Zen Dens introduce new winter projects

The Black Impact series and The Menstrual Equity series are being added to their workshops series.

Concordia’s Zen Dens are back following the well-deserved winter break with new projects and initiatives to be pursued throughout the semester.

Jillian Ritchie, the Zen Dens wellness coordinator, told The Concordian about her latest project, the Menstrual Equity Symposium, which will begin in May. The symposium is one of the two newest projects being launched in Winter 2024. 

Ritchie hopes her passion for open conversations, healing, and taking care of both physical and mental health will make students feel more comfortable within themselves in the long run.  

“I see relief in [the students] because it’s someone telling them we’re not expecting you just to perform and produce—you’re also a human,” said Ritchie. “You’re also not only learning all of these academic things, but also the skills of navigating adulting too.” 

The Zen Dens are starting off the semester with a “Movement to Support your Mental Health” workshop on Jan. 22 and will continue to offer workshops surrounding anxiety management, ADHD, interpersonal relationships, and self-care.

The wellness resource is also welcoming “The Black Impact series” and “The Menstrual Equity series” on their list of workshops. 

The Black Impact Series: 

A seven-part series of online workshops focusing on several topics related to the Black experience, led by Myrlie Marcelin, a wellness counsellor who started the Black Impact series in April 2023. Marcelin began the series in October with a workshop surrounding code switching—the act of altering behaviours and vocabulary depending on our work environment and the people around us—in order to dissect the impact it has on Black students. 

On Jan. 23, the Black Impact series will resume with a workshop focusing on colourism where Marcelin and students will look at “light-skinned Black folks and dark-skinned Black folks, the experiences they may experience interracially and within the black community.” From the perspective of internalized discrimination based on skin colour, Marcelin plans to explore the fear that comes in around not appearing as the typical beauty standard. 

The series will also feature workshops surrounding racial Identity and culture (which will be held with a guest speaker), racial wealth gap, the history of policing in Canada and the U.S, and Black fatigue and trauma. The series will end with a True Allyship workshop in fall 2024. 

“Those types of workshops or conversations can not only be healing, but they allow for [Black students] to feel reassured and know that what [they’ve] experienced is valid and that [they’re] not necessarily crazy or making things up about [their] experience,” said Marcelin.

She hopes that by presenting what she has researched and currently knows and understands based on her own life, she can help create a safe environment for students to share who they are and find peace—and that she herself will benefit from the experience.

“I’m very privileged to be able to work in an environment and work in a field where the work I do helps me heal too, because I’m learning a lot and educating myself,” she spoke.

For Marcelin, the Black Impact series also aspires to change the way marginalized communities approach and talk about mental health: “If I can have and do these talks, the research, or the therapy I practise with my clients—and it touches one person enough to feel like they can change intergenerational barriers or trauma in their own life, that’s already enough. If we’re having conversations about it, it’s being destigmatized.”

Marcelin is also including conversations and experiences from other marginalized communities such as the 2SLGBTQ+, Indian and other Asian communities. Marcelin believes that incorporating everyone’s culture and voice will empower students, create less isolation and a stronger sense of community.  

Menstrual Equity Symposium:

The Menstrual Equity Symposium is a part of the Menstrual Equity initiative that began three years ago, during the pandemic, to make sure all menstruators have access to menstrual products on campus without financial and social barriers. The Zen Dens started the initiative by mailing out free condoms to students in partnership with Concordia’s Health Services, and expanded by distributing menstrual products upon student demand, among other initiatives.

After receiving positive responses, the project continued by focusing on sustainable options for students to try out, such as Diva cups and reusable pads. 

The Menstrual Equity Symposium, happening on May 17, plans to bring student advocates, researchers, and other diverse voices to the forefront, in an attempt to highlight the need for accessibility of menstrual products in a higher-education environment. 

 Ritchie strongly believes in the power of student voices and hopes they will create open conversations around menstrual cycles. “We want to see change and change comes with work. So, it’s giving people those opportunities to connect with organizations that are doing [the change] and also, everything that happens at this university is driven by student voices,” she said. 

The Zen Dens are collaborating with the Concordia Student Union (CSU), Douglas College Menstrual Cycle Research Group, and Monthly Dignity—a Montreal-based non-profit organization—founded by McGill students to combat menstrual poverty in Montreal. 

Ritchie and the Zen Dens team will announce further information on the symposium soon. No specific timeline was released to The Concordian. They are also talking about an art exhibit in May as a part of the Menstrual Equity series, more details to come. 

“We hope this project will lead to further awareness and conversation around menstrual equity, while highlighting the opportunity for Concordia to fulfill its commitments to being a Next-Gen University who actively supports the UN Sustainability Goals and its commitment to equity work,” said Ritchie.

The Zen Dens will soon become “CU Wellness” later in the semester, but will keep the name Zen Dens for their five physical spaces on campus.

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