Hey U of T!
Recently, I had the phenomenal opportunity to interview Nathan Chan, one of the founders of a group based in Trinity College called PoC@Trin.
The group’s mission statement is as follows: People of Colour at Trinity College, herein referred to PoC@Trin, is a racialized students’ collective dedicated to (1) raising awareness regarding race, culture, and intersectional issues at Trinity College, (2) reducing and eliminating racism at Trinity College, (3) providing social support to People of Colour (PoC) within the Trinity College community, (4) increasing the involvement of PoC in student governance and the Trinity College community, and (5) advocating on behalf of People of Colour in student governance.
PoC@Trin strives to bring positive change to the Trinity College community through fostering respectful environments while recognizing privilege and identities in multilateral discussions.
In addition, their definition of PoC is as follows: People of Colour includes, but is not limited to, individuals identifying as Black, Indigenous, South East Asian, South Asian, East Asian, Latino, Middle Eastern, and other marginalized (within Western society) ethnocultural groups.
Here are the responses to the questions I asked!
How did you come up with the idea of creating a PoC@Trin group? What was your motivation behind it?
PoC@Trin evolved out of what I would call a necessity. It started out towards the end of my second year when me and a couple of friends who were a part of the more “active” community at Trinity College got together and noticed two things: first, that there is a substantial lack of people of colour that actively participate in the Trinity College community, and second, that many of the students who are people of colour live in residence as well, but choose not to engage with the community. Our big question was, why? And how can we create Trinity College in a way that provides greater access towards the resources here? We wanted people of colour to feel like they’re a part of the community, perhaps even create their own communities, and also have the ability to access the TCM (Trinity College Meeting) for funds.
What are the resources you’re speaking about?
There’s the Equity Office at U of T, specifically the Anti-Racism and Cultural Diversity Office. The co-chair of PoC@Trin, Sarah Aftab Khan, is in contact with them, since although she works with the Sexual and Gender Diversity Office, that office and the Anti-Racism Office both go under the Equity Offices at U of T. She works with the Anti-Racism and Cultural Diversity Office closely to provide resources for students.
We also provide ourselves as resources, especially to FLC, First-year Learning Communities. They’re often made up of students who don’t live in residence or are international students. Those students may find the most difficulty connecting with the college, and we hope to approach them to provide them with resources, such as community or support.
What are some topics you’ve touched upon during the group’s discussions?
One of the topics that frequently comes up is accessing student leadership. A lot of students in the discussion group are not familiar with the student heads and the resources the heads can connect them with. We found that due to the perception that you need to be part of the “active” community of Trinity College to gain access to student leaders, a lot of members of the PoC@Trin group stated that because they don’t feel like they are active members in the community, they’ll have difficulty accessing student leadership.
What do you believe are the components to creating a “safe space”?
The term safe space originated within the LGBTQ+ community, where people wouldn’t be judged for their sexuality and could express their opinions that could be viewed with an open mind by other individuals in their community.
Given that, to provide a safe space, there are often limitations. For example, the PoC@Trin discussion group is one of the places where people can chat about issues. When we first created the group, we intended for it to be a place where anyone can have discussions. However, people who weren’t a part of the PoC community would read posts there, and due to various inabilities to empathize with individuals there in regards to some of the issues brought up, some individuals were made fun of. In the future, we’d like to create community guidelines—outlining what is acceptable and what is unacceptable behaviour. We hope to let people know what the boundaries are and what they can do to help ensure that other people within the space—whether online or in person—can remain safe.
What are some issues you’ve noticed PoC face on campus?
Accessibility. For me, accessibility means if you want to reach out to the resources available, you’re not only able to reach out to them, but you’re comfortable doing so. That’s one of the issues people of colour face at Trinity College and at U of T as a whole every day.
I think this kind of situation manifests itself in the way we approach students, particularly international students from Asia, and how we treat them in class. We often hear offhanded comments about them here and there, such as how “Asian U of T is” or how “Asians are making the class curve go a certain way.” We’ve got to realize micro-aggressions existent at U of T and educate people to understand that this is not how we want to represent ourselves, and it’s not how we want to act among our peers.
Is there anything else you would like students to know?
People of colour at Trinity College do exist. We exist to ensure that people of colour at Trinity College have a place where they can express themselves. A place where they can voice their concerns, not only with members of the people of color community, but if they wish we can connect them with the Office of the Dean of Students, or student leadership.
We will support you. We want people of colour at Trinity College to find their homes within the college and to find their communities. We want them to be comfortable to the point where they can walk around Trinity College and say, “I belong here, and this is my home, too.”
Have you ever felt like your race affected your experiences at U of T? Let me know in the comments below, or through @lifeatuoft on Twitter!