Earlier today, students from ENGL 309: Discourse and Dissent held a solidarity festival in the Arts Quad to come together against campus violence. The event aimed to promote community healing with food, arts and crafts, and onstage performances ranging from spoken word poetry to a performance by the UW Drag Club.
Shady Roufal, festival communications team member and fourth-year political science student, said that the goal of the event was to have students reclaim their space. “When such a hateful attack goes on and captures so many headlines, the public perception or even the perception of the community becomes one of just, ‘Oh, there’s hate in this community.’ So when you have an event like this where people show up, you’re reclaiming the space. You’re reclaiming peace.”
Roufal said he was surprised by how many people were willing to contribute funding toward the event. “We had a very short turnaround time, we didn’t have a full list of everything we wanted to do, and despite that, so many people were being really generous with being able to finance this whole thing.” He pointed to the various costs involved, whether it came to food, art, stands, or outreach. “Posters have only been up for a week, and turn-up has been great.”
Jenna Rafferty, a third-year English and psychology student and member of the talent team, helped organize the open mic, performance from the drag team, and chalk drawings. Rafferty spoke on the importance of actually engaging students at community events like these. “I think it’s one thing to be sitting at a table and have things out, but it’s a whole other thing to have people walking by and hear things, and when they hear things, they want to come over and they want to join.”
“I think it’s really important to love people, so events like these are just one way to show that, but if you can think of a way to practically show that in your individual life then that’s a really good thing to do regardless of whether you think it’s gonna help someone because it probably will,” Rafferty said.
Ashani Dasgupta, festival activities team member and fourth-year environmental resources and sustainability student, said that the festival, while student-led, was initially sparked by discussions with course professor Sarah Currie.
“We were just gonna have a regular exam, but then our prof said in reaction to the unfortunate stabbing event that was happening, she said, ‘Why don’t we do an event for the community?”’ because our class is all about building a community, having justice spaces accessible to everyone instead of having an exam, and we all said, ‘Hell yeah.”’
“We also have a lot of queer and gender-diverse people within our actual class that feel deeply affected by this event so we wanted to have a space where everyone could just vent, talk, paint, eat, and do whatever they want. It’s all crowdfunded so we were able to raise up to $450 in a very short period of our time just because of our allies in the activism space, so shout out to them.” Some groups at the festival were the Centre for Career Excellence, the UW co-op office, the UW Library, and Uptown Waterloo.
Currie called the festival the “culmination of a very quick 10-day turnaround” following the Hagey Hall stabbings, and said her students applied course concepts during the event like grassroots training, mutual aid training, and transformative justice training “to mobilize healing justice and transformative justice and show up for the students that felt [left] behind by UW’s response.”
“I had a kind of especially vulnerable audience in the aftermath of the stabbings, and a lot of the administrative response was really focused on really low-level self-care and not the kind of student care and student solidarity and student-to-student support that I felt that was appropriate,” Currie said.
Dania Murtaza, festival food team member, media representative, and third-year political science and communications studies student, felt proud of how fast the festival came together. “We planned this in like two or three weeks, and this is kind of our culminating project for our course, so seeing the turnout for this event is impressive, and I’m really proud of all of us.”
“We just wanted to have a light-filled event, something nice, something that the community would be wanting to participate in,” Murtaza added.
Quotes have been lightly edited for clarity.