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Jocelyn Wong demonstrates how we can all lead transformative change through our roles at SFU
Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue program coordinator and Semester in Dialogue alum, Jocelyn Wong, shows how we can all lead transformative change through our roles at SFU.
As a program coordinator, Wong plans and leads dialogue events on a large range of topics, including democracy, climate action and racial equity.
“Transformative systems-change begins with dialogue,” says Wong. “Being a part of an organization that studies and practices this makes me feel like I’m participating in a movement towards equity and decolonization.”
Wong describes dialogue as a means of bringing different communities together to communicate and come to a shared understanding. Dialogue, she says, encourages participants in a conversation to be compassionate; understanding that we all live under the same system that affects us each in different ways.
“While dialogue certainly involves a lot of theory and can be talked about in an academic sense, I feel most connected to the practice when I consider it a reflection of the ways Indigenous communities operate. True dialogue doesn’t aim to come to a specific or timely solution. Rather, it calls for people to come together without expectation or reservation.”
In her process of planning dialogue events and programming, Wong often challenges conventions in order to hold space for equitable dialogue.
“As a young person who’s never had the most power in a room, I think a lot about how we can radicalize our spaces for the better. A lot of this includes decentering traditional leaders and giving marginalized folks the platform to lead conversations. I also believe in compensating people handsomely, especially considering that the subject matter of some of our events can revolve around one’s lived experience.”
Wong emphasizes how lived experience enriches dialogue and strengthens our capacity to co-create change.
“Getting to learn from experts and stakeholders of various initiatives has shown me how equally vested people are in making the world a better place. While it’s important to hear the perspectives of people who work in the field of a dialogue’s topic, I’d argue that it’s just as important, if not more, for the stories of people who are personally affected by an issue to be shared. It’s one thing to assume what a community needs, but another thing entirely to hear about the issue directly from the people being harmed. Lived experience enriches dialogue and makes a conversation feel more ‘human.’ If we can’t empathize with another person’s struggles and don’t even know what they are experiencing in the first place, how can we expect to make appropriate changes that better their quality of living?”
Jocelyn credits the Semester in Dialogue for introducing her to a new way of thinking about her own lived experience. In Spring 2020, she entered the program as a closeted queer person struggling to make sense of her trauma and the factors that made her predisposed to it. Running away from a complicated family life, she had entered an abusive relationship three years previously with a person who’d convinced her that all her opinions were wrong. But, she felt held throughout the Semester in Dialogue and made some of her best friends.
“At the beginning of the Semester, I felt powerless. But, through the course and the support of my instructors and classmates, I realized that everyone around me had been impacted by harmful systems and that, banded together, we could work collectively towards transformative change.”
Now, Wong is a mentor to upcoming students in the Semester in Dialogue and engages with them through her role at the Centre.
“There’s something so refreshing about talking to folks who’ve just discovered the magic of storytelling. There’s no perfect formula for creating a compelling story that’s true to you. It sounds ineffable, but when you speak from the heart, others can sense your genuineness.”
Since graduating from the Semester in Dialogue, Wong has also gone on to work on passion projects with the community, including Wellness Beyond the Binary, a digital resource hub for youth of marginalized genders and sexualities living in Metro “Vancouver.” This resource lists up to date information about free, sliding scale and affirming health care opportunities for youth navigating the complexities of stepping into their identities.
“For anyone attempting to challenge systems in their roles—whether that be in the workplace, academic settings or personal relationships—I can’t stress enough the importance of dreaming and imagination. When we let go of our hope for something better, we also run the risk of losing the spark that helps us persevere.”
This is a story in our People of SFU series, where we’re celebrating SFU’s unsung heroes—those who go above and beyond the call of duty to create community, advance SFU’s mission and make the university a great place to work and learn. You can read more stories here.