Last Thursday evening, a small group of students gathered at Cranewood House for a discussion about community building for social change hosted by the Centre for International Studies.
Doreen Richard, Mount Allison’s indigenous affairs co-ordinator, spoke about racism locally and globally. “I’ve had to defend who I am,” said Richard, “and I’ve had to defend my children’s right to be themselves.” She spoke of instances of racism and ignorance within the local community, and through a series of statements encouraged participants to understand the scope of white privilege today. “Question what you’re being taught,” she said, when asked how students can build a community free of racism. “The power is yours.”
David Coon was also among the speakers. Coon is a longtime community activist and the leader of the Green Party in New Brunswick. With decades of experience in community building for change, Coon said that even the most close-knit communities face sometimes-impassable barriers to change. He said a recent shift toward an individualistic mindset away from community-minded efforts has changed the way communities respond to issues. “It’s time to think about new institutions to build in our communities to develop capacity,” said Coon, “if we’re going to thrive where we live.”
Chris George, a researcher on First Nations innovation and policy at UNB, followed up with a discussion about identity. A person of self-identified mixed ancestry, George has spent a lot of time observing Maritime communities and local inherent prejudices. Speaking from personal experience, George said that understanding identity and educating oneself on history and culture is crucial to moving forward. To build community change, “it is important to ask who is being left out of the conversation,” said George.
After the guests had each spoken, the room divided into three groups so that further questions could be asked and discussion around different aspects of building community could take place. Topics ranged from what it means to be “treaty people” to how students can promote community-minded initiatives on campus. The three speakers answered questions and engaged students in developing their ideas for the Mt. A community.
In answering a question about racism in today’s world, Richard said, “Racism is learned at home, and transcends through our world.” In this same way, one participant suggested that increasing discourse around community building locally could transcend barriers globally. “You have power in your hands and you don’t ever think about it,” said Richard.