From increases in tuition that disproportionately impact international students to explicit acts of discrimination in the classroom, it is no secret the institution of UBC has serious problems that are taking a toll on students. For many students, the combination of academic stress and the pressures of navigating life — with the worsening consequences of climate change, and the constant barrage of violence and crises affecting communities worldwide — can be beyond overwhelming.
If you are like me, a student taking courses in the humanities, you might feel anxious that the important conversations happening inside the classroom will always stop at the door. But, if you are a student studying in areas like engineering, management, or the sciences, issues you care about may never come up in your classes in a substantial way. Initiatives — like the end of term surveys, moments where you receive supporting nods and words of solidarity from classmates, and the occasional event that may provide a space for you to feel welcomed and validated — might be incredibly helpful in making you feel heard. At the same time, it is easy to feel like your experiences and voice are being drowned out by the constant rush of everyday life, leaving you with a heavy weight on your shoulders and even heavier words sitting on your tongue, unsaid and unheard.
The team behind RESPECT, a digital magazine and interdisciplinary project run by and for students, not only recognises the lack of spaces for student platforms, but understands its detrimental impacts. Originating from conversations between Faculty Advisors Dr. Anita Chaudhuri of the Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies and Rishma Chooniedass of the Faculty of Health and Social Development, RESPECT was intended to give any and all UBC students a platform to share their perspectives on equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI). As plans were underway, Chaudhuri and Chooniedass quickly began seeking out students to become project coordinators, and take the lead with RESPECT magazine. I recently had the pleasure of speaking with the three project coordinators about their work, what RESPECT does, and how students can have their voices heard through this growing platform.
Ximena Cayo Barrantes is an undergraduate student studying Psychology in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. Primarily in charge of outreach and managing RESPECT’s social media, Ximena works hard to keep clubs, organisations, and community members updated on the magazine’s plans and initiatives. Recognising that RESPECT magazine and The Phoenix News share similar goals of holding space for students and amplifying their voices, she connected with me to discuss the amazing (and much-needed) work and initiatives RESPECT has to offer students. In our interview, she shared how and why she got involved with this project.
“As an international student and after moving to Kelowna, it was very obvious that, although there are some spaces for international students — there's clubs and there’s organisations — I had not seen something like [RESPECT]. I had not seen something quite like this.”
As seen with many platforms, sharing one's voice by having works published often means adhering to a specific criteria and format. However, Ximena and the rest of the RESPECT team made it clear that the digital magazine is open to myriad possibilities, depending on what is most comfortable and fitting for you.
“You can always show your ideas, but we wanted to give a space for students not just to express their ideas, but to do it comfortably, in whatever format they find more appropriate for them and that represents them the best, and to just give them a voice.”
Élise Machado, an undergraduate student studying Human Kinetics in the Faculty of Health and Social Development, is mainly responsible for leading team meetings, and planning for marketing and editorial deadlines. During our interview, she affirmed that part of the reason there is a need for RESPECT magazine is to offer a platform for students to share and have their voices amplified without the restrictions of academic or colonial standards of writing and presentation.
“We found a gap in a space for students to express their perspectives on equity, diversity, and inclusion in a way that was creative — not having to be a school assignment or for a club or for a job — really just a place that was fully voluntary.”
Opportunities may arise during your university career to present something along the lines of equity, diversity, and inclusion in a more creative manner. But, as Élise pointed out, students may not always feel comfortable sharing their work within many of the existing spaces on campus. RESPECT, therefore, seeks to provide an alternative space for students that is free of judgement, and devoted to fostering conversation and engagement opportunities.
“We’re creating and opening up a space for students who may not be comfortable writing such content for a school essay because they think maybe the instructor's perspective is going to clash. We’re really creating a space for a bunch of different student perspectives to be heard and featured.”
Nancy Jiayi Lu, an undergraduate student studying Psychology in the Faculty of Science, is particularly active in RESPECT’s content creation, graphic design, and editorial process. When asked about her involvement and the goals of RESPECT magazine, like Ximena and Élise, she emphasised the vital role RESPECT has in upholding student voices.
“EDI is not only a concept, but also a tool that we could integrate into our daily life. Through this platform, people can share and learn EDI from different perspectives through various formats,” she stated.
