C/O Tammy Huang
Throughout the academic year, McMaster students have seen numerous social causes advanced both within McMaster and the wider Hamilton community
Over the past several months, social activist movements in and around McMaster University have been growing and changing. In many cases, pandemic-related uncertainty has contributed to the rapid development of these social movements in Hamilton.
The Hamilton Encampment Support Network, which supports unhoused community members and advocates for housing equity, is one such organization that has grown their activism tremendously throughout the academic year.
Over the past year, HESN has advocated for greater rights and protection for those living in encampments in Hamilton. To stop encampment evictions, they have been demonstrating at encampment sites and organizing resources for unhoused individuals.
Navin Garg, a McMaster student and supporter of HESN, discussed the importance of being involved with social activism as a student. Garg discussed the historic reality that students have usually had the time and resources to be involved with social causes.
“I think it's also useful to take part in direct action, especially since in school, we talk so much about thinking critically and not [just] perpetuating the existing systems of aid, which are usually not sufficient and don't result in furthering people's dignity and autonomy. I think, as people who are learning about these things, it's important to apply that learning to our real life,” said Garg.
Another noteworthy form of activism over the past year has been the work done by McMaster Aiding Women’s Shelters Canada, which raises awareness for victims of domestic violence in the Hamilton area.
Along with active activism from within and for the broader Hamilton community, the past academic year has also seen advances in social causes at McMaster itself. The Pride Community Centre at McMaster has been active over the past year, introducing new initiatives such as the Pride Book Club, helping 2SLGBTQIA+ students at McMaster to find community.
Stephanie Chin, coordinator of the PCC, discussed how the PCC has acquired more resources this year for transgender and gender non-conforming students at McMaster, allowing the service to obtain more gender-affirming gear that is size-inclusive and racially diverse. Chin also explained the efforts PCC has made to ensure their physical space is more accessible to students.
However, it is not only important to offer more resources and promote accessibility for all groups. It is also important to listen to marginalized communities first when engaging in social activism.
“[Listening is] a very foundational aspect of supporting a community, which is often overlooked, unfortunately,” said Chin.
Both within and beyond McMaster, engaging in meaningful activism requires listening to individuals and communities. Over the past year, activists in Hamilton have advanced social causes in significant ways and continued efforts to listen and learn will hopefully yield even more meaningful results in the future.
C/O Black Student Success Centre
Officially open as of September 27, the BSSC offers resources, support and a sense of community to Black students at McMaster
On Sept. 27, the Black Student Success Centre officially opened at McMaster University with the goal of supporting Black students and fostering their success.
“Black students across Canadian universities sometimes feel isolated on campuses and are less likely to access student support services. The BSSC exists to connect Black students to the programs, people and resources that will nurture their academic and personal growth,” states the BSSC website.
The BSSC currently offers most of its services online, given that its physical space is under construction. However, it will eventually be housed on the main floor of the Peter George Centre for Living and Learning.
Faith Ogunkoya, manager of the BSSC, explained that the centre was created in response to discussions of racism at McMaster that occurred in 2020. Notably, a review of Black student athlete experiences was published last year, which called attention to anti-Black racism at McMaster. In response to this review, a five-point action plan was released with the creation of the BSSC as a part of the university’s plan to have targeted supports for Black students.
Although the review played a crucial role in the development of the BSSC, the centre’s emergence also builds on years of activism and advocacy work done by Black students, faculty, and staff.
Along with the review, Ogunkoya explained that students and alumni became increasingly vocal on social media about the racism they had experienced while at McMaster. These factors together prompted the university to create a safe space for Black students on campus.
Since the BSSC was created in response to students’ needs, Ogunkoya emphasized the centre’s commitment to representing students and meeting their needs. Thus, one of the centre’s main focuses is to provide general advising services to Black students and to connect them to other services on campus that they might need.
Along with providing individual advising, the BSSC has also partnered with the Student Wellness Centre. The BSSC’s partnership with SWC has allowed them to connect students with Black counsellors and run group sessions that promote good mental health for Black students.
The first of these sessions, called You Belong in the Room, explores feeling inadequate in the context of racism and belonging. Starting on Oct. 13, the session is projected to run for five weeks every Wednesday from 1:30 to 3 p.m.
