News | SSMU Equity Committee holds conference on equity and law

Students critically explore equity issues within McGill and Canada

Last week, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU)’s Equity Committee hosted a two-day Equity Conference in the Shatner building. The two-day conference focusing on equity and law presented a range of student research discussing the problems faced both at McGill and in the broader Canadian legal system. The speakers – undergraduates as well as law students – presented their own work and research on the topics discussed.

Kat Svikhnushin, a U1 Arts student and the coordinator of the event, said that the purpose of the conference was to make the concept of equity seem less vague and more manageable by addressing issues in individual fields.

“A huge goal for me, and something that I really wanted to see for the conference, is to take it away from this really standard idea of academia,” said Svikhnushin.

“Taking equity out of this realm of the inaccessible, and demonstrating that equity is as important in an HIV [Supreme Court] case, as it is in a multicultural case, as it is in the [McGill] School of Environment,” Svikhnushin said.

According to Svikhnushin, a great deal of support came from the SSMU Equity Commissioners and from SSMU as well.

The lacklustre attendance on both days of the conference was noteworthy. Monday’s event, which included presentations that critiqued the McGill administration’s academic hiring practices and discussed colonialist ideology present in the School of Environment, garnered the attendance of around ten students. Similarly, on Tuesday, the room was nearly empty apart from the event organizers.

U1 Political Science student Udita Samuel said that she came in large part because of a Canadian Law class that she is taking. When asked about the poor turnout on both days, Samuel said that considering how well-organized the conference was, “it’s unfortunate that people aren’t reaching out and coming to learn and meet people that have super innovative ideas.”

The second day’s talks did not deal with McGill-related issues, but rather with Canadian legal issues.

“I think it’s a really good opportunity to break down some of those really rigid academic barriers.”

Warwick Walton, a student in the Faculty of Law, spoke about the role of a judge in a multicultural society, and the importance of communication between a society and its courts. He said that it was an opportunity to practice approaching difficult concepts in comprehensive ways, and to take on the task of promoting knowledge of common law among more people.

Andrew Stuart, a third-year Law student who presented “The Evidence Just Doesn’t Add Up with HIV Non-Disclosure: A study of R. v. Mabior,” agreed with Warwick. “This is an opportunity for people from different fields to come in and hear from each other,” said Stuart.

“I think it’s a really good opportunity to break down some of those really rigid academic barriers,” said Svikhnushin.

Commenting on what she thought the role of administration should be in assisting such events, especially considering the conference’s criticisms of McGill, Samuel said that the school should be involved as a promoter, but that it is important to maintain academic events that are distinctly student-run.
“What we want to see, and what programming we want at McGill is something that’s important. If it comes from the McGill administration it might not be in tune with what we want to hear and what we want to see,” said Svikhnushin.

Svikhnushin added that she considered the conference to be an overall success. “Even if it’s not well-attended, the thoughts that it brings out are amongst the highest and the most interesting at McGill.”

Reflecting on the importance of conversation about student research, Stuart said, “We have a lot to say, and we really should be saying more.”