August 8, 2020

Students on loan at first Human Library

By NICOLE JOBES

You should never judge a book by its cover; especially if that “book” happens to be a person.

Conestoga College’s Respect campaign will host its first-ever Human Library as part of Respect Week, in partnership with the Library Resource Centre, on Feb. 28. The interactive event will give students the chance to challenge assumptions and stereotypes by engaging in conversations with real people about real issues, the “human books.”

Ryan Connell, student life programmer at Conestoga, said the aim of the event is to build more awareness about the diversity of students who attend the college and to put focus on the impact of disrespectful behaviour when prejudices or stereotypes are used. To provide education on the diversity of the student body and promote dialogue about issues is especially important.

“We want to bring light to issues that students face … you are not alone,” said Connell.

In its simplest form, the Human Library is a mobile library consisting of living books; visitors have the chance to speak informally to “people on loan,” just as they would check out a book regularly.

Among the 12 living books expected to be available on the day, readers can find unique titles such as: international students, mental health issues, health issues, physical disabilities, learning disabilities, Crown Ward status, first generation students, single parents, mature students and gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender students. There’s a little something for everyone.

Many of the living book volunteers are current Conestoga students and graduates, or members of the local community.

Kevin Bloak is a first-year public relations student at Conestoga College and represents both a mature student and a gay male. After facing his own tribulations, Bloak is more than eager to reach out to other students and share his own personal experiences at the event.

“Any chance to connect with the community is great,” said Bloak. “I know how difficult it was for me; just dealing with myself … I wish I had someone to answer my questions.”

During the Human Library borrowing session students will have the opportunity to “sign out” Bloak and ask him their own questions. While he anticipates a group of readers that is open-minded and accepting, he recognizes that not everyone understands the issues he and many others face.

“This is how I was born. Religion or culture doesn’t play a role,” said Bloak. “If I can eliminate any preconceived notions people may have that’s my goal.”

Since its conception in 2000, the Human Library has been presented in Romania, Iceland, Finland, Italy, Japan, Serbia, Slovenia, Australia, Portugal, and now Canada – to mention a few. The concept of promoting dialogue amongst peers reduces prejudice and fosters learning and understanding; the event ties in well with Conestoga’s Respect campaign message and Connell has been waiting a long time to bring the event to the college.

“Igniting an interest to learn more about a topic … it doesn’t end here,” said Connell on the general aim of the library event.

The event is free and to attend you must register online at www.conestogac.on.ca through the main events page. Different time slots are available so students can sign up to meet with a living book when it works with their schedule, as long as it’s between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m on Feb. 28.

Other Respect Week celebrations will help the message of building a respectful, welcoming and inclusive campus community for all students. The first event of the week is called “What it means to me?” day, and will play host to displays explaining different perspectives of what the word “respect” means to different people. Following the Human Library event, Wednesday will feature the Clothesline Project, a T-shirt decoration fundraiser for Anselma House in Waterloo. Thursday will bring presentations from liberal studies students about what respect means in different cultures to the Student Life Centre.

This is the college’s third Respect Week and fourth year of the Respect campaign.