I started this by typing out what I would say in person, in the tone I would say it in person, but it felt like producing an imitation of myself or like I was being untruthful. It still felt that way after a year of repeating myself in introductory discussion posts, grappling with the question of what amount of exclamation marks is appropriate in an email, and only knowing my classmates by their pixelated Brightspace icons.
I’m Miriam MacQuarrie, I use she/her pronouns and I’m the Sexual Violence Policy Student Liaison (SVPSL) at King’s. I’m in my fourth year of studying Sociology and Gender and Women’s Studies, and I’m writing my honours thesis in Gender and Women’s studies. This is my second year in the role. I was attracted to the SVPSL position despite it being online last year because I love sex education. The less I compartmentalize sex education and education, education and societal outcomes, and society and sexual health, the more I become attracted to this topic that’s evolving so rapidly. My thesis will focus on the importance of consent education in public sexual health curricula, and why it is necessary for producing safer and more functional societies.
I view my position at Kings as an opportunity to learn what consent and sexual health education within a small community can create. My experience of the position last year felt distant and disconnected—like what I and most of the community was experiencing in all realms of life—with every online endeavour feeling like a halved result of what could’ve happened in ‘real’ life yet requiring more work. The aim of my work as the SVPSL was to do what I could about issues that are mostly unrelated to digital life using digital means. Body positivity posters, Halloween-sexual health-goodie bags and a sex-positive disco playlist were a few of the things I did that felt ‘real.’ By comparison, this meant that the workshop series, meetings, and all the other projects that couldn’t proceed did not feel real. It felt like I was creating just for the sake of filling a space that otherwise would have been empty, or just to prove that I was working at all even if there was no specific end.
My approach to the SVPSL position this year is very much built off the foundation I created last year with my incredible supervisor, Jordan Roberts, and with the help of the wonderful people in the King’s community. This year, I will continue to try and make what I do in this role as tangible and connected as possible. Connected to the Kings community, connected to the physical experience of learning and being on campus, and reflecting the very physical aspect of sex education. This is inspired by two thoughts that have been circulating in my mind since my return to campus. These thoughts are that the pandemic year did happen, and that education is embodied.
The online nature of everything that happened last year made it feel like a reduction of reality because it was not in person—because learning is in a classroom and books are made of paper and drinking happens at the bar. Of course, the internet is a very real place with consequential interactions, but despite that I felt no sense of rest or accomplishment when I was finishing projects or not doing school. Maybe because next week’s work was already available on Brightspace and situated 3 feet from my bed.
Students had a significantly harder year because schoolwork was online and therefore always within reach: paradoxically, resting from school and engaging in all the other parts of life became so much further away. The idea that a year of life was ‘missed’ circulates in classrooms and through on-campus small talk, yet a year has passed, and I am different, things are different. It seems to me that the only way to fully recognize how odd and difficult the transition to an in-person year is, is to give yourself credit for what you endured in the year that didn’t feel ‘real.’ ‘Back to normal’ is inapplicable because there is only the new normal that we’ve reached from moving forward through that year.
I know that the isolation, disconnectedness and growth that we have all experienced during the Covid-19 year pose so many challenges and will inspire so much new creation. I also know that for this transition to be as positive as possible, the challenges and issues created by the pandemic year need to be held and given space. I believe feeling disconnected from, or scared of parts of the back-to-campus experience is inevitable and that these feelings must be listened to, even while we celebrate the amazing parts of being physically present for learning. What I know about this pandemic, but often need to be reminded of, is that we’re all living through it. With every transition in this strange time there is a shared understanding, and always a place to go.
If you want to talk, you can reach out to Jordan Roberts, Sexualized Violence Prevention and Response Officer at email@example.com, or find her in 077 Lower Link. You can also connect with Rhema Ferguson, Equity Officer at firstname.lastname@example.org , or Isaac Wright, Student Support Officer at email@example.com. Watch the Kings Instagram for things I’ll be organizing on campus as SVPSL, including the Little Book of Boundaries coming in November and the Fall Workshop Series.