March 2020—a month that kicked off an arc in our lives that we are sure to remember forever. In case it has been too long to recall what’s so important about it: less than two weeks into the month of March (and less than a week after reading week), COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic. Schools shut down, businesses were forced to close, and we were forced into self-confinement. And so quarantine began, a phase filled with quarantine baking, failed attempts at in-home workouts, and endless scrolling on Tik Tok (it’s okay to admit that you downloaded the app!).
Then, less than two months into the government-mandated shutdowns, everything changed in the wake of the tragic passing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, another Black man brutally murdered at the hands of the police. It wasn’t long before outrage spread from city to city, state to state, and eventually worldwide. Protests erupted around the globe, once again bringing light to an issue that for decades has not been addressed properly.
Black Lives Matter, the movement for racial justice which had started in response to the death of Trayvon Martin in 2013, saw a resurgence similar to the traction it gained following the killing of Eric Garner in 2014. Soon after, the public brought to light the tragic passings of Elijah McClain and Breonna Taylor. Across every major social media platform, discussions rose regarding their deaths, and people fervently started to address the underlying racism that has been a root cause for the many injustices plaguing the US and Canada: microaggressions, discrimination, and hate crimes.
As these conversations continued, we started to hear more about the other injustices that many face daily: racism of all forms (not limited to anti-Black racism), sexism, wealth inequality, homophobia, the criminalization of drug use and mental health, xenophobia, and many more. The internet was flooded with people recounting their personal experiences as well as studies and reports detailing how these issues affect people in every aspect of their lives.
These events revealed two important truths: firstly, there is a clear disconnect between the needs of those experiencing these issues and what was provided to them in terms of support. And more importantly, there is a clear disconnect between those who experience these issues as a daily reality and those who do not.
As these discussions progressed, many people turned away for one clear reason: these topics are uncomfortable to talk about. However, these problems cannot be solved unless they are talked about. It’s as simple as that (and I write this knowing that “simple” and “easy” are not mutually exclusive terms).
Where did we start?
As students, we can’t fix these issues at the snap of a finger—we aren’t policymakers and we can’t magically erase all of the racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. out of the DNA of every person in the world. However, there are actions we can take.
The first step is recognizing the need for change, which is a big step in itself. Then comes the even harder step: joining the conversation. While you can watch the news and read about an issue as much as you’d like, there is a completely different level of understanding that you acquire when you talk to someone about it, and even more so if the person has experienced it. This should come before every other action: before you sign a petition or join a protest, talk to people affected and understand the purpose and objective. Think about it—would you take a test before having studied the material?
Of course, as we previously mentioned, talking about these issues is not easy. They can make you uncomfortable and can make you worried about saying the wrong thing. Or what if you don’t even have someone to talk about it with? These are very real concerns that create a “barrier to entry” when it comes to activism.
This is especially true for the STEM community at McGill. While we have the privilege of attending one of the most academically rigorous universities in the country, the intensity of the courses under most STEM programs comes with several trade-offs; one being that we very rarely see discussion on social issues integrated into our studies. In the long run, this leaves us prioritizing our studies and with less time on our hands to engage with these topics.
So, what are we doing about it?
The Plumber’s Ledger is very fortunate to have a relatively large platform and to have connections to a diverse population of the McGill community. As such, we have worked hard on building a new platform to help facilitate these discussions.
Rewrite Your Narrative is an open forum created by the Plumber’s Ledger to address social issues that are often misunderstood or misrepresented. On September 16th 2020, we hosted the first installment of our Rewrite Your Narrative series. We were fortunate to be joined by the McGill Chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers, as well as the EUS Equity Committee. Together, they helped us discuss the nuances involved in racial identity, especially as Black students in engineering.
Since then, we have had the privilege of hosting seven discussion panels online featuring people in our immediate community who have generously volunteered their time. Whether their goal was to advocate for social change, to offer new perspectives on current issues, or simply to share their personal stories, we were there to help in any way we could to amplify their voices.
This year, we are extremely excited to announce the second year of Rewrite Your Narrative. In the coming months, we will be bringing more discussion panels to the STEM community at McGill. We will be touching on topics that we have not yet had the opportunity to feature as well as diving further into subjects that opened up our eyes last year.
If the past year has taught us anything, it is that the power of the people lies not only in attaining information at the individual level, but interacting with others to make use of this knowledge. In a community with as much diversity of thought and experience as Montreal, there is no better way to find this knowledge than to connect with the people in our community and embrace their Work.
Rewrite Your Narrative has been and remains dedicated to opening the dialogue on topics that need to be addressed, and we look forward to seeing what our interaction with you will look like this year.