Written by: Niroshini Mather
The instagram account @StolenbySmith has sparked a much needed introspection into the experiences of BIPOC students and staff at Queen’s University. The account was launched by Kelly Zou, a fourth year commerce student, in order to offer Queens students and alumni the opportunity to anonymously share their experiences of racism, homophobia and other forms of discrimination within the Smith School of Business. Since its launch in early July, the page has amassed almost 12 000 followers, local media attention and shared over 250 stories detailing incidents of prejudice, intolerance and ignorance. The account has inspired the creation of similar platforms documenting discrimination within the Queens Engineering community (@erasedbyfeas) and at other universities across Canada.
The stories shared on Stolen by Smith range from heartbreaking to enraging and many are downright terrifying. They describe experiences of isolation amongst fellow students, an unsupportive atmosphere enforced by teaching staff and question the admission techniques used in many prestigious programs. However, what is most frightening is how relatable many of these stories are for most BIPOC students.
Queen’s reputation regarding its treatment of the BIPOC community is one of the university’s worst kept secrets. A secret that, when I first told my friends and family I planned on attending Queens in the fall, resulted in my decision being met with much hesitation. I refused to give into the rumours and went into my first year with an open mind and the excitement of starting the next chapter of my life in a new city and amongst a new community. Looking back, I believe much of my naivety stemmed from having grown up in the GTA, the epicentre of cultural diversity in Canada. This is not to suggest the GTA is immune from discrimination; we all know too well how prejudices persist in even the most progressive of communities. However, being continuously surrounded by a vibrant mix of cultures and religions, I was fortunate enough to have never once felt out of place or unwelcome.
Rather, it was during my first months at Queens that I truly felt like an outsider in my own home. My friends and I would later call it a “culture shock”, acclimating to a new environment where our skin colour and background became our most defining characteristics. I’ve never had trouble making friends but suddenly, during my first week of orientation, I felt isolated and as though all of my conversations were stunted and brushed off easily.
Over my first year at Queens I overheard many ignorant comments that were never rebutted, only laughed at and repeated. I can count the number of times I was the only POC in the room on more than two hands.
StolenbySmith has forced the entirety of the Queens community to finally take notice of the experiences of discrimination and ignorance the BIPOC community has tolerated for years. It is time they finally address its long standing reputation as a “white” school and enforce meaningful action to ensure their BIPOC students feel safe and welcome during their Queens experience. As students ourselves, we can help change the narrative by holding one another accountable for our comments/actions as well as using our positions on prominent teams/clubs to address issues involving discrimination. With BIPOC leaders such as Kelly Zou leading the charge, I have much hope that Queens will finally take accountability for past wrongs and prioritize improving the treatment and experiences of BIPOC students, alumni and staff alike.
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