The McGill Rez Project provides workshops on equity, inclusion, diversity, and anti-oppression to the nearly 3,000 students living in residence. Started in 2005 by a group of floor fellows, the workshops were created in response to a lack of understanding of consent, as well as the culture of racism, homophobia, and transphobia experienced in residences. Since then, the project has grown from four workshops over the academic year to over 100 each semester.
“The program is constantly evolving,” Equity Facilitator Eve Finley said in an interview with the Daily. “Each year, different coordinating teams have changed [the program] and tried to deliver it in different ways, and I’m very curious to see over the years how it keeps getting better.”
Spearheaded by Finley and fellow coordinators Charlene Lewis-Sutherland and Christelle Tessono, Rez Project has undergone several changes for the 2018-19 academic year. Following an increase in program funding and new oversight in the form of the Dean of Students, Rez Project has been able to implement new accommodations and improve accessibility. For the first time in the project’s history, coordinators were able to hire and compensate facilitators instead of recruiting them on a volunteer basis. Paid positions have allowed for longer and more in-depth training, while also reducing the number of facilitators needed to run workshops. Finley spoke to the significance of the new facilitator positions; according to her, the ability for more comprehensive training has created space for facilitators to become more deeply involved in the process. Increased funding also allowed for projectors, snacks for participants, and better facilities for workshops. The workshops themselves have also changed; the content is now aimed towards being more interactive and fostering dialogue between students. The workshops are varied in size and structure, giving students opportunities to choose a workshop best suited to their learning style.
Finley explained that there are many misconceptions among those living in residence about the program, saying that “they think it’s going to be a couple activist students sitting down and yelling at students.”
Finley stressed the importance of the programming, saying, “we’re talking about thousands of 17 and 18 year olds who are living alone for the first time and coming from all over the world, and all over in terms of politics, identity, knowledge and interests. So there’s bound to be conflict, there’s bound to be discrimination. So all these things are the context for why there’s a need for preventative education programming.”
Cheryl, an undergraduate student and Rez Project facilitator, also elaborated on this point: “I want to say that the culture has gotten better – people are more willing to listen even if they don’t want to be there – but it can be difficult. Students can be disruptive or just not show up, not wanting to accept anything that doesn’t fit with their view. Even though attendance rates have gone down, the people who do show up are the ones who want to go and have a discussion and learn more, which is great.”
“People often ask us if there are more students who ‘know this stuff already,’” Finley said. “I always say that it kind of feels that way, but there’s no way to test that. Yes, there are more students that come in knowing more, but there’s just as many students who don’t know. It’s not like that number has gone down. So it’s not like we can stop doing the programming that we’re doing. But what I think we have noticed that we’re seeing different kinds of conversations between students.”
Organizers are working to expand the project beyond residences through partnerships with individual faculties. They hope to orchestrate more workshops on MacDonald campus, and to make the program available for first-year students who don’t live in residence, as well as for other undergraduate students at McGill.
“There’s a lot of programming that gets directed towards first year students in residence, which is great and definitely needed, but at the same time these resources and tools should really be made available to students living off-campus as well,” Finley told the Daily.
In addition to expanding the project, Finley spoke of plans to hire four new facilitators, two French-speaking and two Mandarin-speaking, in order to make workshops more accessible to the large population of students who are not native English speakers. Finally, organizers of the project are planning to change the name. “Rez Project” is too similar to the colloquial term for Indigenous Reserves, and does not accurately convey the program’s functions and purpose. Regarding the name change, Finley stressed the importance of the project’s history, expressing that the basis of its origins should always be emphasized as the Rez Project moves forward.
Finley also addressed the continued impacts of the project, saying, “we do know that lots of students, students who have been marginalized in some way or experienced sexual assault, come up to us after workshops and really have a very positive experience and feel very validated in what they’ve gone through. And there are also a lot of people who who just think that having the workshops in and of themselves sends a really positive message to the student body, especially marginalized students. I think the impact is long term, which we’ll continue to see as the project continues.”
Cheryl agreed, saying, “[Rez Project] gives students a sort of insight into what the culture here is, while also giving them the tools to understand how to deal with issues that may come up for them. I remember in my in my first year I didn’t have that, and it took me years to find the resources I needed. This program can just hand it to you in the first month. I think it’s so helpful for students.”