Encouraging activism at the heart of the university

Students got a crash course in political activism, research and the university setting while munching on their People’s Potato lunch on Oct. 7, courtesy of this week’s Lounge Speaker Series panel.

Featuring Concordia professor Anna Kruzynski, Concordia Student Union president Lex Gill and activist Jaggi Singh, “Activism and Research in Turbulent Times” revealed the existence of conflicting ideas regarding what post-secondary education should be like and how research should be conducted.

Gill, who did not speak on behalf of the CSU but rather as a student with a longtime involvement with grassroots organization überculture, experience reporting during the G20 gathering in Toronto, and a background working with the Dominion and Media Co-op, called the relationship between the state and private sector “blatant” and “incestuous.” “[The] crown jewel of this whole project is the western university,” she said.

There is tension between the idea of the university as a laboratory for social change, she said, and that of the university as “a training ground for the new imperialist.”

“Should minds conform to the needs of the market?” she asked.

Singh made a repeat appearance at the series, organized in collaboration with the Quebec Public Interest Research Group at Concordia. This time, Singh spoke as a representative of the Community-University Research Exchange in an effort to make research itself seem less alienating and to share his vision of research as a tool for social transformation.

“Often, our day-to day-lives are at best things that are observed, and we’re just objects of those lives rather than being agents of our own change,” he said. “The university setting in particular trains all of us to see academics and intellectuals as […] the ones who have the important ideas and understandings of the world.”

Meanwhile, he said, “We’re out of the equation. We’re spectators.”

He encouraged a more process-oriented approach to research instead of always aiming for the end goal of a final product.

Kruzynski, who is also the graduate program director for the School of Community and Public Affairs, spoke about activism beyond the university level, seeking to eliminate the idea that youth aren’t interested in politics.
“Commentators will say that young folks are not interested, they’re not politicized, they don’t care about politics but I’d like to re-frame that actually as a lack of interest in official politics,” she said. “In my opinion, it’s quite rational, in fact, given the current state of affairs, to lose faith in liberal democracy and its institutions.”
She pointed out that oppositional politics exist outside of the official sphere. While in her opinion “the TV and mainstream media don’t actually depict what is going on,” oppositional politics are present in the form of street protests and are most often times depicted on TV. Kruzynski explained that those types of movements play an important role in “[breaking] the supposed consensus that liberal democracy is the best model and that somehow we don’t need debates on how a better world might look like.”
“It interferes to a certain extent with the normal course of things,” she added. In that way, Kruzynski said, participating in these types of protests can empower the participants to strive to make social change.


The next Lounge Speaker Series event takes place on Oct. 14. Titled “Attack on Unions: A Warning from the Postal Workers,” it features Dave Bleakney, national representative of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers.

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