The following message was sent out to KSU members via TWAK on December 4, 2017.
We’re writing to you to clarify discussions about the Students Advocating for Representative Curricula (SNARC) project, the Wall of Women, as well as other conversations happening online and on campus about the actions of the KSU executive. We want to provide context, explain decisions about the Wardroom, and talk about how to create more inclusive spaces on campus.
King’s students collectively own the Wardroom, and for many of us it’s a space that we use every single day. We hold a collective responsibility to ensure that the space—and any changes made to it—uphold the values that are central to our work as a union. In the Wardroom we are interested in working on better ways to uphold and listen to the voices of students who are marginalized on campus, and facilitate conversations about equity in a productive and meaningful way.
In 2014, a group of students put up a display in the Wardroom called the wall of women. The project aimed to address the gross over representation of men in portraits on campus by putting up portraits of women on walls of the Wardroom. The organisers sought to recognize the fact that women have and continue to make great contributions to King’s and deserve to be celebrated.
The original display showcased some brilliant women that were primarily white women, straight women, able-bodied women, and cisgender women. This project that celebrated women was a source of strength and inspiration for a lot of people on campus. Many women found safer space that they hadn’t previously had access to, when they looked at the wall and spent time in the Wardroom.
However, that was not everyone’s experience. For instance, racialized women were only represented in a token way and Indigenous women were not represented at all. The experience of not seeing yourself on a wall that purports to highlight exemplary contributions erases the contributions and existence of those other identities. It reinforces notions that only an exclusive group of people can succeed in academic spaces, an especially relevant issue at King’s where a majority of our faculty and students are white.
We raised these issues when we were informed that there was a hope to reinstall the project as a permanent installation in the Wardroom, after it was taken down during the Wardroom renovations. We talked about race and we talked about other identities that would inherently not be represented. For example, we talked about the fact that putting up a wall of women, as opposed to walls of men, upholds the gender binary. The gender binary delegitimizes and erases the voices of students whose identities are not reflected. Traditionally this has been used as a tool of the patriarchy, which is at the root of the original issue – the over representation of men in portraits on campus.
Creating another wall of figures upholds structures of knowledges that are discriminatory, exclusionary and inaccessible. We don’t think that it was the intention of the organisers to uphold harmful structures. We also recognize that this has not been the experience of every non-binary student, racialized student, or otherwise marginalized students. However, in maintaining a safer, collectively owned, space in the Wardroom we need to consider how our actions impact all of us.
We are committed to continuing conversations about equity on campus. We all need to work together to prioritize the voices of students who have been traditionally ignored. That means having conversations in a more robust way than the conversations that were had in 2014 when this project started. It means foregoing projects like the wall of women in favour of ones that are accessible to all of us.
Let’s have a conversation about why there are so many portraits of men on campus. Let’s have conversations about what we all need from our collectively owned space, the Wardroom. Let’s recognize that lots of students have been left out of these discussions and that the opinions, feelings, and concerns of marginalized students are often ignored. Let’s make space for those voices. Let’s use these conversations to inform action to create safer spaces for more than white cis women and men on this campus. As a team, we’ve struggled to find ways to have these conversations with ourselves, and with SNARC, let alone the entire school. We’ve had errors of miscommunication with SNARC and for that we apologize.
We decided to write this statement in TWAK because we wanted all students to have access to this information. We chose not to put a statement our Facebook page because those posts can attract comments that target individuals and cause harm. The members of our executive hold many intersecting marginalized identities and we aren’t willing to risk that additional harm inherent in having these conversations online. While it’s our responsibility to facilitate discussion, all students have a right to feel safe. That doesn’t mean we aren’t available to talk. You can email us, set up a meeting with any of us, or visit our office hours in the new year.
We’re going to spend the break thinking about the different kinds of spaces we can provide to educate one another and work together to make this campus more inclusive. If you want to contribute to that, we’d love to hear your thoughts. Feel free to send us your ideas here.
Finally, we wanted to say it’s been a tough semester. We’ve had a lot of taxing conversations but we’re going to try to bring as much compassion and care as we can to our work and we hope that you do too. We’re going to do our best not to uphold systems that perpetuate colonialism, racism, transphobia, homophobia, ableism, and other forms of discrimination. Most importantly, we’re going to work together to dismantle those systems and create systems accessible to all of us.
The KSU Executive
Brennan McCracken, KSU President (email@example.com)
Lianne Xiao, Student Life Vice-President (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Zoe Brimacombe, Financial Vice-President (email@example.com)
Marie Dolcetti Koros, External Vice-President (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Cassie Hayward, Communications Vice-President (email@example.com)