News | Social justice as science fiction

Culture Shock event series promotes closed discussion workshops

The Quebec Public Interest Research Group (QPIRG) McGill held its annual Culture Shock event series from November 5 to 8. Open to McGill students and the greater Montreal community, Culture Shock explored themes such as anti-racism, migrant justice, and Indigenous solidarity through workshops, discussions, and keynote events.

The series was organized by the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) in partnership with QPIRG-McGill. While many of the events occurred on campus, others took place at locations around Montreal.

Kama Maureemootoo, Finance and Administrative Coordinator at QPIRG-McGill, told The Daily that Culture Shock began 13 years ago, but strives to explore new topics each year. “I think one of the things that is very particular about Culture Shock is that we always address issues that are politically important at a given point, which is why we have the workshop on the Syrian refugee crisis.”

“It was also really important for us to create more spaces to talk about anti-Black racism,” Maureemootoo added. “That’s the thing that has been very relevant and prominent, and been needing a space for a long time.”

The theme of the year, Science Fiction, was inspired by keynote speaker Walidah Imarisha, co-editor of Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements, an anthology of short stories about “radical science and speculative fiction written by organizers & activists.”

The event page for the keynote speech quotes Imarisha, who wrote, “whenever we envision a world without war, without prisons, without injustice, we are engaging in speculative fiction. Radicals and activists devote their lives to envisioning such worlds, and then go about trying to create them; indeed, all organizing is science fiction.”

“[We] don’t want to put the burden of education on people of colour, and on other [marginalized groups] because it is a lot of emotional labour for people to be constantly teaching others about their oppression.”

The event series featured three closed workshops, which provided spaces for participants of marginalized groups to explore topics of race and gender. For example, according to the event description, one workshop titled “Organizing at the Intersections of Black Lives Matter & Gender Justice” was closed to Black and mixed Black participants, and aimed to “push participants from organizing from a racial justice framework to a full-blown liberation movement.”

“Closed space workshops are extremely important to us,” said Maureemootoo. “McGill is a campus where this is not really talked about at all, and sometimes it’s about creating spaces to […] allow [marginalized groups] to talk about their experiences without filtering what they’re saying.”

Arabella Colombier, Culture Shock coordinator and U2 Philosophy student, told The Daily that organizers “don’t want to put the burden of education on people of colour, and on other [marginalized groups] because it is a lot of emotional labour for people to be constantly teaching others about their oppression.”

“Hopefully other people can take it upon themselves to come to these workshops and do further research and educate themselves on these issues,” Colombier continued.

Megan Shanklin, a U2 Political Science student, spoke to The Daily after attending a workshop about decolonization.

“There are some people on campus that see QPIRG as really radical, or out there, and distance themselves from these issues — even though if they went to this workshop, they could learn so much from it, and we could all relate to it,” Shanklin said.

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