stig·ma: noun: a strong feeling of disapproval that most people in a society have about something, especially when this is unfair. (Cambridge Dictionary)
Changing societal attitudes to create a safe zone for students, staff and parents at Queen Margaret’s School became the goal for the Stigma-Free Club, thereby earning the Stigma-Free Society of BC’s official “Stigma-Free School” designation. Most commonly, stigma involves negative attitudes and discrimination against people based on characteristics such as mental illness, health conditions, diversability, gender, sexuality, religion, culture or race.
“When we started on this journey our club’s mission was to educate and have the wider community reflect on their words and attitudes as it relates to stigma,” shares Liz Tarkowski, learning support teacher at QMS. “I believe that we have achieved that, but we cannot become complacent. The club will continue its works to ensure that this legacy will live on.”
With such a passionate groups of advocates, the QMS Stigma-Free Club launched an entire month of theme weeks. For the month of February, each week was dedicated to erasing stigma around mental health, sexual orientation and gender identification, diversabilities, and culture and race. Students educated their peers through spoken and written poetry, chapel presentations, art, fundraising activities, a School Stigma-Free Day and multiple celebrations of our differences.
“I’m very proud of these students,” Tarkowski said. “Their inspirational work raised $1,500 for three local charities (Cowichan Youth Services, the Hiiye’yu Lelum House of Friendship and the Stigma-Free Society) and helped create a more inclusive school for everyone to enjoy.”
David Robertson, Head of School, agrees that the future looks bright.
“These students have essentially left a legacy of positivity for future generations. The SFC will continue with its mission to be agents of social change within the school and the wider community.”
The School’s efforts caught the attention of Andrea Paquette, president of the Stigma Free Society of BC.
“No school in the province has accomplished what QMS did in such a short period of time,” she said. “Earning the Stigma-Free Designation is very hard as the requirements are detailed; taking time to plan and execute. So what QMS did is very inspiring. QMS’s SFC club has embraced the journey to a Stigma-Free Designation, which meant a commitment to understanding, awareness and acceptance.”
For Grade 12 student and Stigma-Free Club member Sophia Kazakoff, receiving the award was a poignant moment.
“I’m so proud of everyone for putting in the effort to change. My classmates didn’t want to remain oblivious to stigma. They took a genuine interest in the movement, asked questions and supported us. It has made my final year at the school an incredibly meaningful one.”