September 26, 2020

BY WHITNEY SOUTH

Have you ever wanted to sit down and have a conversation with a drag queen?

Or wondered what it’s like to live with a learning disorder?

And just what is Asperger’s syndrome?

For those who attended Conestoga College’s second annual Human Library on March 7, no page was left unturned.

Throughout the event, students, staff and faculty were given the opportunity to speak informally with a collection of “people on loan,” representing over a dozen different demographics.

Some of this year’s titles included an HIV-positive student, a drag queen, a mature student, a student recovering from substance use, individuals with mental health issues as well as a student with Asperger’s syndrome.

Ryan Connell, Student Life programmer at Conestoga College, said a student originally recommended the event after she had read about it on the Internet. After a little research, the Human Library was added to Respect Week.

“We looked into the concept and thought it perfectly aligned with the messages of our Respect campaign,” he said. “It gave students a chance to interact, ask questions and learn more about some of the challenges that some of our peers on campus face.”

Originally created as a project by Stop The Violence, a youth organization in Copenhagen, Denmark, the Human Library made its debut at the Roskilde Culture and Music Festival in 2000.

Encouraged by festival director, Leif Skov, Stop the Violence introduced the crowds of Northern Europe’s biggest summer festival to an experience meant to focus on anti-violence while encouraging dialogue relationship building among the festival’s visitors.

Despite its humble beginnings, the Human Library has since grown into an international non-profit organization whose mission is to introduce their concept to communities all over the world. Conestoga College is one of the first post-secondary institutions in Canada to host the event.

Connell said he was really impressed by how personable and how vulnerable the human books were allowing themselves to be for the whole college community.

“There’s things we think we know about people and I think this was a chance for us to ask questions in an open, accepting and non-judgmental way and expand our own learning,” he said. “We never get a chance when we’re talking about different aspects of diversity to just ask those honest questions and get honest answers.”

Though the majority of books represented were Conestoga students, a few were solicited from outside the college including Marc Hall of Oshawa, a gay high school student who took the Catholic school board to court after being denied the chance to take his boyfriend to prom in 2002.

“I loved being a human book,” said Hall, who regularly speaks at high schools and universities. “I think this event was really awesome. I’ve never done anything quite like it. It’s amazing that so many people want to be educated about areas they don’t know about and it was very cool.”

With this year’s Human Library attracting over 100 students and faculty, Connell said Student Life is looking into creating more of these events throughout the school year.

“For us this has become one of our Student Life department’s flagship events,” he said. “It’s one of the biggest activities that students look forward to each year and there’s a lot of discussion about it. We just want to keep it going.”