Along with providing services and support to Black students, Ogunkoya explained that the BSSC also strives to educate other members of the university.
“We often feel like we've got two sides to our service, where it's working with Black students and getting them to where they need to be [and to the] services and programs that they need to access, but also that it needs to be culturally informed. So, we will also be providing training, providing some guidance and providing leadership to units and departments so that [McMaster] is an environment that makes Black students know that they belong,” said Ogunkoya.
Overall, Ogunkoya said the goal of the centre is to create a safe space and a strong sense of community for Black students at McMaster.
Ogunkoya noted that many Black students at McMaster are not surrounded by a lot of other Black students in their programs which can lead to feeling a lack of belonging.
“There’s something that follows you around sometimes when there’s only a few of you,” explained Ogunkoya.
According to Ogunkoya, this is what makes the existence of the BSSC so important.
“When you see yourself and you see representation, it can empower you; it can make you feel less alone,” said Ogunkoya.
The past few years have been transformative for society and the fight for social justice. Here’s hoping the development of this much-needed service both empowers Black students at McMaster and helps address the injustices faced by the Black community at large.
C/O Robyn Sidhu
The Silhouette: Please introduce yourself.
Robyn Sidhu: My name is Robyn, my pronouns are he/she/they and I'm a fifth-year student at [McMaster University] in the [political science department] and I'm double majoring in peace studies and attempting to minor in gender studies.
When did you first get into poetry?
I was in grade 10 [and] for a civics assignment, we had to do a creative project that had to do with a social justice issue my teacher gave us. I decided to do poetry and I think queerness. This was also when I was still in the closet so I was like, “let me test the waters, let's see how these folks think about the gays.” That same year I started slamming with the Brampton poetry slam. That doesn't exist anymore; it only lasted a couple years, unfortunately. But I loved it. I was writing really angsty poetry that was definitely not good at all, but I really loved it. Then I came to Mac and I heard about the Burlington slam project. I ended up joining the team and being able to go to a couple different festivals, which was really cool. I got to go to Dallas, [Texas] in my first year for the International Women's Poetry Slam and this was also before I came out as nonbinary, [so] I identified as a woman when I went. I got to go to Chicago for the National Poetry Slam out there which is super cool and only three Canadian teams get to go — the Burlington, Toronto and Vancouver teams. I also ended up going to the Canadian festival for Spoken Word in my second year, which was in Guelph. That's how I got to know the national scene and then the American scene and kept writing.
Do you have any goals in regards to your work?
It's kind of weird. Once the pandemic happened, I've taken a step back from writing and now I teach [more]. I work with this charity in Toronto called CANVAS. We do consent education training in schools and workplaces and queer identity training in schools, camps, workplaces and stuff like that. Through CANVAS, I run a poetry program for [femme and misogyny-affected] youth and shelter spaces. For the past two years, I've been running this program . . . Every year, I get to meet so many wonderful youth who come through the program and write and foster and create that space. That is something that I love doing more than actually performing and writing. We put together a book every year called the Back Talk Collective. My real poetry goal is to expand that program . . . I want to expand that. I want to do a queer-specific stream; I want to do a stream for boys and masc [folks]; I want to do a trans only stream; I want to keep teaching . . . I love doing it. All of our sessions are about some part of our identity or experience. We try to weave a lot of other art forms into the session like collaging, poetry and music. We do performances together and we pay whoever comes to perform. We really strive to not just create that safe space in session, but also as an organization, [to] really invest in our youth and our artists. So, we’ve implemented this new thing where if you're submitting to any literary magazine and there's a paywall to submit, we'll cover that. Or if you're wanting to go to other workshops that are arts-related and there's a paywall, let us know and we'll pay for it. That's been one of the things that I've really tried to foster because I don't just want people to come to my session and then do poetry; I want them to invest in themselves.
Have there been any obstacles that you've encountered with poetry or any of your work?
