Borrowed Shoes is an equity and diversity initiative affiliated with utmONE that saw UTM students mentored for the past two weeks and as they completed daily challenges. It featured two themes this year, accessibility and poverty, with corresponding challenges. At the end of each challenge, participants reflected on their experience with Facebook and Twitter. After each week, the mentors facilitated a roundtable discussion so participants could share their experiences.
Examples of challenges included maneuvering around campus using only wheelchair-accessible routes and eating only two meals in a day at a total cost of $6 or less.
The program’s coordinator, Stephanie Vega, said the challenges brought participants out of their comfort zone and taught them more about their campus. They also encouraged participants to give back to the community by, for example, making a donation to the UTMSU Food Bank.
“We intend our participants to gain a more critical awareness of equity and diversity issues surrounding accessibility and poverty in our local and global community,” said Vega. “We hope to begin encouraging an empathetic understanding of the world we live in.”
A former mentor and this year’s utmONE program assistant, Vega said utmONE students were the primary target for the event, since they had previously participated in the “Equityism” seminar, which introduced students to equity and diversity issues. She said that she hopes Borrowed Shoes will become an annual event, expanded to “encompass the larger UTM community” in coming years.
This is the first year “Borrowed Shoes” has been held at UTM. The initiative was started at the University of Western Ontario in 2012, but Vega said her team was permitted to make “significant changes” in bringing it to UTM.
One of the Borrowed Shoes leaders, Sarah Israr, believes she gained new insight from her participation. “It’s so easy to consume yourself with your own problems […] I’ve become more aware of [the] daily struggles of others and I’m significantly more sensitive to them,” she said.
A first-year student, Aathira Kottapurath, said “Borrowed Shoes” has made her more aware and observant of her surroundings. By using only wheelchair-accessible routes on the first day of the event, she experienced firsthand just how difficult it was to get to class.
“Some buttons don’t work, so you have to use a different door, which takes longer,” she said, adding that even getting inside an elevator could be a challenge.
Israr echoed her sentiments, noting that the mentors had the chance to use actual wheelchairs for the challenge. Despite the steep ramps, which could be “hard on your arms”, and the fact that some buttons for opening doors were hard to reach, Israr was “taken aback by how much kindness people showed”.
AccessAbility student Cody Fisher supports having more events like “Borrowed Shoes” at UTM.
“You need to understand to help. No matter what, you’ll deal with someone who has a different ability,” he said.
Fisher was invited to speak at the roundtable discussions, where he proudly shared his experiences with ADHD. He surprised some students when he mentioned he’d scored 99% in calculus.
“I just take a different path,” he said “We all take different paths.”
He mentioned that he has dealt with stereotypes in his own life, such as the idea that students with ADHD are “less intelligent” or that they “don’t like school because [they] can’t stay focussed”.
Fisher wants people to understand that everyone has different needs, and that people shouldn’t categorize others based on their abilities. He explained that some people are not always comfortable sharing their “different ability” and they don’t necessarily want to be treated differently. “Treat them individually […], not in lists,” he said. “It’s not that they need more; they just need differently.”