Shared stories shape extraordinary experiences

- Kaitlyn Rosenburg

When The Ring asked me to cover this year’s Provost’s Diversity Research Forum, I accepted on the condition I could profile the event from the perspective of a student questioning the role of diversity in Canada.

As a middle-class Caucasian female in the last semester of an undergraduate degree, diversity had become a buzzword thrown around in textbooks. Was I actually diverse? And more importantly, did I live in a diverse space where I could practice social responsibility?

Now in its seventh year, the theme of the 2014 diversity forum was Critical Conversations: Arts, Allies and Activism. Like the word diversity, I knew the standard definition of these terms, but I wanted more.

The opening reception was held in First Peoples House. After four years on campus, that was my first time inside. As the ceremonial hall filled with guests, I realized the conference would be a series of first experiences.

Guests were told to hang up their political ideals, as we’re all just people. UVic Vice-President Academic and Provost Reeta Tremblay spoke about the university constructing “a space for the role of diversity.” Examining ourselves was the first step.

It’s difficult to pick just one standout moment from the night to focus on.

The dance of the big button blanket was truly a community occasion, though. Three first nations singers shared their songs as the audience hoisted the world’s biggest blanket to the rafters.

And with a shared responsibility to keep the blanket from touching the ground, Peter Morin, the project lead, asked participants to be brave enough to grab the blanket and feel its weight—knowing the blanket was too heavy for most to hold aloft on their own, and too wild a force for one person to control.

While this moment was remarkable, and visually stunning, I was also moved by the sound of thousands of buttons gently jingling against the blanket. It sounded like water churning over rocks.

Denise Chong’s keynote address was a candid conversation touching on multiculturalism, her time working for Pierre Trudeau and her writing career. She asked us all to consider that our first ally is our self—and we have a responsibility to choose our own identity.

I felt picking my own identity would be difficult. Instead, I reflected on how pleased I was that of the presentations at the reception, all but one was given by a female. I wondered if this thought added to my identity, and moreso, shaped my view of diversity? I think yes, but the conference emphasized the importance of not rushing into assessments.

The next day, I attend From the Heart: How Arts, Allies and Activism all Converged in One Unconventional Theatre Production. Will Weigler and Krystal Cook led a discussion on their reconciliation theatre project aimed at a settler audience.

Through participatory action research, the theatre medium allowed actors and audience members to witness and experience stories of reconciliation. Weigler and Cook discussed art as a means of investigation. I learned that respect for a story must exist before sharing with others and I was overwhelmed with the level of communication our session demonstrated. I know now that diversity hinges on engagement.

I left the conference with a renewed identity—perhaps not greatly different from before, but more carefully defined. I am a settler Canadian. I am a female concerned with gender equality. I am a writer who has the ability to share stories.

Like this one.


Other stories from the Provost's Diversity Research Forum:

The World's Biggest Button Blanket arrives, as invitation and metaphor

2014 Provost's Advocacy and Activism Awards

In this story

Keywords: diversity

People: Reeta Tremblay, Peter Morin, Denise Chong, Pierre Trudeau, Will Weigler, Krystal Cook

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