"Students in the Spotlight" is a conversation series with members of the SofC Urban Leadership Fellowship and Academy program
What are your research and engagement interests?
As a human geography student, I often think through things with place in mind. I have been curious recently about urban design and intersections around neighbourhoods, food access and transit. Especially through taking an intersectional, post-colonial and feminist marxist lenses, you can see how systems and structures intentionally intertwine. I love to consider our feelings in cities, such as what makes us attached to food or place? As a recent garden intern, it is illuminating to engage with physical work and theory, for example – we would plough over a field of beautiful green onions who survived the winter to plant new beds, since it takes too much labour and expense to harvest, pack and sell them. How could we build realities that are not based on commodification but on commons? I am exploring abolition literature to understand “what can we imagine for ourselves and the world?”.
What has motivated your interests and journey? How do you hope to make a difference?
When I entered my university program in international development, I could be called a ‘I want to change the world’ kid as I had big dreams and hopes for social change. However, I was quite disappointed the first year after learning about systems of violence, imperialism and colonialism impacting our daily lives. I couldn’t understand how change could happen against these large systems and structures designed to cause harm and violence against marginalized folks. Also, I wanted ‘help’ while going on my international placement, but thanks to my mentors, professors and peers, I quickly learned going in with a ‘help’ mindset is troubling. Instead, I needed to learn and listen to the folks doing this work and engage in critical hope. I learned how movements and social change are built by multiple processes and people, not a singular person who can’t change anything. I also learned that I can’t ‘help’ anyone but simply amplify their voice or question the systems that put them into a position of marginalization. Through engaging with all my communities in a meaningful way, I learned the way forward against structures of violence is through collaborative work, not based in help but based in transforming. I also learned as much as I enjoyed my international placement, I want to work within Toronto and my local community over travelling abroad for work. I learned so much horizontally from my placement organization and the feminist memory project, a local arts organization that I joined, but I realized work should be done for and by the community, while amplifying the most marginalized. This shift in thinking has influenced my decision to want to study urban planning but also the way I approach life, to be simple. There are multiple structures of harm operating internationally and locally, and it is easy to feel tiny and powerless, but the power lies in the communities constantly working towards freedom. As I do not feel tiny while surrounded by love and care in community work against disrupting and transforming structural violence.
What’s the latest project you have been working on that you would like to share with the SofC audiences?
As part of the School of Cities Fellowship, this project will be a partnership with the Scarborough Studies Collective, an interdisciplinary and intergenerational place-based collective of Scarborough residents, artists, scholars, and organizers. I have an interest and passion in alternative forms of mapping which can be utilized by communities to further their goals and mobilize. I am exploring the intersection of food, transit and neighbourhoods in Scarborough and will be creating Google My Maps highlighting different transit routes and the best food spots along them. I will be collaborating with local residents to create these maps where they can share the importance of the bus route and food spots they are highlighting.
Due to underlying factors such as the social and ethnic composition of Scarborough residents, poor decision-making structures in amalgamation and political conflicts in city council and between the provincial government - transit in Scarborough is
terrible. In 2021, Scarborough residents are expected to utilize shuttle buses for seven to ten years, after being promised an LRT system for the past 20 years. Scarborough residents are continually disfranchised especially when they are often low income, recent immigrants and racialized. As part of the advocacy portion of my project, I have organized Transit Story Circle win partnership with TTC riders and Scarborough Campus Students’ Union specifically for Scarborough, which had 20 participants share their experiences, and our findings will be published in a special report to promote tangible change.
This project will use Instagram as an educational tool to share alternative forms of mapping and their uses. The transit and food maps will become public domain and shared on the Scarborough Studies website as a resource to be used by residents. This project will be an act of community care and activism in order to mobilize actors in Scarborough to create and convey their own forms of knowledge and understandings.
As a student, researcher and or activist, what have you learned from the COVID-19 pandemic and its global impact? How do you envision post-pandemic recovery? What do you hope for?
This pandemic has not impacted all of us in the same way, so I do reject the thinking of “we are all in this together”. My mother is an essential healthcare worker at a nursing home and my father is an essential worker. While I admire their courage and perseverance through this pandemic. I also realize it does not need to be this difficult and we can make tangible policy changes to improve the daily realities of marginalized, poor, and racialized folks.
For my project, I have chosen not to conduct a virtual workshop because I feel like it does not fairly represent the folks living in Scarborough. We must be intentional with our actions and really think through the abstract concept of ‘community’ and being accountable to community. During the pandemic, I knew virtual workshops will continue to exclude the most marginalized, so I am taking a more reflective, research-based project with more intentional and paid collaborations.
For the post-pandemic recovery, marginalized folks actively need to be centered, and as we learned those in precarious conditions will be the impacted the most.
Please share with us your experiences at the SofC. How do you think being a member of the SofC Urban Leadership Fellowship and Academy Program has contributed to your scholarship and added to your experience as a student?
The SofC Urban Leadership Fellowship and Academy really introduces you to new people with the same values and different interests! The support from the SofC team is incredible with spreading information about your event, handling back-end tech on zoom and connecting you with folks. I love speaking to Dr. Lo and my mentor about the project and developing it. From the fellowship meetings, I have actually connected with another fellow who I meet to farm with on the weekends!
Any final words or message?
Please reach out if you have any questions or want to connect at email@example.com. I am grateful to School of Cities, Scarborough Studies Collective and all those who support this project. Consider getting involved, it’s really worth it!
Rajpreet (she/her) is currently based in Tkaronto & Kitchener-Waterloo and has completed her studies in International Development Studies Co-op and Human Geography at the University of Toronto Scarborough. She is a School of Cities Undergraduate Fellow and will be creating alternative maps at the intersection of food and transit with the Scarborough Studies Collective. She spent the past year completing an urban capstone with the School of Cities producing a research report through qualitative methodology on centering Indigenous artists in the arts industry. Furthermore, she recently completed her thesis analyzing the public memorialization of disappeared family members on Instagram in the aftermath of the Maoist Civil War, after completing a 10-month placement in Kathmandu, Nepal. As a spacemaker and builder, she values critical/feminist pedagogy, placed-based projects, human centered urban design and believes in the power of collective action. With a team of BIPOC youth, she is starting a neighborhood level composting initiative in Kitchener to engage with the local food system in a sustainable and innovative way. She is also developing the first gender-based violence policy for the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union. She is currently working as a garden intern at the Working Centre Market Garden and learning how to put theory into practice. In her spare time, Rajpreet loves making her own paper, baking muffins, and hopes to continue to build spaces of community care.