One of the things about being a university student is that you start to say, “OH SO I’m NOT the only one who…”. When I was in high school, I felt like I was the only one around who cared about the environment or that I was the only one who enjoyed classical music. With a group only 800 students in the whole school and around 200 in my grade, it really was difficult to see diversity. Not to mention, everyone in my grade came from the same neighbourhood and likely grew up there their whole lives so we tended to focus on the similarities between us and our peers while ignoring the parts of us that make us different.
When I started at U of T, one of the largest and most renowned schools in Canada, and lived in the city, I truly saw the world from a diverse lens for the first time. Concepts like accessibility, citizenship status, equity and intersectionality were either not in my vocabulary radar or I hadn’t thought about them on a larger scale whatsoever; I had a pretty narrow view of the world which was shaped by what was immediately around me. I also didn’t use the Internet in order to keep up my grades for university. After coming to university, I started realizing my own privilege and found the ways that I could make a difference in the community using that privilege but most importantly, I found communities that eliminated any misconception I had had about being “the only one who…”.
I didn’t come to this epiphany the very second I stepped out of the suburbs. In fact, I would actually say it took me the full four years to build these communities and widen my lens as an individual; there’s bundles more that I have yet to learn about diversity. It was a slow process and I eventually realized that it’s hard to find one single space that caters to ALL of my interests or identities. Similarly, I also realized that there wasn’t even a way to neatly label my interests or identities. I was still growing as a person and so, my interests, identities and the words I used to express myself evolved immensely.
One of the examples of this was realizing spaces on campus that discuss sexual and gender diversity. I wasn’t completely oblivious to the LGBTQ+ community before university but I had never taken the time out to truly be a part of it. This past summer, I joined the SGDO as a work-study student and I learned so much about the daily realities of explicitly identifying as a part of the LGBTQ+ community.
I always thought that I wasn’t well-versed enough to speak up within this community. In addition to that, based on my cultural background (South-Asian), these spaces were just not explicitly laid out nor encouraged in a way that I could effectively engage with them. I also have to keep in mind that my first language is not English but having attended school in North America gives me insight into particular terms that my parents might not have.
I came to realize the importance of language when I was talking to students about the SGDO at an international students resource fair. Me and my colleague had a little spiel that we would present to give a quick idea of what the SGDO does and about Queer Orientation. One of the students in the group, listened to our spiel and left but then came back a few minutes later only to have to hear it again. When I asked if there were any questions, they asked, “excuse me, but what does Queer even mean?”
I honestly was taken aback because I had thought that I wasn’t well-versed enough to be in this space but here was someone who was confused about the terms that I threw around casually! This incident helped me learn to not assume that everyone is coming from the same place that I am.
Just this last week, I went to a discussion of a group of Queer and Trans Students of Colour. It took me four years to really participate in something like this and one of the first things that the facilitator mentioned was that participation doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to identify or talk or share anything, participation can mean that you’re nodding, listening or just the fact that you’re here!
So yes, in. conclusion, university is a time where you study a lot, try to engage in extra-curricular activities, etc etc! But for me, it was also a time of figuring the rest of the world and broadening my understanding of diversity. There are so many ways to get involved and learn outside of the classroom at U of T that it’s overwhelming at times but as I’ve learned, there’s no end goal here, not everything has to be an “all or nothing” commitment and that there are ALWAYS going to be spaces and people that a part of you can identify with!
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