I run a poetry slam series in Toronto called Hot Damn it's a Queer Slam. It's Canada's only queer circuit for queer people by queer people. The pandemic has forced us online. We haven't been able to meet together in person. Everybody's Zoomed out and nobody wants to go to Zoom events so we found that our poetry slams, our open mics and the workshops we've been hosting have been pretty intimate. They're not getting as many people as they normally would have. That's been kind of a step back, but also the beautiful thing about Zoom is that everybody can join, no matter where they're from if you have Internet access. We've been seeing a lot more disabled folks come and join our sessions because you can log on and you don't have to physically go anywhere. We've had people from across the world join our workshops, which has been really weird and really good because we never would have met [them] otherwise, but now [they’re] from London and [they’re] in this workshop on a random Saturday.
Do you have any favourite poems?
Sonya Renee Taylor and it's called The Body is Not an Apology. Gorgeous, phenomenal. It's about how you don't have to apologize for existing and you having a body is a joyous reckoning. Sonya Renee Taylor also has a website and an organization called The Body is Not an Apology. It's a movement about reclaiming your body as a disabled person, reclaiming your skin as a racialized person and then it's just a phenomenal organization and movement. Another poet that I absolutely adore, but, unfortunately, have never been able to meet, is Melissa Lozada-Oliva and she is phenomenal. She's a [Latin] writer and she's got this poem called Black Thong Underwear.
Do you have any favourites of your own?
Falling in Love with a Poet. I just love roasting shitty men I've dated and that one is so close to home. When I read it for other poets, they're like, "wow, you're really calling me out" and well, we all do this stuff, so. Then I've got another poem I wrote in my first year that's called Sunflowers and Rooftops and I usually perform it with my ukulele. I know four chords on the ukulele and I milk them all. It's about this first-year romance I kind of had but I exaggerated in my head.
Do you have takeaways from your work, your experiences or just even from poetry itself?
I think the biggest takeaway from poetry has been that anybody can be a good writer. As long as you foster it, especially with teaching. There's this thing I teach called the responsibility of the storyteller. [It’s] the idea that we're all experts of our own narrative, but we shouldn't be writing each other's stories; write what you know [and] write what you've experienced. It's been really interesting to see people writing such specific stories to their own experiences and then seeing other people relate to that. It makes me feel not alone. Poetry brings so many people together. If I read a random poem out and somebody I never met before relates to it, that's a shared moment and I love those shared moments. I love how such specific stories in my own life can resonate with other people and vice versa. Also, putting your heart into it and trying really can get you somewhere. You know, with being able to go to all the festivals, being able to meet so many wonderful people and being able to run a slam myself. It's just my wildest dreams come true.
C/O Robert Bye, Unsplash
Check out these advocacy and social justice groups on and off campus to start finding your community
Community is a crucial piece of any university experience. It will be even more important this year as we return to campus, particularly for the many students for whom it is not only their first time in Hamilton but also their first time away from home entirely.
Finding and building community can be difficult enough after a move, nevermind during a pandemic. It can be difficult to know where to start. One place might be the issues in the world you’re passionate about. Groups or organizations dedicated to these issues are wonderful places where both community and social justice advocacy can thrive. Furthermore, having a strong sense of community, while also tackling these issues you care about can help you cultivate support systems not only as you navigate university but also in the face of larger issues.
Included below is a list of groups both on and off campus, sorted by the social justice issues they’re concerned with, who are doing some excellent work in the Hamilton community. It should be noted this is not an exhaustive list of all the wonderful groups and organizations in Hamilton; there are many more groups that can be found both on campus and off.
If you identify as 2SLGBTQIA+, are passionate about 2SLGBTQIA+ rights and peer support:
If you’re passionate about anti-racist and anti-oppressive work, check out:
If you’re passionate about climate and environmental justice, check out:
If you’re passionate about food security and nutrition, check out:
If you’re passionate about healthcare and public health, check out:
If you’re passionate about housing and supporting unhoused individuals, check out
cw: white supremacy, hate speech
Hamilton is the hate capital of Canada. Even if you're not from Hamilton, as a McMaster University student, this is the place where you've chosen to pursue your education. This is where you are preparing for your future. This beautiful, vibrant city that is full of artists and music also has the highest rate of reported hate crimes in the country.
After the Hamilton Council updated a trespass bylaw in response to the hate seen at City Hall, Councillor Sam Merulla said that the counter-protestors have given a small group of right-wing extremists a platform and that the city’s focus on hate issues have “manufactured” this problem. If you’re reading this, councillor, how dare you? How dare you ignore the systemic hatred in our city?
