Be who you want to be and act in a way that you want to act whether or not you think it “empowers” whatever group you belong to. Your actions do not dictate how anyone else is seen. We are who we are and we should be respected for it.