This year marked the first year where the Dalhousie Student Union partnered with Nova Scotia Public Interest Research Group (NSPIRG) to bring an alternative orientation week to students.
The student union and NSPIRG teamed up after the DSU mentioned wanting to do similar events to the ones NSPIRG already offered. This way, they could make use of the skills and potential of both groups.
“It’s been great because that gives the DSU the opportunity to sort of focus on the larger big scale events, and then we do our thing and reach more students this way,” says Clark MacIntosh, the resource and administrative coordinator for the Nova Scotia Public Interest Research Group (NSPIRG).
MacIntosh says that at this point, the partnership between the DSU and NSPIRG is still growing but it has room to be more successful in future. For now, they’re excited about how they’ve been able to collaborate with societies on events for Project ReConstruct.
Project ReConstruct began on Sept. 6 and ran until Sept. 13. Events included a feminist dance party, a blanket exercise and a movie night hosted by South House, Halifax’s sexual and gender resource centre.
One such event was Dreaming in Colour, hosted by BIPOCUS: Dalhousie’s Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour Caucus. Dreaming in Colour showcased performances from students who are black, Indigenous and people of colour.
BIPOCUS, which used to be part of the Dalhousie Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences Society and became an independent society this year, saw the need for orientation events that didn’t keep the focus on the white student body.
“It came up in conversation that O-week is very white-centric, or just very non-inclusive of other cultures,” says Aisha Abawajy, the executive chair of BIPOCUS and co-host of Dreaming in Colour. “And when they do try to include other cultures, it’s in a very patronizing, show off your culture, multicultural type of way.”
Abawajy wanted first-year students to see an event that highlighted student’s cultures but was also respectful of those cultures.
Having been a leader for Dalhousie’s regular orientation week, Abawajy has seen both sides of the story personally. She says the lack of inclusivity from orientation week can range from small things like the kind of music they decide to play, to a large idea of what Dalhousie thinks the typical student wants that is based on Western principles.
Sometimes, Abawajy says, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly where the problem is; even looking at who runs orientation week or who’s being asked to speak are factors.
Project ReConstruct was rebranded from Rad Frosh three years ago. The name change emphasized NSPIRG’s desire to deconstruct hamful narratives surrounding environmental and social issues, while simultaneously looping students into the conversation.
It’s designed to be more accessible to students from all backgrounds and cover issues that regular orientation weeks don’t usually cover.
Tabasa Shimada, a volunteer at the Dreaming in Colour event and a board member for Project ReConstruct, says that Project ReConstruct provides a space for students with different ideas to have their ideas “realized.” She also says that the Project ReConstruct events are deeper than your average orientation event.
“It’s more of like events with meaning–events with a message,” she says.
Although Project ReConstruct was advertised as a sort of hybrid orientation week with the DSU logo on advertisements for the events, when asked for comment the DSU referred the Gazette to NSPIRG on multiple occasions and were later unavailable for comment.