By: Maddie Milne-Ives, University of Guelph UofMosaic Fellow

The UofMosiac professional development weekend was very mind opening. As a White woman, born in Canada to parents with secure jobs, I have always known that I was privileged. But spending this weekend surrounded by so many strong people, of various racial and ethnic backgrounds, with stories of overcoming hardships and daily experiences with systemic racism, I realized that I’d never really understood what that privilege meant. The anti-oppression workshop woke me to the insidious nature of discrimination in our society. Since I had never really experienced it, and would never intentionally do it, I was blind to the extent to which it still pervades our systems. Hearing the work all of the speakers had done with and for their communities awed but also disheartened me. It was an uncomfortable experience, realizing that the roots of oppression stretched so much deeper, and wider, than I had understood. I wanted to fight it, and to defend those who experience it, but I couldn’t reconcile that desire with the recognition that I had no connections with these communities or experiences – no platform from which to speak.

img_4012However on Sunday, as my connections with the other Fellows grew, and we heard from more speakers, I began to process and understand the discomfort I was feeling. I will never truly understand most of those experiences, and I cannot speak for the people who have. I was inspired instead to learn how to be an effective ally of people of different identities and backgrounds, and I realized that the discomfort I felt was an important step in the process. It is so important to try and listen with an open heart, instead of getting defensive if someone disagrees with you. I still don’t know how to best be an ally, and it’s probably a question that I will continue to try and answer for the rest of my life, but this weekend inspired me to ask that question, and I will always be grateful to everyone who contributed to that.

img_4042One of my favourite moments was at the very end, when we closed the weekend with an Indigenous smudging ceremony and talking circle. I had never participated in anything similar before, and it was a very powerful and emotional experience. It inspired me to learn more about the Indigenous issues that are still prevalent in Canada, but what was really special about it was how it connected us all. I love the significance placed on the circle, especially after the intense and emotional weekend we had shared. We were all equal, we were all human, and we could all share and feel that connection – and that is what will stay with me from this weekend: the beautiful symbiosis of unity and diversity.

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2016-2017 UofMosaic Fellows