“Students are not just the future, you are the now.”-MPP Jill Andrew

Dr. Jill Andrew PhD is a multifaceted leader who’s beginning started right here at Humber College in the Child and Youth Work program.

Along with being Toronto St. Paul’s MPP for the NDP party, she is an award-winning writer, speaker, activist, equity educator and a scholar.

Her first term as an MPP has been a fulfilling one, achieving many milestones. Notably, she is the first Black and queer person to be elected onto the Ontario Legislature, First Runner Up by NOW Magazine Reader’s Choice Awards, the NDP Culture Critic, and the Women’s Issues Critic for the Official Opposition. She is also a member of the Black Caucus–a first of its kind in Canada.

To add to her long list of accomplishments, she is a co-founder of Body Confidence Canada–an organization that works to advocate against bullying and appearance-based discrimination putting forth successful and important campaigns such as #SizeismSUCKS and Body Confidence Awareness Week.

Impressed? Well, we chatted with MPP Andrew to get her insight and words of wisdom for students during these unprecedented times.

Check out all the amazing things she had to say here:

Her experience at Humber college

MPP Jill Andrew in yellow Humber shirt
Image Courtesy of MPP Jill Andrew (@jillslastword)

Excellent careers start at Humber.

MPP Andrew graduated from the Child and Youth Work (CYW) program in 1998 and learned many valuable lessons that transferred to her current role as an MPP. Recalling her time as a student, MPP Andrew says, “the [Child and Youth Work] program really instilled in me a sense of compassion, commitment and care–which is the foundation for any work people should be doing, especially work that has to do with community social services. It really was a training ground for values that I took into my personal and professional life especially now as a new politician.”

In terms of her time at Humber, she worked a part-time job at the library and found Humber to be a community where you could make friends with a variety of people in different programs.

“Humber was really a highlight of my post-secondary career. I’ve done university and all the way up to my PhD, but my CYW experience remains quite a highlight.”

On the challenges of being a college student

Time’s are changing and the struggles that students currently face are much different than how they were years ago. With cuts to education, students all over the province are paying the price.

According to MPP Andrew, her experience was much different, “Students now are facing their own different sets of challenges with millions of dollars being cut from education.”

But those aren’t the only problems students, including MPP Andrew, face. In her experience, “Coming from high school where I experienced bullying and was an outsider to some level, going to college was a new day and the challenge I had was being open to a new experience, open to larger classes/many classes and the rigour of being a college student.”

College is a major change that students go through, especially since many are used to the leniency faced in younger years. But growing up doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It may be scary, but change is good.

“It was a challenge realizing that I was growing up, I was a college student now. And much younger than some of my peers. On a funny note, because I was younger my mom wouldn’t let me go to some of the pubs and dances with my peers, so that was always a challenge.”

On becoming a voice for the community as an MPP

Her career has been an extraordinary one where she has become a voice for her community and minority groups spreading past St. Paul’s and across Ontario–to which she is so appreciative.

“I always start by saying thank you. Thank you to Toronto St. Paul’s because any politician who thinks the can get elected on their own is living in a cloud. It really is a community effort. I don’t take that lightly at all and I am very thankful and grateful for the opportunity.”

In terms of what it means to her, she mentions the gratitude she shares for her educators, “there are some days that I wake up and I can’t even believe it. I am thankful to those good educators that saw something in me and told me that I had a voice and I shouldn’t be afraid to use it, to people who saw something in me that I didn’t always see in myself.”

She recalls that she had such a positive experience in college where she was able to harness her skills and learn to believe in herself, she even remembers being named most social at Humber in an informal competition they had while she was there.

“When I sit and reflect on this particular moment in my life as an MPP, I am just in awe. Being Black, being Queer, that is central to that. Representation matters. It is important for our governments to represent our communities. I cannot begin to say how important it is that I am sitting representing St. Paul’s and Black people, women, LGBTQ2S+ people across Ontario. It is an honour.”

She reflects that what makes her experience as an MPP much more special is that she is able to be a part of the Ontario NDP Black Caucus as it is the first time any Ontario party elected enough black members to form a Black Caucus.

“It is something I am always overwhelmed by—that it took this long for it to happen—and overwhelmed that I get to be a part of history and I get to be one of those people. With that comes great responsibility, we need to build a province that eradicates anti-Black racism. We need to build a province that has an anti-racism directorate. We need a fully-funded directorate department that addresses the needs of race-based discrimination across our province.”

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I am a proud member of Ontario's first official Black caucus- the Ontario NDP's Black Caucus. Our goal is to work collaboratively with our communities to address everyday and systemic anti-Black racism. Black perspectives on everything from housing, education, healthcare, the arts, economy to the environment matter and they WILL be seen, heard and acted on! As Ontarians we have an opportunity to come together to address prejudice, fight systemic injustice, and tear down barriers that exist for Indigenous, Black and racialized communities in Ontario. We are calling on the provincial government to take concrete, proactive action and: * Restore and fully fund the Anti-Racism Secretariat * Make the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People the law in Ontario * Mark January 29 as the annual day of Remembrance and Action on Islamophobia * Abolish carding and delete all data collected from this unconstitutional practice * Ensure that every MPP and public servant undergoes regular anti-racism education and training * And so much more… We are in this work together! #onpoli #ONBlackCaucus #tostpauls #blackexcellence #ontario #ndp

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Another milestone MPP Andrew has reached during her time as an MPP is putting forth Bill 61–a bill to recognize Eating Disorders Awareness Week in the first week of February.

In Canada alone, nearly 1 million people meet the diagnostic characteristics for an eating disorder and there isn’t a particular frame or person who can be affected.

