Study In Action links students and community activism 

By Russ Cooper

To make a difference in our community, it takes discussion and action.

The third annual Study In Action conference, held from March 13 to 15, helped create links between students and community groups.

"There's often a strong sense that the university is separate from real life," says coordinator Nathalie Cohen. "With the conference, [student] work is connected with something actually happening in the community. It gives them the opportunity to connect and make a difference."

This year, the conference focused on the theme, Occupation and Resistance. The conference took an earlier time slot this year rather than the regular April spot to avoid conflicts with exams – a move organizers hoped would help participants concentrate on the flow of creative dialogue rather than a looming final.

Along with the new spot on the calendar, organizers decided to narrow the focus of the event. The theme of 2008's conference, Environmental Justice, was "very broad," according to Cohen. This year's theme allowed for the invitation of panelists with a refined area of expertise with the hope of drawing out more pointed discussion.

"There are plenty of places for graduate students to showcase their work, but not many for undergrads," she says. "This is a consistent space for undergrads to get their work out there."

On March 13 at the De Sève Cinema, the conference hosted renowned author and teacher Lee Maracle, writer and community worker Zainab Amadahy, and respected Montreal community leaders Sarita Ahooja and Helen Hudson.

"All the panelists are connected to the theme and connected to community activism," states Cohen, pointing out Ahooja and Hudson both attended Concordia and are former QPIRG coordinators.

On March 14 and 15 a series of panels and discussions were held, exploring a myriad of topics such as militarization and the university, decriminalizing public space, indigenous worldview for allies and hip hop education.

What's more, for the first time in the conference's history, there was a vernissage for an exhibition on the 7th floor of the Hall Building featuring artwork from four fine arts students. One display was even a performance-based piece in which clay sculptures were made with the help of audience members.

What was an idea borne from the first Study In Action conference is now coming to fruition: The establishment of the Community University Research Exchange (Journal, Oct. 9, 2008), a database linking students seeking to make a difference through their academic efforts with local projects needing research expertise. Two projects presented at this year's conference came directly from the links made through CURE: "Poverty and Quebec Public Policy – A Critical Discourse," and "Canadian National Railway: Canadian National Colonizer," which examined the dispute between CN and the Tyendinaga Mohawk nation of Eastern Ontario.

Three years ago, Study in Action was started by a group of students from the Simone de Beauvoir Institute and McGill. After its first year, organizers felt it would benefit from the involvement of QPIRG, who came aboard during the second year.

Barely finished this year's conference, Cohen is already looking to the future. She's encouraging professors and students to check out CURE (qpirgconcordia.
) or become involved in QPIRG and community activism.

"Hopefully, the conference will grow into a Montreal and Montreal university staple, and continue to strengthen the link between community activism and students."


Concordia University