Stories are powerful. They reflect what we value, they reflect what we believe in, and they reflect what we strive for. Stories can also produce and reproduce socially accepted values and expectations; consequently, they often act as tools that spread sexist, homophobic, racist, or xenophobic ideologies in society. To challenge such hegemonic norms, Students for Change (SFC), a gender-equity focused club at the University of Toronto (UofT) that advocates for the rights of women and gender minorities, held a writing workshop that provided a platform for participants to tell the stories that explore intersectional feminism and challenge mainstream gender stereotypes.
For the past few years, SFC has been partnering with Sister Writes, a Toronto based creative writing and literacy program that empowers women affected by homelessness, mental health issues, or any other extraordinary circumstances. Our writing workshop was held in collaboration with Sister Writes to engage community members and UofT students in writing fiction and non-fiction works pertaining to feminist issues and it was made possible with the Community Engaged Initiatives Grant. Through the workshop, we hoped to inspire participants to pick up the pen and paper share their stories and have their voices be heard in our community.
Our workshop was held in the warm and cozy Hart House Library and was facilitated by the Sister Writes founder, Lauren Kirshner, and instructor, Donna Reid. We had diverse group of 30 participants at the workshop, where roughly half were community members and the remaining were UofT students. Some of the exercises we carried out during the workshop included jolting down all of the random thoughts in our mind without sparing any details, discussing with a partner some of our proudest and disappointed moments in our lives, and sharing with the group our aspirations and fears in the writing. These exercises allowed us to flesh out stories that we were too ashamed or too afraid to share and gave us more clarity in understanding our own experiences as well as the experiences of other members in the community. After the workshop, we held a reception where participants continued to reflect and discuss some of the exercises in the workshop and what they had learned from each other.
Overall, we were moved by how the participants allowed themselves to be vulnerable and vocal during the event by sharing stories that were often marginalized and unheard of. As executives of SFC, we believe that the stories enable a new way of thinking about and understanding the experiences faced by female identifying, POC, queer, and disabled members of our community. If we strive for gender equity, our stories need to continue engaging and challenging people, not just in their minds, but in their emotions and values, about the role and importance of feminism in their lives.
Thank you to CCP for their support with our writing workshop. Thank you to Sister Writes’ Lauren Kirshner and Donna Reid for facilitating the lovely and insightful workshop. And finally, thank you to our all participants for opening up and sharing their stories with the rest of the group; we hope that you continue writing and sharing your experiences with the community as a vessel for social change.
– SFC Executive team