For the first instalment of our Club Q&A Series, writer Danielle Carlson caught up with Rebecca Werkman, president of the Sanctuary Club. If you are interested in starting your own club, go here: http://samu.ca/programs-services/clubs/
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: What is the Sanctuary Club?
A: It is an alternative lifestyle/subculture club. We also have a lot of people in my club who don’t feel that they fit into anything alternative at all. We have just Ordinary Joes that don’t really fit in or, as I like to call it, Ordinary Joes that are just too ordinary. Basically, anybody fits into the Sanctuary. As long as you feel like you don’t fit in anywhere else, you’re more than welcome to come.
Q: The SAMU club listing describes the Sanctuary as a goth club. Why did it change?
A: The girl who started the club started it for alternative lifestyles and alternative subcultures, but all the people who joined were also goth. That’s how it became as a sort of goth subculture group, and they sort of went with it. Now, they are all graduated and gone, and it’s kind of reverting back to what it was originally meant to be. I like to think of it as evolving into something a little bit bigger.
Q: How did you become a member and then the club’s president?
A: I recognized that a lot of my friends were in the group. Not a lot of people I knew specifically, but people who I clicked with immediately. It felt really natural to become a part o the group. I also found out that year that a lot of them were graduating, and for those who weren’t, they were way too busy with their schedule to be involved anymore, especially on the executive team. At that point, it became a matter of “either I step up, or this club dies.” So, I stepped up.
Q: What kind of activities can a member expect in this club?
A: We have lots of logic-based discussions about a lot of hot topics. Last semester, we weren’t shying around anything. We were openly talking about the Charlie Hebdo incident the day after it happened. We had a lot of discussion about free speech and its merits, and we had a lot of club members who disagreed with each other but were incredibly polite. It’s done very respectfully and very calmly. It is all done in friendship and with the idea of education and learning in mind.
Q: Have you noticed the impact that the Sanctuary has on its participants?
A: I’ve had members that say they’ve never felt so free before. I’ve had people say that they feel they’ve never fit in anywhere until they joined our club. For us, censorship is not the focus. Instead, the focus is saying things respectfully and with the intention of learning or educating others. The focus is on growth and not on proving a point. I think the impact is that, ultimately, a lot of people leave with an idea of how to say things and how to learn things without being so invested in your position that you get angry.
Q: Some people have a negative association with subcultures. For example, they might think that BDSM is connected with abusive relationships. How does your club address these types of assumptions?
A: We address these opinions with actual facts and not with fiction. We don’t let people’s biases take over. If your bias is a negative one and it’s hurting people, that has to be dealt with. There’s no space for that in really any place and, as an adult, one of the most important things you can do is learn to get over your biases and over your prejudice. Our club focuses on that. The most progressive things have happened because people have accepted that they shouldn’t just ignore their differences; they should run with them. Stereotypes have no place in our club.
Q: What advice would you give to somebody who’s interested in being part of a subculture, especially one that’s not accepted in their community?
A: If you are interested in participating in a subculture, then it is integral to who you are. Coming from my personal experience and the experience of a lot of my club members, my first advice would be to leave your community. This can seem like it’s really difficult, but it’s not. It’s choosing whom you spend your time with. People who are open-minded enable you to be free of those restrictions. Staying in contact with people in a community that makes you feel bad about yourself can lead to all kinds of internalized guilt and a lack of self-confidence. Being able to express who you really are can lead to a feeling of freedom. Take full advantage.