OUT & About
Before we begin, I understand that I signed off last time under the assumption that I wouldn’t be writing another blog until after the Home County festival; however, an event happened recently on campus that I felt was too good to pass up on.
This past Monday, Western’s Equity & Human Rights Services department along with representatives from across campus, put together an event called “OUT in the Sun” in recognition of Western’s commitment to being an inclusive campus and to show support for members of the LGBTQ2S+ community. Although the event was relatively short--with it really only lasting an hour or so--it still managed to draw a big crowd.
The event started with a speech from none other than Western’s new president Dr. Alan Shepard, addressing his excitement to start working with the university and how important it is to create a safe & inclusive campus. He also noted that he is the first “out” President at Western! Following other speeches from the USC & SOGS’ Presidents & the President of the London Pride Committee was the highly-anticipated raising of the Rainbow Flag on Concrete Beach, which was met with applause from every individual in attendance. While everyone attending the event was treating themselves to complimentary ice cream, popsicles, and photo opportunities, I managed to grab an interview with Lesley Oliver, the Diversity & Accessibility Coordinator for Equity & Human Rights Services. Oliver was gracious enough to tell me a little bit about what her department does, and why it’s so vital to Western’s campus culture.
For those who don’t know about you, your department, or the OUT in the Sun event, can you tell us a little about who you are and what OUT in the Sun is all about?
Lesley Oliver: “We [Equity & Human Rights Services] raise awareness about all sorts of diversity, accessibility, employment equity issues, we provide training and consultation. Also, my colleagues meet with individuals who feel that they have experienced discrimination or harrassment; that’s what our office does. We definitely have fun job coordinating events like [OUT in the Sun]. The OUT in the Sun event is the way Western kicks off our Pride events and our involvement in the greater London community leading up to the London Pride Parade. Today marks the day where we raise the Rainbow Flag, campus leaders speak about the importance of Pride and some of the challenges that we still face today, and then we celebrate, share refreshments and treats, and just kind of get people to come out and meet one another.”
What do you think events like OUT in the Sun do for Western’s cultural landscape?
“Well, what we hope is that it sends a message that we’re an inclusive campus and [hopefully] it sends a message to anybody who’s perhaps questioning [whether] there is space here [for them]. [We want them to know] they are welcomed, their input is welcomed, and that we care about them and their wellbeing.
Have you seen a rise in participation from non-LGBTQ2S+ members looking to be allies?
“Yes, I see that more so with our Lunch & Learn opportunities [sessions where, typically, participants enjoy their meal while listening to and engaging with presenters on a wide array of topics]. We have people who come out and they ask questions, specifically “How can I be an ally?”, “How can I make our faculty...or our academic counselling area a safe space?” So we definitely see an increase in participants with our informative Lunch & Learns & workshops and this event [OUT in the Sun], as well. We don’t really identify who’s from the community and who identifies as an ally; we want everybody out. We do see more participation, more events--even this year we’ve got the Pride Library hosting a free movie, we’ve got the Western Pride Games from the Wellness Team. So we see people getting involved [by] offering and coordinating more events.”
Do you think the rise in representation of LGBTQ2S+ community in media (music, tv, movies, etc.) has a positive impact on students?
“Absolutely. I think everybody needs to see themselves reflected in their community, in their leaders, in their faculty, in their academic counselors, in their student government--everywhere. It just creates a safer space, and it sends the message, again, that this space is open to them and they’re valued in it. Especially for, perhaps, international students or first-year students who are discovering their sexual orientation or identity, hopefully it gives them the security to find the resources that might be helpful to them.”
Can you tell those students about some of the clubs, resources, and/or services that might be available to them if they’d like to find out more information?
“Oh absolutely. USC has a number of clubs; SOGS [Society Of Graduate Students] is very supportive, [they] have a Pride commissioner and this year the commissioner, Brody [Clement-Thorne], is also very involved in the leadership of the EngiQueer group of students. They can come to Equity & Human Rights Services or they can go online and look up student clubs; Pride Western, Spectrum UWO, and Ally Western are all very strong student groups that engage the community in social events as well as learning opportunities. Radio Western also has a show--it’s the longest running show in London… for the LGBTQ2S community [Rainbow Radio, on air Mondays 10pm-12am].”
Moving forward, what steps are being taken to continue to promote inclusivity on campus?
“I think the one issue I struggle with is [that] we want to be engaged and we want to support Pride London, but obviously in the summer most of the students are missing. So I think the next step would be to have a repeat of all these great events during the academic year when the students [return], and we want to maybe just redo this again!”
If you’d like to visit the wonderful people over at Equity & Human Rights Services for more information, they are located at 2319 Sommerville House, right below The Great Hall and across from the Weldon Library. You can reach Lesley at firstname.lastname@example.org for any further questions or concerns as well, and you can check out future events on their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/westernuehrs/.
That’s it for me this week (I promise this time). You can catch me at the Home County Festival this weekend from July 19th - July 21st. If there’s a festival that you’d like to see me at, send me an email at email@example.com !