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Group photo of Students from R. D. Parker Collegiate visiting Women's and Gender Studies at the U of M

Students from R. D. Parker Collegiate visit Women's and Gender Studies

SHE group gets glimpse of life as U of M student

Students from Thompson tour campus and collaborate with like-minded community

March 17, 2019 — 

The Women’s and Gender Studies Program in the Faculty of Arts hosted a group of students from R. D. Parker Collegiate on March 1, 2019. Women’s and Gender Studies major Morgan Hanson-Oliveira acted as their guide and takes us through their campus visit.

Recently, the University of Manitoba had the privilege of hosting students from SHE, one of Manitoba’s first feminist high school groups, on campus for the day. SHE stands for ‘Striving for Humanity and Equality’, and this school group is composed of grade 10 and 11 students from R.D. Parker Collegiate in Thompson, Manitoba. Students Emily Bushby, Aarti Ghai, Pooja Ghai, Taylar Hanson-Oliveira, Drew Heskin, Coralee Kipling, Kailee Lowe, Hayley Medwid, Athena O’Callaghan and Chenelle Preston travelled 800 kilometers south to visit with the UofM’s Women’s and Gender Studies Program and interact with the feminist community on campus.

I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to lead SHE across campus as they attended their different tours, events and presentations throughout the day. I have been volunteering with this student group for a year and have been collaborating with staff members Tracy Hanson and Courtney McKay from Thompson who are both involved with SHE to make the feminist field trip to Winnipeg become a reality for the group. I started volunteering with SHE because this feminist group greatly related to my own personal interests, and I admired the work these young students were doing within their community at such a young age. As a Women’s and Gender Studies major, this is exactly the form of grassroots feminism that is discussed in my classes, and I am so incredibly proud that this group began in my old high school, in my hometown.

SHE was incredibly busy during their visit on campus. They began with a tour of the Womyn’s Center. The students were able to visit this all-inclusive space and learn about the activities that take place throughout the year and the resources and services this space provides. The rest of the morning included attending the Justice For Women MB button making event, as well as conversing with a variety of students from the campus’ feminist community. These conversations were so important, as the SHE students were able to have critical discussions with like-minded feminists, having the opportunity to showcase their knowledge and ask questions to a community who is understanding of SHE’s experiences and hardships. SHE does not get much support from the students within R.D. Parker Collegiate, but there is an entire student community here at the University of Manitoba who is standing behind all that SHE is advocating for.

The afternoon included a lunch hosted by the Women’s and Gender Studies Program, followed by a series of wonderful presentations which included Women’s and Gender Studies professors, Faculty of Arts student advisors, a University of Manitoba student recruitment officer and students from The Feminist and Queer Review. The students were able to ask questions about what their future at university might look like and they were given tips on how to prepare for university. The presentations were incredibly inspirational and uplifting for SHE, as the students were delivered positive messages about overcoming struggle and persevering through hardship. While asking questions and comparing their own experiences with feminism, many of the SHE students discussed their reasoning for being involved with SHE, despite the hate they receive from their fellow peers within the school. To continue to make a positive difference with women’s equality and to fight for those who cannot fight – those who do not have a voice – is the primary motivator that fuels the SHE students’ feminism. The faculty, staff and students from Women’s and Gender Studies provided validation that the work SHE is doing is important, is necessary, and is not going unheard. When speaking with the high school students, this validation strengthened their passion to continue furthering the feminist agenda.

“As a Women’s and Gender Studies major, this is exactly the form of grassroots feminism that is discussed in my classes, and I am so incredibly proud that this group began in my old high school, in my hometown.”

The day ended with a tour of Pembina Hall and Mary Speechly Hall – two of the four residence buildings on campus. Being from Thompson, many of the students would stay in residence upon moving to Winnipeg and attending the University of Manitoba. The day spent on campus was not only to interact with a variety of like-minded feminists, but to also showcase a lot of what campus has to offer outside of the lecture halls. Moving away so far from home and beginning university is intimidating and SHE’s time spent on campus provided the students with the opportunity to understand how much there is to become involved with and the community that is here to support them all along the way.

As both a feminist and a Women’s and Gender Studies major, I am in complete admiration and utter disbelief at how much these young students knew and how much I learned from them. Not only did the students learn new information, but they also provided new insight and knowledge to everyone they interacted with. Despite the resistance they face within their school community and not being recognized for their work, the SHE students continue to advocate for women’s rights and equality for marginalized communities. At 16 years-old, I did not understand what the term ‘feminism’ even meant, whereas these students are educating their peers not only about the importance of feminism, but to go as far as helping others understand intersectionality and the impact of toxic masculinity. To both recognize these disparities and act upon them is admirable and inspires me as a feminist to strive to achieve the same level of passion, determination and perseverance.

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