News  Rez Project discusses diversity politics

Strives for safer space on campus

Rez Project, a series of volunteer-run workshops, hit campus residences in September, focusing on educating students living in residence at McGill on topics of sexual assault, gender, and sexuality.

“Sexual assault happens disproportionately within university residences,” Chelsea Barnett, one of the two coordinators for Rez Project, wrote to The Daily in an email. “Furthermore, homophobia and transphobia in particular are issues students may not have been challenged to think about before.”

The project was started ten years ago by groups of students from the Sexual Assault Centre of the McGill Students’ Society (SACOMSS), Queer McGill, and residence floor fellows. It was created out of a perceived need to increase education on the diverse identities that new students will encounter in residences. By opening discussion with new students on these topics, Rez Project hopes to make McGill a safer place, and bring individual identity privileges to the forefront.

“Some students are shaken because they’re recognizing their own privileges for the first time,” wrote Barnett. “Other students feel like they’re being given space and time to be heard for the first time.”

The current model of the workshops is influenced by groups on campus, such as SACOMSS Outreach. Rez Project facilitates dialogue on topics of identity and equity by asking students to define what certain words such as privilege or cisgender mean to them, and how these terms are important to keep in mind in the residence setting.

Rez Project is not without its limitations. For one, the reception of Rez Project is far from consistent. “It’s all over the map, really […] Some [participants] are totally checked out altogether, others walk away having learned something new,” Barnett wrote.

“There’s always a handful of people in the room with typical privileged identity who don’t understand the relevance of [the] workshops, people who don’t see how it affects them. We hope to help those people recognize the way [the] system privileges them and how other identities do matter,” said Annie Preston, another of the coordinators for Rez Project.

Another concern includes Rez Project’s approach to incorporating intersectionality into the workshops. “One of the critiques of Rez Project is that it is not intersectional enough, and privileges certain marginalized identities more than others […] Rez Project was designed by students from Queer McGill, SACOMSS, and floor fellows, who saw a need for these workshops, and that is one of the reasons why it’s focused like this,” Preston explained.

In an effort to fix these limitations, Rez Project has added two new activities to the workshop this year. “One is the use of [the] standpoint diagram to help people recognize how their own social location will affect their ability to understand the material. The second is a ‘gendering’ sexual activity to look at the way in which society determines how your gender affects your sexual activity and how society perceives it,” said Preston.

“We decided to add the [standpoint diagram] because we felt like there are students who don’t identify [with] the categories in the workshop – just because they don’t identify as queer, it doesn’t mean queer people don’t exist and we need to exclude them,” said Preston. “We also felt like the workshops were missing a connection between sexual assault and the fact that it was an act of power and not a matter of desire.”

Rez Project continues to plan for further initiatives to educate the McGill community on these topics. “In an ideal world, Rez Project would be one of many mandatory workshops that students would attend,” Preston wrote to The Daily. “We’d like to see the roll-out of a workshop series that covers other aspects of identity: race, ethnicity, ability, religion, and mental health and suicide.”

“It sets a standard of caring for your fellow students that is impossible to do without Rez Project,” Queer McGill member Grace Khare told The Daily. “It also helps people who may not know about diversity politics wrap their heads around new concepts.”

As for the short-term, Preston hopes that “students feel more able to discuss these topics, [are] able to talk about them more fluidly with floor fellows, and [are] more respectful of peoples identities.”

“It’s really important for people whose experience may go poorly unless everyone sits through Rez Project,” said Khare. “It’s an excellent starting point for new students.”

With files from Hannah Besseau.