By: Rachel Guitman – WGEN Contributor
One of the goals of Making Waves, formerly known as International Women’s Week, is to reframe conversations about gender equity to include those who are agender, transgender or gender nonconforming. These conversations are also meant to communicate the idea of activism, progress and creating inclusive spaces. The event aims to raise awareness and engagement among students about the intersectional feminist work that the Women and Gender Equity Network does.
There are events open to all and events focused on Black, Indigenous and people of colour. This is similar to WGEN’s BIPoC Bodies are Dope campaign, which took place before the February reading week. Certain events are closed, meaning they are only open to certain groups based on identity or experience.
These open and closed events have different purposes. Open events, like WGEN’s documentary screenings and workshops, are a great way to get people engaged in conversation. Conversely, closed events give specific groups, e.g., BIPoC or survivors of sexual assault, a space where they feel comfortable and safe in sharing their perspectives and experiences. These closed events aim to support, validate and create space for people who do not hold privileged identities. The closed half of the event allows for more intimate discussion among those with shared experiences.
The open half of the event is a good opportunity for allies to learn and listen about experiences they haven’t had without speaking over the voices of others. This allows participants to learn how to be better allies through opening themselves to the lived experience of others.
In a world that caters to White, cisgender, heterosexual men, it is vital to have a space carved out for BIPoC to feel safe. For example, if one of the events during the previous Bodies are Dope campaign had been open instead of closed, the topics, anecdotes and tangents that were brought up would have been missed. If events like that are not closed, then people may be worried about saying the wrong thing, and might be insecure about sharing their experiences. By closing events to individuals with lived experience, they provide a safe and cathartic environment to promote solidarity in a space with others who have shared experiences.
Community-building helps discussions about how the McMaster community treats issues of gender equity. These closed events, such as the Trans on Campus workshop during Transforming Mac Week, address the questions and concerns that would not normally occur to those without lived experience such as requesting a name change in the university. This is something that is simple and practical, but is able to have a significant impact on people’s experiences at McMaster.
The quantity of events throughout the week should be sufficient to cater to those who want closed, safe spaces to discuss issues affecting them and open spaces for allies to learn more about issues affecting other people. Both are needed to create educated discussion about the issues at hand.