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The geographical separation between McMaster University and Hamilton’s downtown community has been said to be a barrier. However, McMaster’s President, Peatrick Deane, is working hard to create partnerships with local agencies and organizations to connect these two distinct Hamilton communities.

For the month of March, the President’s hallway became a gallery space for a group of women from the Immigrant Women’s Centre to display their Photo Voice project.

“Students who came to see the photos displayed at McMaster had the opportunity to see some of these women’s stories and learn from their experiences.”

This project was intended to show, through a collection of narrated photos, some of the challenges and barriers many newcomers face, with particular focus on those in the Somali community. The photos (and narrations that accompany them) push to raise awareness about struggles experienced through settlement in Hamilton.

Students who came to see the photos displayed at McMaster had the opportunity to see some of these women’s stories and learn from their experiences. “For us to be able to host this is a wonderful testimony to the way in which new members of this community have engaged with the city, I think, is really significant,” noted Deane, at the exhibit opening. Displayed in the President’s Hallway, the Photo Voice Project has caught the attention of both students and staff at McMaster. This location was accessible to the McMaster community and created a space for anyone on campus to stop in and see it.

The project collaboration was organized by Adam Kuhn, Manager of Community Service Learning at McMaster, who saw the exhibit at its premiere and knew it would have an impact on campus.

Deane stressed the importance of McMaster hosting the project as a sign of building alliances between the campus and the greater Hamilton community.
“It’s—I hope—just the beginning of a long-term relationship with you and your families, and the organizations of which you’re a part – and bring this community… into the campus of the university.”

When asked about the relationship between the McMaster community and Hamilton newcomers, Deane spoke about McMaster’s responsibility. He said, “We are an educational institution and it is through being educators and offering educators to the community that we can be most helpful.”

Salado, one of the seven women photographers, thanked the women involved in the project for their hard work, and said, “The first time we did the project we didn’t know plenty of people who would care about our story, but when we did it we had a lot amazing people who cared like you, and gave us opportunity to share our experience with you”. She thanked the crowd for sharing the experiences of the Somali women behind the project, and expressed her gratefulness for receiving such support.
By displaying the women’s photographs and voices, the experience of these and other newcomer women could be shared with a wider audience who might not have otherwise been aware of some of the challenges they face.

This Photo Voice exhibit signifies the relationship between McMaster and newcomer women. Although the hallway is a place of passing, the Photo Voice project encourages students to stay and share their own stories while they learn about another’s.

– By Michelle Falk and Alaina Almas, Gender and Feminist Research Studies, McMaster University

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