Yousef Arafeh is a person with many intersecting identities. As a queer person of colour, she has faced many homophobic experiences on campus as well, but the University of Waterloo (UW)’s new Racial Advocacy for Inclusion, Solidarity, and Equity (RAISE) was there to help Arafeh through tough times.
“They helped me through a problem that I had, because I’m considered a person of colour and I had so many homophobic interactions on campus —many people are homophobic with me —and RAISE showed up and helped me with that as I am an intersectional person,” she said.
Arafeh now volunteers at RAISE. RAISE celebrated its official launch on Feb 27th in Feds Hall, with people of various backgrounds arriving in cultural attire.
All RAISE executives, as well as executives from other equity-based Feds services, students, faculty, staff, and representatives from UW, including President Feridun Hamdullahpur, were also present. RAISE is a new Feds-run service at UW meant to create designated safe spaces and events for students of colour and their allies.
RAISE, located in SLC 2141, began as a rift between some students looking for data and the Equity Office, and has now grown to be a service of its own.
Fiqir Worku is a co-coordinator of RAISE, along with Hanan Thibeh.
“RAISE serves to address racism and xenophobia on the U of W campus with initiatives reflective of RAISE’s three pillars: education and advocacy, peer to peer support, and community building … Our team has been very supportive of one another and have all worked many hours to make sure events, discussions, and meetings run smoothly,” Worku, fourth-year Health Studies student said.
Victoria Rodney, president of UW Black Association for Student Expression (BASE) and third-year Health Studies student, was a founding member of RAISE. She said being a student activist is also very stressful.
“It’s a pleasure to stand here tonight, celebrating the creation of what like two years ago or one year ago, was literally just an idea. It was just me and my friends talking about how frustrated we were with the campus … Soon after becoming a part of BASE, I would be forced to take off the rose-coloured glasses that I viewed UW with,” she said. “So imagine being a student experiencing these acts of violence, which is exactly what racism is, and having to care for others while you, too, are injured. Not that great. I can tell you that much, it’s very, very stressful … However, it was the stress that pushed us to get to work.”
RAISE aims to advocate for people of colour and bring about change in the student community with regards to cohabiting with people of colour.
Students present at the event were in support of RAISE and said that such a racialized service is long overdue.
“This change is something that should have happened way back, a long, long time ago because … we like to think that [racism] doesn’t exist, but it is really dominant within the community at UW,” Talveen Kaur, a legal studies and sociology student said. “It’s really good to see allyship and strength in numbers when we are fighting white supremacy… [RAISE] creates this inclusion and equity that is much needed and also targets those who are racially discriminated [against].”
President Hamdullahpur also made an appearance at the event, and gave a special speech in honour of RAISE and the students that worked so hard to create it.
He said that he was proud of the work that UW students have managed to do and recognizes the necessity of RAISE on the UW campus.
“RAISE is wonderful because it’s done by students, thought of by students, they put it together and they made it work, we’re here … It’s an unbelievably proud moment for me. It doesn’t matter what background, ethnic origin anybody comes from, this is a world where everybody comes together, there’s a place for everybody, there’s a respectful place for everybody equal place for everybody, and this is the world that,” Hamdullahpur said. “It’s not been like this all along but thanks to our brilliant students, millions and millions of them, we are heading towards… building a much better world starting here on our campus,” he said.