Last Thursday was the third annual Community Engagement Day (CED), organized by the Social Equity and Diversity Education office (SEDE). From September 29 to October 9, workshops and volunteering opportunities were hosted by forty different organizations based throughout the Montreal community, with the majority of events happening on October 2.
CED was founded with the intention of giving McGill students the opportunity to form stronger ties with the local community. On top of SEDE funding, CED receives funding from the Arts Undergraduate Society (AUS), the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU), the Provost’s office, the McGill bookstore, and Student Housing and Hospitality Services, according to CED Program Coordinator Adam Finley.
Finley and CED Communications Coordinator Lina Martin-Chan said that the goals of CED this year lay more in creating a meaningful experience for volunteers more than in getting a large number of participants.
“We didn’t go for numbers this year, we went for small, intentionally good, meaningful activities,” Finley told The Daily.
“We had a general anxiety about the existence of this project as a ‘day,’” said Martin-Chan. “We were really nervous that these relationships that we [facilitated] wouldn’t be long-term or sustainable, and that took up a large part of our energy thinking about that, and what that would mean, and how we can kind of prevent those one-off [voluntourist-y things].”
Finley and Martin-Chan said that this year CED saw much more staff participation than in previous years, due to help from the administration. Finley said that VP (Administration and Finance) Michael Di Grappa sent out a mass email encouraging employers to let their staff take the day off and go to CED, and that one employer at the Comparative Medicine and Animal Resources Centre made a point of taking most of his employees to attend some events.
A variety of workshops throughout the Montreal community
Lucie Lastinger, a U1 Anthropology and Women’s Studies student, attended a workshop hosted by the Monster Academy, a working group of the Quebec Public Interest Research Group (QPIRG) McGill. The workshop focussed on a discussion of beauty and the relationship between body image and mental health.
“We talked about beauty being a value in our culture and how that relates to capitalism, and how if you are a beautiful person then you are deemed more valuable and therefore ‘better’ in our capitalist society,” Lastinger told The Daily. She added that she really enjoyed the workshop, and that her fellow participants were engaged and thoughtful about the issues discussed.
Aimee Lowe, an organizer from Accessibilize Montreal, explained how she designed her workshop. “When Adam, the organizer of Community Engagement Day, approached us, he asked us to think of an activity that would help educate new volunteers but that would also be productive and helpful for our movement,” she told The Daily.
Participants in the Accessibilize workshop were instructed to venture out into the community and collect information on local venues for a new app that Accessibilize Montreal is currently promoting, called “AXS Map.” Volunteers were instructed to visit the venues that McGill students usually frequent, such as bars and cafes near campus, and to see whether or not they had any accessibility issues.
“Some people were really surprised that the staff where they went were not interested in helping at all, or were not interested in talking about accessibility,” said Lowe.
The Benedict Labre House, a centre that provides free food, clothing, and showers to people who are homeless, hosted two events. The first allowed volunteers to come work on repairs and paint murals around the House, and the second was a cooking workshop organized by Midnight Kitchen.
“We were hoping to attract students to the House for them to discover a new volunteering experience, as well as to invite our guests (that’s how we call our clients) to participate in the activities,” wrote Karine Projean, Communication and Liaison Agent at the House, in an email to The Daily. “While the student involvement was great, unfortunately our guests didn’t participate as much as we would have wished, especially in the Midnight Kitchen workshop.”
Reactions to CED
“I think CED is really awesome because it provides a really […] accessible way for students at McGill to get out of McGill and to learn about programs that are happening […] outside of the McGill bubble,” said Lastinger.
Lastinger noted however that she was surprised the event was in a workshop format, instead of a more hands-on volunteering experience.
Lowe had no criticisms of CED, saying that she really appreciated having access to such a wide variety of volunteers without having to spend energy recruiting, and that she never ran into any problems communicating with the organizers. Projean also said that she was very happy with the organization from SEDE and had a very good experience.