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Healthy Campus Community Champion
SFSS Out On Campus Awarded as a Healthy Campus Community Champion
By Melissa Lafrance (she/her) & Ashley Brooks (he/him)
OOC is the hub for anything related to gender diversity and sexual identity at SFU. As the only resource center serving the needs of students, staff, and faculty who identify as LGBTQIA2S+ and their allies, OOC has made important contributions to SFU’s Healthy Campus Community.
OOC’s nomination highlights its collective efforts in supporting the health and wellbeing of the SFU community. It has provided peer support, regular programming, as well as consultations and advocacy for systemic and social change. Through partnerships with SVSPO and HCS, various initiatives and support groups have been created, bringing a necessary advocacy voice to building more inclusive communities for LGBTQIA2S+ members.
With a long history starting back in 1972, OOC exists today because of countless volunteers and organizers. Initiatives are student-led and, thanks to monetary funding from the SFSS and GSS, OOC has been able to compensate its staff since 1999. Its endeavors are mandated by a tripartite model which promotes connected and collaborative campus communities, personal growth, advocacy, and political resistance. These guiding principles directly impact the health and well-being of LGBTQIA2S+ students and their allies by:
- Connecting students with each other and reducing feelings of isolation and exclusion;
- Providing diverse extracurricular opportunities to enhance students’ university experience;
- Amplifying and targeting student concerns to ensure their voices are heard; and
- Directly challenging actions and actors who inflict harm.
Ashley Brooks, Out On Campus’ Coordinator, believes that one of OOC’s biggest impacts is connecting students with each other. “Being queer and attending university can both be incredibly isolating and a confusing experiences. If you don’t feel safe you can’t learn. University is a particularly precarious time, it’s the first opportunity when students can become independent and figure things out. They intersect so much with queer identities and can impact their well-being tremendously,” said Brooks.
Out On Campus really excels at creating initiatives for students to connect, especially in ways that feel safe and authentic. Despite moving to remote delivery during the pandemic, it continues to hold open houses, which introduce students to OOC's services and their fellow peers; speed friending, which allows students to meet new people in a short period of time; and other weekly events that connect LGBTQIA2S+ students through shared experiences and interests.
OOC has been creating safe spaces and opportunities for students to be their authentic selves, without judgment, policing or editing. Since launching its Discord server in April of 2020, over 200 students have joined and virtually connected with others, reached out for advice and peer support, and participated in events. One of the participating students shared "this has been the best club experience I've had in the 3 post-secondary institutions I've attended", Anita Shen (they/them), an Education student with minors in Indigenous Studies and English.
“Students can feel safe knowing that they can come as they are and that their needs and boundaries will be honoured. This is incredibly valuable on campuses where students must continually prove themselves worthy of grades, support services, grants and scholarships, etc. No such qualifications exist for us – all students are worthy of having their needs met. This applies even to our most basic needs for safety,” added Brooks.
Aiming to enhance a safe campus environment, in 2019, OOC and SFU students launched #WeJustNeedToPee, a poster campaign highlighting the needs of trans and gender-diverse folk of feeling safe in gendered washrooms on campus. This was well-received by students, staff, and faculty, something OOC is extremely proud of.
Through awareness and advocacy efforts, OOC has become a widely trusted resource at SFU for students, staff, and faculty, in providing consultation and guidance related to LGBTQIA2S+ health and well-being. Additionally, they have been able to influence processes and teaching practices to move towards inclusivity. “We’ve vastly expanded our campus presence in the last two years and developed relationships with staff and faculty across SFU. This has been highly impactful as it has offered us opportunities to share information (e.g., upcoming training opportunities), identify areas of collaboration, and flex our influence at SFU to effect positive changes for students. I’ve become increasingly aware of the need to support myself in the work. I’ve become much more intentional about engaging with and developing a community of practice and forming relationships with staff that are not purely business-driven, but exist to provide mutual support to each other as individuals who do incredibly challenging work,” said Brooks.