25
September
2014
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20:18
America/Tegucigalpa

Creating a safe and inclusive campus

New services and events help ensure entire campus community feels safe and supported at UAlberta.

By BRYAN ALARY

(Edmonton) The Landing will not set any square-footage records on campus. But within its walls—tucked away in the basement of the Students’ Union Building—is one of the safest, most welcoming places at the University of Alberta.

The Landing’s existence is far more than symbolic, and owes itself to years of effort to provide a safe space for all U of A students—regardless of sexual or gender identity. Since it opened in July, more than 120 students have dropped by, said Parker Leflar, program manager with the Landing.

“Students are telling us this space is so valuable to them and they appreciate that it finally exists on campus,” Leflar said. “The reactions overall from students, staff and community members have been completely positive.”

The space complements existing U of A services and organizations such as the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services and OUTreach, the queer social group—something Leflar jokingly calls “the trifecta of awesome.”

Alexis Hillyard, sexual and gender minority equity adviser with ISMSS, said the U of A is making gains to improve and expand gender-inclusive support, services and practices, from providing gender-inclusive washrooms and housing to creating a physical safe space that improves the overall student experience.

“It’s important to provide those services to students at all levels to ensure you’re coming at it from all angles,” said Hillyard.

The Landing includes a drop-in lounge area for students, faculty or staff—a place to gather, meet, do homework or just relax—plus office space, said Leflar. An Oct. 1 launch party will formally celebrate the new space. The next day, the Landing will start Rainbow Peers—a peer-to-peer mentorship group that provides an opportunity for students to meet peers working through issues of gender and sexual identity.

Selena Arcovio, president with OUTreach, said the Landing fills a critical role for students in need of support—services OUTreach and its 150 members do not offer. “We’re not trained for that, but we did get the brunt of those requests,” Arcovio explained.

Seeing the completed space is the fulfilment of years or work for Linh Lu, OUTreach’s past president and a current executive with the U of A’s Alumni Pride Chapter.

Lu, who identifies as gender queer, neither male nor female, said work planning the Landing dates back several years when the idea came up during a students’ union election campaign. It also coincided with iSMSS’s landmark 2013 Safe Spaces Climate report that showed attitudes about gender and sexual diversity were changing on campus. Planned renovations to SUB physically made creating the space possible.

“It was a time for opportunity, a time to act,” said Lu. “It’s turned into something that is so amazing and floors me to this day. Having that physical space is a big deal—it shows that the LGBTTQQPIA+ community does exist, that we are supported. I’m glad the Students’ Union put the time and the work into this cause.”

Rainbow Welcome

Creating safe spaces and promoting inclusivity is one of the main goals of Rainbow Welcome, a series of LGBTQ+ events hosted by the Landing, OUTreach and iSMSS.

“Rainbow Welcome is a way to bring the idea and celebration of Pride Week into the fall term, to continue that celebration at the start of the year,” said Hillyard.

Rainbow Welcome kicked off last week with the first talk of the Inside/OUT Speakers’ Series, now in its 12th year on campus with monthly discussions and events featuring queer-related research and work at the U of A. On Sept. 25, iSMSS and the Landing host a book launch party featuring Toronto-based artist Vivek Shraya, author of She of the Mountains.

Rainbow Welcome events

Sept. 25: She of the Mountains book launch by Toronto-based artist Vivek Shraya (iSMSS, The Landing)

Sept. 29–Oct. 3: Washroom Awareness Week (The Landing, iSMSS, OUTreach)

Oct. 1: The Landing Launch Party (The Landing)

Oct. 16: Inside/OUT Speaker Series: “Teachers’ Resistance to LGBT Literature and Issues” (iSMSS)

Oct. 29: Cake Day: Asexuality Awareness (The Landing)

Dec. 4: Inside/OUT Speaker Series: "Abundantly Invisible: Fat Oppression as a Framework for Sexual Violence Against Women" by Melissa Fabrizio, Landing volunteer (iSMSS)

Sept. 29 to Oct. 3 is Washroom Awareness Week, organized to raise awareness about washroom accessibility at the U of A by promoting the all-gender washroom campus map on social media. Students, faculty or staff can win a prize by taking a selfie outside a washroom door.

Hillyard said using a washroom safely and with dignity is a basic right of all people, yet trans and non-binary individuals often experience emotional abuse and harassment when entering gender-segregated washrooms.

“Washroom accessibility is a growing area of concern on U of A campuses,” said Hillyard. “The university is taking steps to address this gap in washroom accessibility and increase washroom equity on our campuses.”

In much the same way, Residence Services offers gender-inclusive housing as an option to provide students with safe, comfortable housing regardless of their sex, gender, gender identity or gender expression.

Since joining OUTreach two years ago, Arcovio has noticed the campus community moving in a positive direction in terms of gender and sexual inclusivity, but says there is still quite a lot of work to accomplish to change more attitudes and provide a safer atmosphere across campuses.

OUTreach would like to see even more queer social spaces on campus and greater emphasis given to diversity during orientation, when students can feel isolated. More safe-spaces training for faculty would also go a long way toward ensuring all students feel included.

“This will be a hard thing to change and this will take years. But even subtle changes in language could make students feel more welcome and accepted,” Arcovio said.

UAPS creates sexual and gender minority community liaison officer

One addition that should help decrease isolation was the creation of a sexual and gender minority community liaison officer with U of A Protective Services.

 

The position was created this past summer at the request of Hillyard and iSMSS to provide a means of raising any safety or security concerns or questions related to sexual orientation and gender identity. Having such a visible position on campus is like a “gateway” to a more accepting institution, she said.

“The amount of support and ‘yeses’ we’ve received from this institution has been incredible. That hasn’t always been expected, but it has been great to see.”

Stephanie Hartwig has been a community liaison officer with UAPS for three years, in the past helping out with events such as being the parade marshal for Pride Week. UAPS agreed there was a need to have a clearly identifiable officer available whom anyone in the community could feel comfortable approaching, and “I wanted to learn and help more,” Hartwig said.

“We want people from the community to know we are on their side, that we are non-judgmental,” she said.

Based in Lister Centre, Hartwig said she has undergone training related to sexual orientation and gender identity, but noted that most of the issues she encounters are the same as any student might face, whether it’s being involved in an altercation, struggling with mental health issues, having conflicts with roommates or being in a crisis situation.

“The issues are the same, but some people are very guarded and protected about their personal life. They don’t know if they can trust or divulge all that information to an officer. With this role, we are saying, ‘We fully understand your situation.’”