Photo c/o Kyle West

By Nicholas Marshall, Contributor

This article has been edited as of Oct. 5, 2019

In February 2019, the McMaster Muslims for Peace and Justice and the Muslim Students Association hosted an event called “The Genocide of Uyghur Muslims — Talk by Uyghur Survivor”. During this event, activist Rukiye Turdush spoke about the treatment of Uyghur Muslims in Western China.

MMPJ co-presidents Batool and Elaaf, who requested to have their last names omitted from this article, explained that the event was meant to be a vehicle through which Turdush could share her experiences. Batool added that the event was also meant to raise awareness for the severe human rights abuses happening against Muslims in China.

The Turdush event came just a few months after reports were published of “re-education camps” in the Xinjiang region of north-western China, where Uyghur Muslims were being forced to abandon their religion and face abuse as detainees. In addition to reports of Mosque demolitions, the camps stand as a record of the Chinese Communist Party’s resistance against  heterodox opinions in China. 

On Feb. 13, McMaster’s Chinese Students and Scholars Association made a public statement accusing Turdush of inciting national hatred, stating that MACCSSA had contacted the Chinese consulate in Toronto about Turdush’s speech. Having anticipated the subject matter of the Turdush event, a group of Chinese students at McMaster created a group on the social media app WeChat specifically for the purpose of opposing the event. Student protestors filmed and protested against the Turdush event. Turdush herself was harassed. 

International CSSA organizations have either openly admitted or been proven to be affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party. Based on information that CSSAs at universities around the world have publicly released, the Chinese government has provided funding for individual CSSAs as incentive to populate overseas political events. For instance, the George Washington University CSSA received funding from the Chinese embassy in Washington as motivation for members to attend events welcoming President Xi Jinping to the city. 

On Sept. 22, a CSSA Evidence report was submitted to the SRA in favour of revoking the McMaster CSSA’s status. 

At this same meeting, SRA representative Simranjeet Singh delivered a presentation to the rest of the assembly called “Why We Should Revoke Club Status For The [MAC]CSSA”.

Singh’s presentation cited a 2018 report from the United States-China Economic and Security Review Commission. The report stated that CSSAs across the U.S. have governmental ties with Chinese embassies and consulates, noting that similar operations could be taking place in US-allied countries.

“The nature of the [CSSA] ties [with Chinese government] appears to involve direct subordination and political direction rather than mere affiliation or cooperation,” stated the Commission’s report.

When asked about their role in contacting the Chinese consulate following the MSA/MMPJ event, MACCSSA stated that they did not have an official relationship with the Chinese embassy. However, in a letter responding to questions from the SRA in July 2019, MACCSSA stated that they had cooperated with the Chinese embassy on issues related to cultural exchange and safety education for international students. 

The MACCSSA evidence report presented to the SRA took notice of this contradiction, alleging that the use of the word “official” was an attempt to obscure MACCSSA’s ties to the Chinese embassy. 

According to the report, MACCSSA’s failure to fully report any links outside of the MSU was in direct violation of an MSU club operating policy. The policy in question required clubs to disclose any affiliations with bodies outside of the MSU. 

As of June 19, 2019, this MSU policy now includes affiliations with political parties or governmental bodies, regardless of whether the non-MSU organization is Canadian or international.  

Singh cast MACCSSA’s act of contacting the Chinese government, which the SRA deemed to be a dangerous action, as a key detail in his decision to vote in favour of de-ratifying MACCSSA. According to Singh’s presentation to the SRA, contacting the Chinese government was an attempt by MACCSSA to intimidate students into avoiding discussions that criticized the Chinese regime. 

During the Sept. 22 SRA meeting, a Chinese student’s testimony highlighted the lack of action from MSU representatives in response to MACCSSA’s reporting of student affairs to the Chinese government. 

“If you are privileged enough to not know what it feels like to live under an authoritarian regime — one where saying something critical of the ruling party is often enough to land you and your family in prison — then please, I implore you, please listen to those who do,” said the student.

Slides from Singh’s presentation warned: “Expert testimony, including from Human Rights Watch, has confirmed that students’ safety could have been endangered if the Chinese government … got info about them attending the MSA/MMPJ event.”

“That was enough grounds for us to decide that they are a threat to free expression on campus and may be a danger to students … We cannot normalize the extremist ideologies behind the CSSA’s actions,” said Singh. 

