Last March in Somerville House, an early-morning Canadian politics tutorial was discussing the hot-button issue of race in Canada. As with most contentious issues, someone said something that raised eyebrows. When discussing the higher rate of incarceration for black Canadians, a student chalked it up to their 'different cultures.'
Third-year political science major and history minor Mackenzie Claggett was readying his rebuttal.
"So I kind of lost it," he recalls. "This is very much evidence that these racist beliefs still hold some legitimacy in students and I was just trying to explain that white culture can be violent too. How many little white boys play Call of Duty by the age of five and they blow shit up? It's not because black culture is inherently violent."
For Mackenzie, these type of discussions are what he's most passionate about.
"School is basically my life," he says. "I was reading other profiles from the Gazette and I thought, 'Oh, these people have cool sports or cool interests' but honestly, I love what I study."
This wasn't always the case though. For most of his life, Mackenzie set his sights on becoming a doctor. The Caledon native even applied to Western for medical science before making a last-minute switch to political science — a week before the final deadline.
After his science-heavy first semester of grade 12, he discovered he was passionate about social sciences and enrolled in courses like law and politics for the first time. After a philosophy teacher introduced him to Michel Foucault's theories, he realized he had made a good decision.
Mackenzie says the openness of the discipline is also what led to the switch.
"I felt like there was a level of inquiry that was possible in social science — that was radical in social science — that science doesn't allow you to do," he explains.
It turned out to be a good change. Since coming to Western, Mackenzie has been on the Dean's Honor List in his first two years and won a number of awards for academic achievement including the Andrew Grant Scholarship in Second Year Political Science — awarded to the student with the highest standing seeking an honours specialization in political science.
Despite the success, he doesn't like to get bogged down in a self-congratulatory attitude, instead he concentrates on the next reading or book for his courses.
He even takes to Twitter to share his thoughts on them, detailing what he's scanning through or offering up commentary alongside screenshots of text. While a lot of students take to Richmond Row on their Friday night, this past weekend, Mackenzie was engulfed in learning more about society.
"Night reading: Aihwa Ong's theory of cultural citizenship & its application to indigenous mascots," he tweeted from his handle @
But what about when he's not laser-focused on his studies?
"If I'm not working or volunteering, I'm watching Netflix or sleeping," Mackenzie says with a laugh. He points out Mad Men, all of Shonda Rhimes' shows and Game of Thrones as some of his favourites.
"I'm going to sound like Viola Davis," he jokes when asked what kind of stories he likes. "Average individuals who you wouldn't expect to do anything that would make history but their strength and their willingness to continue on despite the odds is amazing."
Mackenzie insists that the human stories in history and political science are what keep him so engaged in his research.
"No matter if it's a TV show or academia, I need a good story and then those stories inspire me to write more about them."