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Foreign Encounters


PhotoWings + Ashoka U InSights Grant Project:
Foreign Encounters: Redefining Diversity - Ryerson University

Grantee: Cheryl Hsu
Title: Research Marketing Coordinator 
FOREIGN ENCOUNTERS began at Ryerson University with a call-to-action for the student community to submit real-world experiences with diversity. With over 250 submissions, the stories are a testament to the complexities that surround our understanding and appreciation of diversity.
Five of the stories have been re-imagined into a series of colourful portraits featuring the real-life faces behind these authentic Toronto tales. Featuring real Torontonians, not models, these photographs present a fresh and unconventional alternative to a stereotypical diversity campaign. 

Ryerson University is Canada's first Changemaker Campus, and these photographs represented Ryerson at the Ashoka U Exchange, an international conference that took place in Feb 2014 at Brown University. The research results will be showcased at the European Group of Organizational Studies Conference in the Netherlands in July 2014.

View the project: http://foreignencounters.ca/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ForeignRU

Twitter: https://twitter.com/foreignru

Instagram: http://instagram.com/foreignencounters    

What is Foreign Encounters?

Ryerson University is situated in the downtown core of Toronto, one of the most multicultural cities in the world whose motto is “Diversity our Strength”. Diversity has become a crucial part of the urban vernacular and identity of Toronto, influencing its communication, values and perspectives. However, it is important to challenge this notion of diversity and explore what “diversity” actually means to the people living inside of the city. FOREIGN ENCOUNTERS positions diversity and multiculturalism in a fresh, youthful, and honest way. It is an interactive photography project designed to inspire conversation around diversity through student stories, and build a community of awareness around what it is actually like to live in one of the most diverse cities in the world. 

Toronto citizens are so acclimatized to living in a multicultural city that we often forget that people in the city come from different backgrounds with differing habits, expectations, and approaches. In order to celebrate the incredible context that exists in Toronto, which tosses together people of different ethnic backgrounds, genders, ability and sexualities, the project seeks to celebrate the complexity and nuances that exist within these encounters. These moments when our differences with one another become apparent are the moments that we propose to be the most enlightening and perspective-altering. These moments force us to move past our comfort zones, and become conscious of another person's perspective and experiences. FOREIGN ENCOUNTERS uniquely asks for student insights into the awkward and uncomfortable moments encountered by living in a diverse city, which is often glossed over in mainstream messaging or left unspoken due to fears around political correctness. We are interested in challenging students to reassess their understanding of diversity in an honest way that takes into account their daily encounters.


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FOREIGN ENCOUNTERS challenges diversity in a unique and compelling way. While the initial reaction upon hearing the word “diversity” is an unmistakable eye-roll, we have been able to transform that initial skepticism into excitement by explaining our mission to redefine “diversity” through personal stories and experiences. The photo series we hope to develop from the student stories will be created in collaboration with the student, with their involvement through every step of the process. The project suggests that collaboration is a powerful medium that allows different perspectives to interact and be influenced by the perspectives of others. The paradox of the phrase “redefining diversity” is that there can never be one-size-fit-all definition of diversity. The closest we can get to understanding the complexity of diversity is through the varied, personal stories of the very people who experience it everyday. We hope that the photos produced will reflect each student’s unique experience of diversity in an emotionally resonant way that simultaneously captures both their personal experience and the universality of their encounter.



From the selected stories, we will select five inspirational stories and invite the submitter to collaborate with us to create a photograph that depicts their experience. We are interested in working in creative partnership and mentorship with the student, and allow them to communicate their personal story through the photographic medium.  We believe that this collaboration acts as a powerful tool to spark a deeper discussion on the meaning of diversity.

The resulting photographic series, in addition to the hundreds of photos (as seen above) taken of students as part of the outreach for the project, will depict the incredible ways photography and the creative arts can transform our understanding of social issues. We hope to build a community of participants who will be excited to recognize their peers and friends through our website and through the 20+ different posters we will be putting up on campus. What better way to represent diversity but through the faces and stories of real Ryerson students?

We hope that the resulting impact of the project is to deliver a radical reimagining of conventional diversity campaigns, such as those used in tourism and public policy. We will be sharing the project images through our website, on-campus screens, and printed poster/pamphlets handouts. We also hope to build an external network of partners and collaborators who will share the results of our project externally.