Council passes updated trespass bylaw related to cracking down on hate activities at #Hamont city hall, etc. A feisty Coun. Sam Merulla suggests city's focus on hate issue is giving "six morons" a national platform. "We have manufactured a problem in this city."
— Matthew Van Dongen (@Mattatthespec) October 23, 2019
For months now, several hate groups, including the so-called Yellow Vests, have been protesting outside City Hall on Saturdays. This far-right hate group has co-opted the name of a French movement protesting rising fuel prices and calling for changes to economic policy and taxation. The Yellow Vests’ activity has attracted other far-right groups, such as the Soldiers of Odin and the Proud Boys.
These groups have been appearing more frequently and are much more aggressive towards the counter-protestors. When they first appeared they came in a large group, walking purposefully towards us and through us. I was with fellow counter-protestors that day, yet I felt so frightened that I started sobbing, and I couldn’t stop.
On October 6, the organizers of the Gandhi Peace Festival invited the Yellow Vests to attend the event. People associated with a group that carries signs such as “Make Canada Holy and Righteous Again” or “No Immigration, Legal or Illegal” were invited to take part in a festival that is supposed to celebrate peace and acceptance. They even spoke with the mayor. While I recognize that the invitation was intended to foster a sense of community, it did just the opposite. This invitation made it seem like the Yellow Vests were accepted by the community, giving them an opportunity to validate their harmful rhetoric and portray counter-protestors’ efforts as unreasonable and violent.
This invitation made it seem like the Yellow Vests were accepted by the community, giving them an opportunity to validate their harmful rhetoric and portray counter-protestors’ efforts as unreasonable and violent.
The Yellow Vest protests are not an isolated incident. This violence and hatred spreads through our city like a virus — but instead of addressing this hate, some city councillors have remained silent on the issue or in the case of Merulla, have blamed the people who are trying to right this wrong.
It hurts. It hurts to see these hate groups spewing their harmful rhetoric every week. But I am white, cisgender and middle-class, and it is my responsibility to stand up for the people who aren’t safe or comfortable being there. It is my privilege that I can stand in the City Hall forecourt on Saturday afternoons to counter-protest. But even with all that, I feel apprehensive. I am frightened. When the midday sun is shining down on me in the heart of the city where I have lived my whole life, I feel afraid. And that is unacceptable.
When the midday sun is shining down on me in the heart of the city where I have lived my whole life, I feel afraid. And that is unacceptable.
It hurts to see hundreds of people filling the streets for a climate strike, while only around 20 people appear regularly to protest against the Yellow Vests on weekends. Yes, striking for the climate is a vital cause and it fills me with joy to see revolutionary action on such a scale, but I can’t help but feel bitter. Where are those numbers every week outside of City Hall? Where are those numbers when counter-protestors are arrested?
This article is by no means blaming people for not attending the counter protests. It is not safe for everyone to attend and I know that. But the lack of knowledge about what's happening in this city is not okay. Nothing will change if we don’t change. Please, my heart can’t take this anymore.
And to the counter-protesters: you have my wordless gratitude. Thank you for persevering. Thank you.
Content Warning: This article contains descriptions of violence
In December 2016, Soleiman Faqiri died in segregation in a Lindsay, Ont. jail after being subdued by over 20 officers. Since then, both his family and members of the McMaster community have been waiting for answers surrounding the circumstances of his death and the punishments to follow.
Walid Abdulaziz, a student and member of McMaster Muslims for Peace and Justice, is one of those people. Abdulaziz, who has been involved with the case since early 2017, has been helping both Faqiri’s family and the Justice for Soli movement, a movement created to seek out answers concerning the circumstances of Faqiri’s death.
Faqiri was a mentally ill man placed in segregation in a Lindsay, Ont. jail for a number of days who subsequently died under their care. He had been arrested about two weeks earlier on charges for aggravated assault and did not have a criminal record prior to this.
In the February 2018 report the Toronto Star obtained through a freedom of information access request, the Kawartha Lakes Police Services found that Faqiri had been pepper sprayed twice and held down by iron rods. As of now, Kawartha Lakes Police Service does not plan on charging any of the officers involved with the altercation.
Abdulaziz first heard of Faqiri’s case through a fellow member of MMPJ, who had learned about the case about a month after it occurred when it was mentioned by a speaker at a different university.