When speaking on why she decided to take the leap and fight for this bill to be put forward she says, “I wanted to do this because I know just how gendered eating disorders are. It’s not just a “white woman” issue, it’s not just a thin person’s issue, it’s anyone’s issue. Especially people who deal with other systemic oppressions like racism and homophobia.”

According to MPP Andrew, Bill 61 has successfully gone through the second reading and is now in the committee stage, which means we are very close to seeing Eating Disorder Awareness Week proclaimed in Ontario.

Community staples like Glad Day Bookshop

MPP Andrew’s activism does not stop with politics. She is one of the dozen community owners of Glad Day Bookshop–the first Canadian and oldest Queer bookstore in the world that serves as a safe place for LGBTQ2s+ folks.

“Spaces like Glad Day are important because they are literally second homes to these people. We cannot forget how important community spaces are. There are people who are living and suffering from social isolation. There are people who are suffering from depression and mental health issues. There are people for who home is not a safe place.”

MPP Andrew recounts Daves on St. Clair, a beloved local business that was recently lost due to lack of funding and governmental support. Places like Dave’s and Glad Day serve as second homes for people. MPP Andrew explains, “when there are days of special significance and days where people spend time with family, it’s important for people to know that their chosen family, their community family is there for them too.”

Another community space MPP Andrew expresses the importance of is NIA Centre–a creative space in Toronto for Black artists in Ontario.

She expresses the importance of supporting local businesses, saying, “It is so important to have spaces in our community that reflect who we are, that are local and don’t rely on having to support billionaire corporations that aren’t necessarily giving back the wellness that local businesses offer.”

What campuses can do to strengthen on-campus resources and services for marginalized students 

Humber has countless services and resources available to help marginalized communities on campus such as the LGBTQ Resource Centre and The B.A.S.E., but we can do more.

In order for colleges and student unions to continue to thrive, “you have to have student voice, you have to have advocacy, you have to have student rights embedded in the foundation of your institution. Otherwise, students don’t feel safe, they don’t feel heard, they don’t feel accounted for.”

MPP Andrew explains that the faces of our student body must be embedded within our curriculum to ensure everyone is included and accounted for. That means having relevant curriculums focused on anti-Black racism, Black history, African Diasporic history, Indigenous studies, and more.

“Something as small as libraries must reflect the voices and the faces of all of the diversity of the city, province, and country. We can’t have students learning a curriculum that doesn’t reflect themselves and the complexities of the life we are living.”

As the Culture Critic, MPP Andrew is fighting to get the Indigenous Culture Fund restored along with the restoration of funding to the Ontario Arts Council to use art a platform to broaden the conversation surrounding often unseen communities.

“It’s not enough for somebody at the top who isn’t a part of the said community, to write our history for us and hand it to us. It’s about people being at the table. From racialized backgrounds, Indigenous, Black, queer, trans, non-conforming, disabled backgrounds—so, we can write our own stories.”

She stresses the importance of our essential workers during these trying times, many of which are women–many of which are part of marginalized communities, “part of my job as a Women’s Issues Critic is to always fight for pay equity because we know women are making less than white, cis-gendered men. We have to address representation for being seen and heard AND the inequities that are embedded in our economy that really have a disproportional impact on women too.”

For colleges, small steps like taking childcare into consideration can make the world of a difference, “in colleges, things like childcare need to be deeply considered. We need to remove the barriers from any student who wants to get their education.”

Her words of wisdom to Humber students

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So, a little known fact about me: I LOVE dandelions! For a part of my childhood I had significant allergies to dandelions, grass, stuffed animals, and rugs. Even severe cold seemed to do a dance on me. I was also lactose intolerant. This was all on top of my GI issues. My mom is literally a superhero, eh?!?!? To this day it beats me as to how she managed all of that! Not only would exposure mean dreadful inflammation flare ups but it also meant bouts with eczema. In fact my pediatrician at the time recommended I live in a warmer climate to see if things would shift. That marked my move to Trinidad for a while and my allergies certainly shifted for the better. Today I am clear of these allergies and whenever I see a full flush bed of dandelions I roll and I'm a kid again! Here's to my favourite 'weed'! Our bodies are so very complicated, so needy at times, strong at others. It's that complexity that makes me love it so! Have a good day folks and roll in something you love today!

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These are unprecedented times in history and many of us are likely struggling to find motivation, internships, and jobs. It may feel like there’s no light at the end of the tunnel, but better days are coming.

MPP Andrew gives her kudos to students who have been trying to learn and coping the best way they can during these times saying, “we will never be the same, but I want students to remember that that is actually a good thing. If people in power, if our student leaders, community leaders, and everyday activists put pressure on decision-makers—we might be able to see a better Ontario.”

Change is on the horizon, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad or scary thing. It could be a positive one that means for a better tomorrow.

She explains that things can be better for Ontario if we all work together, organize and challenge the government in strategic and meaningful ways. She hopes we can build an Ontario where, “we don’t have a housing crisis, one where we don’t have a homeless crisis, one where students can one day access post-secondary education, not with loans, but with bursaries.”

Though things are hard right now, they won’t be like this forever, “we will come out of this, but we don’t want to go back to where we were because where we were had a lot of holes for some of the most vulnerable people in our province. I only hope that we go forward, better informed, recognizing that the government has to not only make decisions, but they have to consult and collaborate with the community and make decisions that don’t leave anybody behind.”

“Don’t forget to laugh. Sometimes we have to find space for joy so we can remove ourselves from COVID-19. We need to find a little self-care and a little quiet within ourselves.”

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Want to learn more about activism? Check out how YOU can be an ally!

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