Wearing presence

Presence manifests itself in different ways. For some it’s in the clubs they join, or the classes they take, while for others carrying different cultures, connections and stories with them changes the way they choose to take up space on this campus.

Here are the ways six UBC students express their cultural identities on campus.


Suyesha Dutta is a third-year political science and history double major. She considers India home.

How do the clothes that you wear tie you to home or to Vancouver?

I’m wearing pure cotton as one of the major things in India is that it’s very hot, so you need to wear breathable fabric. I always choose to wear cotton. My shoes are from Pondicherry, which was a French colony in India. I really support cotton and that’s where I carry India with me. I sometimes wear a Jaipur coat in Rajasthan, but when I wear it here people will ask, “What are you wearing?”

['auto'] Danielle Olusanya

Has anything changed in terms of what you wear?

The fabric hasn’t, but I wear more formal clothes because it makes me feel more confident. I think what's changing my style is that I’m growing up.


Sydney Henry is a third-year political science student who describes herself as of Jamaican descent.

Do you feel like you have a presence on this campus?

My presence on this campus changes on where I am, how I’m dressed and who I’m with. In terms of whether I fit in, I’ve never found comfort or have been interested in feeling like everybody else. But if I’m in a meeting, for instance, my presence is purposeful, sometimes I feel like I’m taking up too much space like on my head wrap days.

['auto'] Danielle Olusanya

What are head wrap days?

Head wrap days are when my hair is doing the most, so I put on a head wrap, but those are the days when I feel eyes. When I’m doing something or being something that is atypical, I feel like I’m taking up more space than the average person because there’s a bubble around me that’s drawing all this attention.

It’s weird because for me my culture is very American. My parents came and assimilated, my mother changed her name and my dad’s only exposure to being Black was watching Roots. For me, there is the feeling that we have to represent whatever our culture is supposed to be. I came from a city where everyone was Black and brown. As a political science major, when I’m in class, being a racialized person is just a heavily political thing; so when [classes talk] about issues in Africa or police brutality in the United States, it feels like there is this weight.


Jamie Wu is a fourth-year arts student who identifies as Chinese-Canadian.

Do you feel like you belong on this campus?

I think it might be easier to feel like I belonged here more if I lived on campus. I commute, so for me there's school and there's home. Whereas, if I lived here I’d be more connected. I feel like I belong the most when I’m with my friends here because there are people around me. Personally, I feel intimidated by people a lot, that's when I feel like I don’t belong on campus. With clubs and societies when it's something that you are not familiar with, its easier to feel like you don’t belong. But, I really like being at the Nest as there's lots of comfy chairs that you can sit in, its central to campus so location is really important for me, too.

['auto'] Danielle Olusanya

Tell me about your clothes?

In terms of clothes, I try to wear what’s most comfortable. I tend to like wearing dresses, I like clothes that I feel comfortable moving around in, like a loose shirt. The stuff you wear affects your comfort levels.


Noor Tawfiek is a second-year student studying at the Sauder School of Business and she identifies as Arab.

Where do you consider to be home?

I guess I call home right now Kuwait, because that’s where I went for my last five years of high school, but Kuwait is not home in the same way because my friends are not there. I feel like my style ties me back to Kuwait in the way that there is a typical Kuwaiti girl of Kuwaiti style. ... The thing is, the style in Kuwait is a lot more conservative and what’s great about it for them is that people can wear [things] with the hijab. I wouldn’t say that I dress conservatively, but there are days when I feel like covering up. Some days I feel more connected to home, there are days when I feel like I’m connected to Vancouver and days where I feel connected to nowhere.

['auto'] Danielle Olusanya

Do your clothes have a story?

My clothes represent who I am right now. I guess it helps to have my everyday story, it helps me keep in tune with who I am. I feel like everyone loses themselves at some point. I moved to get out of an emergency situation, I was homeless for a little bit, before that I lived in a room with no insulation and 10 blankets. I was living out of garbage bags, but even then my clothes always made me feel good. At school, it was a topic of conversation and it would really help me stay on track mentally. So when I left and got UBC Housing, I put effort into this place, maybe because when I moved to Canada, it's something I didn’t have for a good year.


Divita Raithatha is a fourth-year political science student. She identifies as Kenyan and is of Indian descent.

How do you decide what to wear?

I think for me, I dress very plainly but there are two or three certain articles of clothing that I choose to wear — a bracelet with the Kenyan flag on it is very symbolic for me. I wear a lot of jewelry, I don’t take it off. I think it’s very important as an Indian to wear certain jewelry. My mom thinks it’s lucky. My Kenya flag doesn’t come off, it was pretty much sewn onto me.

['auto'] Danielle Olusanya

Do you dress differently in Nairobi?

It’s really hot there, but I dress more formally because it's a small community... Here, I think there is a certain degree of anonymity, people just wear whatever. I feel like I wear a lot of Kenyan fabrics. But my parents have always stressed the importance of dressing right. If I’m meeting with a professor or going into a nice store, that importance is etched into my mind.