Faqiri was a mentally ill man placed in segregation in a Lindsay, Ont. jail for a number of days who subsequently died under their care.
“Obviously [MMPJ is] a social justice group so we wanted to get involved with as much as we could. Our first idea was to make an informative video that made its way around the internet to get publicity for the case. A lot of members have kept close ties to the movement,” Abdulaziz said.
Abdulaziz and other members of MMPJ helped the Faqiri family while they tried to find answers to why he died. They finally received a report of the exact nature of the attack sometime in February 2018.
Since then, Abdulaziz has been working with the Justice for Soli movement and the Faqiri family to inform people about Faqiri’s case.
Our immediate goal is to get answers and report on what happened, but our bigger picture is to make sure that this doesn’t happen again.”
Justice for Soli executive
“Our immediate goal is to get answers and report on what happened, but our bigger picture is to make sure that this doesn’t happen again,” said Abdulaziz.
As a part of their education process, the Justice for Soli movement has been coming to different university campuses and giving talks to inform the public about Faqiri’s case. Yusuf Faqiri, Soleiman Faqiri’s brother, is a common guest speaker, who talks about his brother and the difficulties surrounding his death.
The Justice for Soli movement had scheduled an event on March 1, but due to the weather conditions and Mohawk College’s shutdown of all their buildings, they had to cancel their event which was set to take place in the Institute of Applied Health Sciences, a Mohawk building on the McMaster campus.
Nonetheless, Abdulaziz urges students to learn about the Justice for Soli movement.
“This kind of topic has so many intersections. There’s so many problems with the justice system that we have people with mental health concerns being mistreated by those in authority and other really grave injustices that affect a lot of people,” said Abdulaziz. “It’s not unrealistic to expect things to be better or just different,” he added.
The Justice for Soli movement plans on rescheduling their event on campus in the coming weeks.
It can be difficult to attract a large group of volunteers at McMaster. There are so many different groups vying for students’ attention and often, there is so little guidance.
While international human trafficking is another important issue, it is critical to note the there are laws that protect immigrants from the harsh world of human trafficking in Canada.
However, there are no laws protecting Canadian citizens from this terrible act. Rather than being criminalized, people who are found to be a part of these circles merely get fined. This is an insignificant and meaningless price to pay considering people are being used as mere means to money.
The Human Trafficking Awareness Initiative originated this year. And while they do get some guidance from their funding and resource partners at Ontario Public Interest Research Group McMaster, they rely on their student volunteers to help with the groundwork.
One of the biggest obstacles this small program faces is the stigma surrounding human trafficking throughout Canada and right here in Hamilton. The co-founders of HTAI, Sukhbir Thind, a fourth-year Honours Life Science student and Letizia D’Alimonte, a fourth-year Honours Communications student, are trying to reach out not only to McMaster, but also to high school students - a task proving to be much more difficult than anticipated.
“I think they’re in denial of it,” says Thind, when discussing the challenge of reaching grade 11 and 12 students across Hamilton. People do not want to believe the streets of their city are littered with this issue, so they ignore the problem in the hopes that bliss will follow their ignorance.
This denial occurs despite the fact that, in 2011, 89 per cent of all human trafficking victims in Canada were Canadian aged 12-22. It is important that all students become aware of this cultural imperfection, and that this awareness will hopefully lead to change.
The focus of the volunteer-based HTAI is on domestic human trafficking awareness.
The founders of HTAI got the idea to start this social awareness group from “Walk With Me,-” a Hamilton-based group that helps people who are currently being trafficked.
From January to August 2013, they received 92 crisis calls from victims and police, and 126 tips/calls from the public, the large majority of which were from the Hamilton area. The purpose of this group is to spend their days picking up and aiding victims.
Although this group helps those affected by trafficking, it deals with a “lack of awareness,” explains D’Alimonte. “Everyone is too busy doing work, they are leaving no time to promote the cause.”
This is where HTAI comes in. The group intends to allow high school students to become aware of this issue, and perhaps set up HTAI juniors across Hamilton, eventually having these groups put on their own presentations to their classes and schools.
We have stereotypes about how Canada and Hamilton appear positively, but this optimistic attitude can blind us on important issues.