Accessibility, Equity, and Support

Going Old School, Yusuf Kidwai

I had always prided myself on being adaptable. Moving around a lot as a kid was certainly hard at times, but I always found myself succeeding fairly quickly after a brief period of transition; I made friends, got good grades, and found my place in a new environment.

The truth is, I’m not adaptable. I’m just privileged. I speak English without an accent – well, with a Southern Ontario accent – and although I’ve lived places where that’s not the native tongue, you can get by most places in the world with it. I’m white, and therefore I usually get treated with respect. I’m educated and relatively articulate, which gives me the ability to navigate systems almost intuitively, and easily make friends who are similarly cultured. I have friends and family to go to when I have problems or need favours. I have a computer, watch television, and read the newspaper. I understand pop culture and pop culture references. I have a good sense of what’s going on around me, and am able to talk to people about it.

Since the dominant culture here is my culture, I didn’t have a problem orienting myself when I moved to Kitchener-Waterloo. All of these factors – language, culture, skin colour, income level – made it easy for me to navigate most social systems and adapt to new situations. Because these situations are socially constructed, it’s easy for people like me to fit right in. But I wonder – how easy is it for newcomers in our city to adapt when they don’t speak English, they come from a different culture, or they live on low income? It’s certainly not easy to navigate a new place for someone who isn’t familiar with social systems and doesn’t have access to an extensive social network.

If you’re a new student at Laurier looking for alternative support systems, there are options for you. There’s the Diversity & Equity Office, which has the Women’s Centre, Rainbow Centre, Chaplain’s Office and Association of Black Students. There’s the Laurier Students’ Public Interest Research Group, which has a variety of working groups devoted to social and environmental justice. There’s the Accessible Learning Centre which helps students with disabilities get the support they need to participate in academic life. There’s also Counseling and Health Services at Laurier that you can go to. And if support isn’t available for what you’re going through, we’ll find a way to make it.

We need to construct welcoming campuses and cities that are first and foremost, inclusive and accessible. We need to build a social infrastructure that supports people who are less privileged and have less access to networks and resources, so that they can navigate systems with ease. We can start building this social infrastructure by putting supports in place for students on campus. Together, we can make Laurier a model of accessibility and equitable support.