Madeleine Collective is collaborating with a Ryerson research centre called the Diversity Institute (www.ryerson.ca/diversity) to study the current climate of diversity from the youth perspective. We are interested in incorporating an intellectually and methodologically rigorous approach to understanding why students feel disconnected with the popular perception of diversity in their own city.

Upon submitting a story, students will be asked if they would like to be contacted to learn more about participating in the research survey component of the project. The survey examines the participant’s expectations and understanding of diversity, and whether FOREIGN ENCOUNTERS has altered their understanding of diversity.

The research portion of the project has two objectives: 1) To examine how diversity is viewed from the youth perspective, 2) To study the relationship between art and social innovation by measuring the impact of the creative arts on affecting social change through unconventional forms of communication and inspiration.

We hope to be able to bring the research results of the project into future involvement in conferences, colloquia, and journals in order to further extend the impact of the project.


FOREIGN ENCOUNTERS creates a cross-­disciplinary dialogue with students across the University by allowing them to share their stories with each other. Utilizing web and digital tools such as social media, our website www.foreignencounters.ca enables students to contribute their stories and images online, creating a campus­wide connection for people to share their experiences, stories, and ideas. Online presentation of the project allows for a continuous dialogue to happen post­-completion, existing as a memorable meme in the public consciousness. The archived project will live online as a case ­study and a positive example of social innovation sparked by art and expanded into a larger community intervention.

In order to collect the stories and engage the students, we recognize the immediate successes of in-person interaction in various key locations around the Ryerson University and have been meeting up with various student groups and councils across all the faculties. Booths are set up in various locations around campus twice a week to chat with students directly about the project, take their photographs, and take their stories. The in-person campaign gives us the opportunity to get to know the students and learn about their personal experiences.  We hope to continue our outreach on campus by turning the photographs and stories of Ryerson students into additional posters and promotional material that we can share around campus and online.  

The goal of the outreach is to use the real-life stories of students to inspire conversation and encourage students to share their personal experiences by sharing these stories online through frequent updates on the website and social media, and around campus through the form of posters and postcards.  We hope to build a network of student-contributed stories that represent the varied experiences that speak to the meaning of diversity.


Cheryl Hsu

Cheryl Hsu is a co­-founding director of Madeleine Collective, a not­-for-­profit arts organization and design agency. The collective creates participatory and collaborative art events, installations, and marketing campaigns that facilitate positive interactions and community ­building initiatives. Madeleine Collective has worked with a range of partners, including Ryerson University, Scotiabank Nuit Blanche, the Luminato Festival, Jane’s Walk, and Art of the Danforth to produce communication and learning tools that integrate interdisciplinary creative practices. As the Research Marketing Coordinator and a committee member on the Ashoka Changemaker Executive Committee at Ryerson University, Cheryl Hsu has also developed comprehensive marketing strategies to promote conversation and awareness around key social innovation themes. She is working closely with the student Changemaker subcommittee to energize and unite the Ryerson student body on the social changemaking mission.


The Madeline Collective team involved in the artistic conception of the project are the following individuals:
Wendy Cukier, VP, Research & Innovation, Ryerson University : Faculty Advisor
Alexandra Hong, Marketing Assistant Ryerson University : Photographer
Nicole Bazuin, Ryerson Alumni, Image Arts, Ryerson University : Filmmaker
William Putz, Photography Student, Sheridan College : Photography

Madeleine Collective is an art and design collective creating participatory and collaborative art events, installations, and marketing campaigns that facilitate positive interactions and community ­building initiatives. Madeleine Collective has worked with a range of partners, including Ryerson University, Scotiabank Nuit Blanche, the Luminato Festival, Jane’s Walk, and Art of the Danforth to produce communication and learning tools that integrate interdisciplinary creative practices.

Ryerson University’s Diversity Institute works organizations to develop customized strategies, programming, and resources to promote new, interdisciplinary knowledge and practice about diversity with respect to gender, race/ethnicity, Aboriginal peoples, abilities and sexual orientation. Using an ecological model of change, the Diversity Institute is driving social innovation across sectors. Their action-oriented, evidence-based approach advances knowledge of the complex barriers faced by underrepresented groups, leading practices to effect change, and producing concrete results.