Inteview with Maria P.
November 25, 2022
Maria is a grade 12 student at Rundle College. She decided to bring her Diversity capstone project to her school community by starting a diversity club, with a goal to support underrepresented populations within her school. We interviewed Maria to get her perspective on her project and where she would like to go from here!
Q: Can you give me a brief description of what your project was and maybe what your goals were for it when you started out?
Maria: Sure! For my project, I decided to start a Diversity club within my school called WeBelong. The high-level goal of the club is to have students working together to create a more inclusive and supportive school environment for everyone in the school. We wanted to get students to work together to develop diversity workshops, create presentations, and host initiatives to kind of get the conversation going in the school about Diversity and Inclusion.
For our first project, we planned an Ofrenda.
This initiative involved an information booth and celebration for Day of the Dead, which we used as a jumping off point to raise awareness about Mexican culture, but with a broader goal to get the whole school thinking about the diversity within the student body and how everybody can work together to contribute to more welcoming environment.
Our next project was to present a workshop I had previously developed, called Microaggressions: Small Words with Big Impact. It focoused on how to recognize a microaggression and how to address these when you see them, either in your own actions, or in the actions of others around you. I presented this workshop at my school’s Society Day, an event where all the school staff and administration come together for professional development. I thought this was a very imperative topic to address at the staff and admin level, because once staff are aware of the problem, they can check their own behavior and, also [once it is on their radar], it's so much easier for them recognize and intervene when they see it happening. As staff, they get to set the tone and expectations for how students in their classes and how the school behave.
We also have some other events tentatively planned for the new year, too.
Q: Why did you see a need for this initiative in your own school?
Maria: I found that, within my school, there can be a certain amount of discrimination and insensitivity towards people who are part of a marginalized community. Or maybe, more of a lack of understanding about how certain behaviors and comments can affect people who are in marginalized communities. And because there isn't a lot of representation, it doesn’t get called out as much as it should. And too, I found that a lot of people don't know what to do when a microaggression or an offensive comment happens to them or in front of them. Without addressing this issue, they feel unsupported, or they may have no one to go to where they feel safe, and they probably have no idea what to do in response. And in general, I feel like the student body doesn't really a solid understanding of what inclusion and equity means.
With this project, I thought I could fill that unmet need within my own school community. And it built a great community. We got like-minded students to come together to work to solve the problem together. And when multiple people work together to solve an issue, you get so many different solutions and I thought that would be a really good way to start working out the problem on a broader scale. Everyone who joined was passionate about it and we had good support from our Student Life coordinator.
Q: You were saying you had some plans set up to keep this particular initiative going by passing it on to other people in your school. Can you expand on that a little bit?
Maria: Within the club we have a decent amount of Grade 12 members, and we have a couple of Grade 11s and 10s. A bunch of our members will be graduating but we have those members in the lower grades that are ready to keep it going. I have a Grade 10 member who seems really eager about this topic too, and they're coming up to me a lot with ideas. Now they are kind of the vice president of the club, and I'm going to be passing the torch on to them. we're meeting frequently and I'm getting them prepped on how to how to run meetings, how to coordinate with our school student Life coordinator, and how to manage all the little tasks that I have to do to run this club.
And that's what I really like about my initiative is that it's not just a one-time thing. It's really passing down that torch to somebody else and creating a legacy and a framework that somebody else can carry on. So even if I don't accomplish everything that I want to this year, the people after me have already have something to start with for next year.
Q: What are your plans for your future and how do you want to go further in your diversity and inclusion journey after this? Where would you like to take the knowledge that you have now?
Maria: Oh, there are a lot of things I could do with this going forward. Because I really saw the impact of my one small club in my school, I started to think about how to broaden this so other students can get the chance have a similar impact. One of my main ideas is create a Calgary Independent School student council on diversity and inclusion that's entirely run by students, where we can create a framework and a guide to empower other students to bring these kinds of initiatives into their own schools. So that's somewhere I really can see myself going with everything I've learned about leadership and diversity and inclusion.
Also, I feel like I have a lot of knowledge to share, and I think if we can get like-minded students, maybe representatives from every Independent School in Calgary, to work together to create things like a year-end report on how our schools are tackling diversity and from there figure out what the common issues are and make recommendations on the best ways to address them. That way we are not only helping our own schools, but we will also be helping schools across the city.
As far as my future plans go: for me, personally, I am in grade 12, and I am looking at Universities. I would like to continue Diversity advocacy in whichever university I go to. So if there isn't something already in place that I could be part of, I want to start a similar diversity initiative wherever I would be.
I plan to major in some sort of science program. Right now, I am looking at a really cool program at Mcmasters University for integrated biomedical engineering and Health Sciences. I know there's a lot of different pathways I could take, but my thinking right now is that I want to focus on Health Sciences in some way, maybe with a focus on the inequalities in medical care. This is definitely something I'm really passionate about because I feel like it's a really great mix of diversity and inclusion, mixing in with the science side that I really.
One of my personal goals is to minor in journalism in University, and I want to use that to become a better voice for diversity. I would like to learn a little bit more about things like social issues, and activism and leadership, and then use journalism skills to continue my work as an activist and advocate that way. And I want to keep learning as much as I can about diversity and inclusion because it's a very complex issue that requires a complex solution.
Q: Can you give me some of your thoughts about the Diversity program itself?
Maria: The Diversity program was awesome in the range of topics and workshops that we got. One of the biggest factors for me in deciding to join the program, was seeing [the variety of] guest speakers and how much education there was available, because I was really excited to learn more. And I did learn a lot throughout the program, which is really exciting. I also loved how they gave you different ideas on how and where to volunteer, because I really want to get more involved in my community in terms of volunteering. So that was really helpful. There was a time commitment to all of this, which sometimes was tricky to manage, but overall, I would say that it was worth it.
Q: Do you have any advice for anybody who is doing their diversity project that you maybe have learned from your own experience?
Maria: For sure! The first thing that comes to mind is to start planning a bit earlier. I think, even though I had my idea pretty cemented at a decently early stage, I can definitely see that if you wait to decide on your project until a bit later, then suddenly the deadline comes, and it comes crunching! So my advice is to definitely start brainstorming your project right away.
And don't be afraid to reach out to OSP for help and inspiration. I found that our brain hub sessions and the brainstorming we did together were really helpful in terms of getting different inputs and different ideas. Also, when you are looking for project ideas, don't be afraid to ask out for help or input from people in your community. Or you can look around to see an unmet need, like whether it be something like there's not enough books or resources in your local little Free Library or there's a lack of of education services in terms of languages in your community, or something like that. And take initiative to, you know, step up and be a leader because it's these little things that really add up for you to actually make a really big difference in the end.
Q: Well, congratulations on your project! I think it has already shown impact, and I like that you have a plan to build in some longevity to keep your initiative going. Hopefully this will be a bit of a legacy for you at your school. Please keep in touch! We will absolutely amplify other initiatives like this in the future if you let us know about them, and, of course, we would be delighted to be a glowing reference for you in any scholarship, employment or school applications. Good luck to you in your future endeavors!
Maria: Fabulous. Alright! I'll keep that in mind. Thank you.
If you are interested in learning more about Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, consider OSP's Diversity and Inclusion program! Earn a diversity certificate from the Government of Canada, attend workshops, earn volunteer hours and have support for a capstone project to develop your own Diversity initiative! Go to www.osp.ab.ca/youth-progam/ for more information, or to sign up!