This post is by Tharanee Nakandala.
Tharanee is a "Get Involved Leader" at the Student Experience Office.
Her job is to help students make the most out of their university experience by aiding them to get involved either on or off campus. She believes that while academics are very important, extra-curricular are also essential in order to have a successful university career!
Tharanee shares her experience as an international student at the Student Leadership Conference and the valuable skills and insight she gained! She received the Tuum Est Student Initiative Fund to attend the conference!
‘Create momentum’ was the central theme encompassing the 2018 Student Leadership Conference. I received the invaluable opportunity as a delegate to observe the meaning behind this concept among the campus community. Additionally, the recipients of the Faces of Today Award were profound. Keynote speaker, Gabrielle Scrimshaw served as a significant highlight during the opening ceremony. Her speech was based on her incredibly courageous journey as a young Hatchet Lake First Nation woman. Irrespective of the hardships thrown in her way, Scrimshaw pursued her education as a first generation university student and therefore proved wrong the stereotypical statistics which encircled around single parenting by an Indigenous woman. She made us realize how we all possess the willpower to change our circumstances.
Being an international student, I was unaware of the rich history existing behind the Aboriginal people of Canada such as the dire and difficult circumstances that were endured. Scrimshaw’s unconditional love for her nephew provided her with a determination which she utilized to change the systems existing within the Aboriginal community. This was to ensure a better and more promising future for her nephew. Scrimshaw serves as the co-founder of the Aboriginal Professional Association of Canada which was initially just a non-profit organization but currently, it is considered to be global thought leader in Indigenous leadership. Her speech resonated with the audience and it left behind a sense of solidified strength and motivation. The audience was in awe of the resilience and power instilled within Scrimshaw. Her journey which began at the centre of cruelty and discrimination, has now progressed into the Stanford Graduate School of Business and the Harvard Kennedy School where she now serves as a joint-degree candidate. It would be correct to state that Scrimshaw’s closing ceremony was then patiently awaited as her keynote speech was a great hit among the delegates.
During session one, the topics discussed included food production/waste, lack of availability and access to food. In the learning lab, the objective was to come up with a specific issue with respect to food. We were then required to narrow it down to the demographic that suffered a larger impact for problem in discussion. My group dealt with the lack of food availability and its effect on low socioeconomic families and homeless individuals. Resources such as food banks work on a first-come first-serve basis meaning that those people who travel long distances are denied access to proper food. It has now been understood that there is a much greater percentage of food waste when compared to consumption. If we respect the food that we receive, there might be a good chance of feeding those that are in dire need of it. It made me realize how fortunate and privileged I am to have access to food as there are millions of those who do not receive a quarter of what I consume.
We came up with a solution which encompassed around people growing and cultivating their own food. This would prove to be an inexpensive and a far healthy option as natural fertilizers could be used. This lead to a new obstacle as people residing in apartments would have no access to land in order to grow their own crops. There is always the option of using potted plants, however this would serve an obvious limitation. Additionally, there is also the concept of climate change and global warming which would continue to affect the type and numbers of food grown. With respect to this learning lab, a resonating factor is that we were encouraged to discuss about real world problems which affects people on a day-to-day basis. I was happy to see that we focused on particular problems and its impact on specific groups of people. The take home message here was that we were able to narrow down towards an option which held the most influence and through this, it opened up an array of potential solutions that could be taken up for those that are in need.
During session two, there was an exploration into scenario with two young men who were trekking across Canada for only $9.99. These two individuals were hilarious and they provided the audience with a subtle change in surrounding as they spoke about their adventures. They provided us with some vlog footage which showed them staying and dining at people’s homes. The two individuals spoke about how they were introduced to a variety of different cultures through this experience. It amazed me to see how they were accepted into a stranger’s home with such love and comfort. Unfortunately, their National TV-worth footage were not released on social media and so a Google search would prove to be a dead end at this point. A question that was stained on my mind during their presentation was “would a similar experience be observed if such an adventure was taken on by a woman”? The young presenters tried their best to provide me with an answer, however I believe that the real answer still hung heavy above like a dark cloud. It is 2018 and it is alarming how we still seek from our male counterparts for validation on such topics. Women in today’s society do not share the same privileges as men, we have a question of safety that is the first to cross our minds when we think about embarking on an expedition. The answer to my question could be considered controversial; there are plenty of women that hitchhike across a country. There are heads which will turn if it was a women who spoke of her experience in a similar way to these young men and we are in dire need to get to a point where the topic of gender no longer serves as a seed of motivation.
The closing ceremony was led by George Stroumboulopoulos and other panelists working in the UBC community. They spoke about the recent #MeToo movement which had come into fruition. This movement was to create awareness about the widespread prevalence of sexual assault and harassment. In addition, they touched base on the Time’s Up campaign which serves to enunciate that sexual harassment in any setting is no longer tolerated.
To conclude, there were many aspects of the conference that resonated with me. I had the opportunity to meet lots of like-minded people who motivated me with their unique versions of creating momentum. This conference allowed me to expand many of my skills, in particular individual leadership skills. I hope to use them in order to facilitate a more collaborative and inclusive environment within the campus community.