“We encourage students of all disciplines to express their understanding of equity through photographic narratives, poems, short stories, artwork, interviews, etc. We wish to share this opportunity for students to express their voice, and use EDI as a tool to address real life problems.”
For the student Project Coordinators, the real-life, systemic problems RESPECT seeks to confront are not only things that are being witnessed all over campus and beyond, but are personally experienced. Each shared with me that their experiences, coming from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds, highlighted numerous issues that they wanted to do something about. Élise stated:
“As a visible minority, moving around from a lot of different places and being the daughter of a refugee, I had some personal experiences that led me to care about EDI issues — which I think we all, as humans, kind of do or should care about — but I hold EDI issues a little bit closer to my heart.”
“I had barriers when I first began studying abroad. So, I understand that there are many other students who may feel the same,” Nancy explained.
“I wanted to use this opportunity to help different student populations to express their unique voices and needs, and make people feel a sense of belonging.”
Hearing from Ximena, Élise, and Nancy, I got the sense that — despite the challenges of doing EDI work — their experiences with RESPECT also comes with great fulfilment and encouragement for the future. Following two successful issues of their magazine and growing student engagement, the three Project Coordinators all expressed excitement in seeing what RESPECT magazine has already done for students and what it will continue to do.
“The nature of our work takes a lot of effort and emotional energy, because we are decolonizing perspectives and systemic practices that have been in place for hundreds of years. It can be a bit discouraging,” Élise shared.
“I find that with this project, it has been so encouraging that all of our time, effort and energy has created this space for equity, diversity and inclusion, which we have been able to see come to fruition. ”
“I think for me, it's seeing how students appreciate having a space like this, because it's hard to understand that sometimes. You can talk to people and tell them your opinions and your ideas and your concerns,” Ximena explained.
“It is having your voice somewhere where everyone can see, but also somewhere where people will most likely agree with you and understand that you're going through something. We are also going through this. We can figure it out. Just seeing how thankful people are for this space is very fulfilling for me.”
Luckily for students, RESPECT magazine has no plans of leaving anytime soon. The project’s renewed funding secures the platform for another year, allowing them to seek submissions for their upcoming issue “Power of Place.” All UBC students are welcome to submit pieces reflecting on what “power of place” means to them before the deadline of March 16th, 2023. As confirmed by the Project Coordinators, submissions can take numerous forms. From music to poems, artwork to photographs, and essays to short stories, students are encouraged to submit pieces true to them and their experiences.
“I’m really grateful for the space that we’ve created, and I really think of it as a safe space,” Élise shared. “There are very few confines to what you can submit. We really want to keep those unique perspectives authentic.”
As Nancy explained, the theme was conceived in collaboration with UBC’s 14th annual Celebrate Learning Week (CLW) to “focus on the learning and teaching experiences that have a strong connection to the goals and actions outlined in UBC's Indigenous Strategic Plan (ISP).” However, RESPECT welcomes contributions from all student populations to interpret what power of place means to them in the context of EDI.
“Understanding the power of place in the context of EDI is crucial for creating more inclusive and equitable communities. By recognizing the ways in which our physical and social environments shape our experiences, we can work to identify and dismantle barriers to equality, and create more inclusive spaces and opportunities for all people."
Following the first issue’s theme “What is Equity?”, and the second issue’s theme “Fostering Inclusivity,” Ximena explained that the theme of “Power of Place” is meant to be broad, and encompass countless possibilities for submissions.
“By ‘Power of Place,’ we’re trying to invite [students] to reflect on their positionalities and where they’re coming from, not only about where they’re going, but also where they grew up, where they call home, where they study, where they have studied, and so on,” she revealed.
“We ask how that has shaped the way that they think about topics. We ask how the place they were born in, grew up in, or where they were raised affects or gives them different ideas on how to consider inclusion, equity and diversity as concepts, but also as practices.”
If you are a student interested in making a submission to RESPECT magazine for their third issue on “Power of Place,” visit their website to see previous submissions and issues, get in contact with the team (firstname.lastname@example.org), and submit your work. Also, be sure to follow them on Instagram for updates.