The Conference’s Impact and Evolution
QUEUC was an integral part of my experience at Bishop's from my very first days on campus -- 2009, my first year as a student, coincided with its founding. As a bright-eyed freshman whose greatest dream was to revel in English nerdiness with everyone around me, it was a no-brainer to get involved. Not only was it an opportunity to engage with my peers and faculty, but to extend the reach of our work beyond the campus, and out to students all across the province. To create a network of students who were not only invested in their own growth and research, but in engaging with their peers and their ideas as well. From my first year to my graduating year in 2013, QUEUC was always a highlight. A place where I felt at home, where I felt confident. A place where friends, new and old, could come together to share ideas, practices, and challenge one another (be it on a panel about Post Modernism or in a brutal game of English Department Cranium!)
But QUEUC didn't just mold students when they participated in the conference -- it was months’ worth of careful planning, organizing, and the drive of dozens of student leaders that made it what it is today. This conference was unique in that so much trust was placed in the students to make it work. It was Dr. Riddell, a new professor with a huge dream, coming in and telling a first year students that they had a voice, and not only did it matter, but it was vital to making this conference a success. That higher education was not just staring straight ahead at a droning professor, taking dutiful notes, and regurgitating answers on an exam for four years until you exited with a diploma. Higher education succeeds when students can share ideas, actively engage with the content they're studying, and work out the bigger picture -- how the work they're doing, the books they're reading, and the conversations they're having are part of a much larger paradigm. How learning early on that your voice matters emboldens you to use it on a much larger stage.
One of my favorite jobs while working with QUEUC was sitting on, and later chairing, the vetting committee, which read every submitted paper, chose which ones would be accepted, and organized them into panels. While it was difficult work -- every paper we read was brilliant in its own way and regrettably, we couldn't take them all -- it helped me hone my critical reading and editorial skills, which has been indispensable to my career in book publishing. I work in a literary agency, and am constantly assessing query letters, proposals, and manuscripts. QUEUC gave me the tools to be able to trust my gut as to whether something is working or not, whether someone is tackling a topic (familiar or not) in an interesting and engaging way. I have to assess a quality beyond just "Is this good?" I have to be able to see the work in a larger context: is it bringing a new perspective to the table? Is this an opportunity for a voice that has existed on the margins to take center stage? How can two papers on the same panel, about totally different works, find common ground in a shared theme, and how can that conversation open up new directions of thought? There's incredible power and responsibility in being a gatekeeper of ideas, and QUEUC encouraged me to reject the status quo, to engage with ideas that were provocative, and to fight to give opportunities to voices that challenge norms. This is a practice that I try to return to every day in my career, and so far, it has not led me astray!
While it's a bit bittersweet for QUEUC to shed its old, beloved moniker, it does feel like the natural next step in its growth. SOULS promises that students not only across Canada, but the US and the UK, can have a forum for their ideas and experience Humanities education as an ever-evolving conversation; HEART will extend that desire for growth and critical reassessment to faculty. Higher education doesn't stop the second you walk across that stage in a cap and gown or achieve tenure. It is a constantly shifting practice that can only function when all those involved actively choose to engage, to argue, to question, and the grow. I am so proud to have been a part of QUEUC's history, and I can't wait to watch as it continues to grow, and inspire a whole new generation of thinkers, activists, and teachers.
- Denise Page, Conference Alumna