The SRA sided with Singh, voting to de-ratify MACCSSA and cut off the club’s access to MSU resources and services. 

Over seven months after Turdush’s initial talk, she returned to McMaster on Sept. 27 in response to an invitation from the MMPJ to speak about the treatment of Uyghur Muslims in China. According to Batool, the event was a success, with over 100 spectators and no disruptions.

 

A previously published version of this article stated that MACCSSA’s act of contacting the Chinese government was considered an attempt by the SRA to intimidate students. This has since been corrected to state that it was considered an attempt by MACCSSA to intimidate students into avoiding discussions that might disrupt the Chinese regime.

A previously published version of this article stated that WeChat is a Chinese multi-purpose app used by members of the McMaster Chinese community. It has since been corrected to state that a group of Chinese students at McMaster created a group on the social media app WeChat specifically for the purpose of opposing the event. 

A previously published version of this article stated that no evidence was provided to directly connect the CSSA with the Chinese Communist Party. This has since been removed, and evidence has been presented.

A previously published version of this article did not reference CSSA’s response to questions from the SRA. This has since been updated.

A previous version of this article stated that Turdush returned to McMaster seven months after the de-ratification. This has since been corrected to state that she returned after her initial talk.

This version of the article has been updated to differentiate between MACCSSA and CSSAs around the world.

 

 

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By: Erin Rooney

 

We’re almost a month into the Fall term now and as the days get ever colder and midterms seem to have crept out of nowhere taking us by surprise, it’s not uncommon to hear people around campus moaning about the ‘crazy’ amount of work they have or dramatically claiming it’s going to give them a ‘mental breakdown.’ We’re probably all guilty of making statements like this at one time or another and whilst we might not mean anything by them, our use of language in this way makes light of the manner in which our society relates to issues surrounding mental health.  Seemingly throwaway comments like these show how language is a part of our society’s often discriminatory attitude towards mental illness; a part that we’re not necessarily aware of but that can reinforce the stigma attached to mental illness nonetheless.

Alisa, a McMaster student and active member of the Mad Student Society for the past 3 years, described the significance of everyday language to perceptions of mental health. “Negativity is very embedded in our culture in regards to disability. That’s how the media talks about it, using words with frightening, scary or bad connotations. Through this, mental illness is treated differently to other forms of discrimination such as racism and sexism which are less socially acceptable,” she said. As a member of MSS, Alisa is part of a society that tries to explore these labels attached to mental illness and reclaims some of them for self-identification. Members might refer to themselves using a wide variety of names from ex-patients to psychiatric survivors, some calling themselves crazy or along with the society’s name, ‘mad.’ “In our community, people use a whole variety of terms around disability and mental health issues that we may choose to use or reject but by reclaiming words like mad, nuts and crazy we can give them a more positive usage,” explained Alisa. In this way words that were once used to insult can be used to celebrate differences instead of stigmatising them.

Language reclamation is just one side of MSS’s far reaching mandate. Set up in 2005, Mad Student Society offers an alternative support community to the counselling or therapeutic services commonly offered by universities and schools, for students with any experience of the mental health system. Instead MSS is based around the idea of the peer support group. Peer support is different from typical group therapy in that it has no involvement from mental health professionals or organisations. It is purely a space for members to support each other and discuss their experiences away from the medical sphere of things. Elizabeth Carvalho, another active MSS member, said “peer support has much more of an emphasis on equality and united mutual support. It creates a community of people with similar concerns and interests where friendships develop. It’s actually quite a radical idea!” As well as helping students navigate their way through higher education, MSS tries to help students gain self-advocacy and provides them with alternative pathways to access their rights outside of the mainstream medical systems usually favoured by university administrations. With as many as 1 in 5 Canadians experiencing mental health issues throughout their lives, the highest majority of these being teenagers and young adults aged between 15 and 24, it is clear that adequate support and understanding in schools and universities is hugely important. By offering an alternative to the more formalised medical support of universities Mad Students Society has created a community that helps protect the rights of members in higher education, and an environment where positive mutual support is encouraged.

MSS runs monthly formal support meetings in 3 cities with Hamilton’s group getting together on the 4th Thursday of every month at varying locations. As well as this, more informal continual support is available through MSS’s online forum listserv where members can communicate further about their experiences and organise events. For more information about MSS contact Elizabeth or Alisa through the MSS Facebook page at fb.com/MadStudentSociety or see their website at madstudentsociety.com

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