Sexism still present on campus

From group projects to clubs, Queen's isn't immune to this issue

Since universities essentially act as small microcosms of society, they often come with many of the same issues and problems present outside these walls. 

Often composed of a younger, more “liberal” demographic, it can be easy to think these issues aren’t as prevalent within our own communities. It’s tempting to limit conversations surrounding gender equity and sexual harassment to the workplaces and professional settings outside of our campus. 

However, the reality is that the navigation of such topics and situations begins much earlier, especially for women. Whether it be through group work, extra-curriculars or paid work on campus, sexism and harassment are ever-present in both subtle and overt ways at Queen’s. 

As a Commerce student, I have yet to be enrolled in a class that doesn’t require some type of group work. The vast majority of these experiences have been positive. 

Despite this, I’ve been questioned more — especially on quantitative elements — and been talked over by my male colleagues on a much more frequent basis than I ever thought I would. There’s a certain commiserating look you get from the only other women in the room when your male colleague is applauded for repeating the exact same thing you said two minutes earlier. 

Sometimes, these experiences are much more overt, with two of my own immediately coming to mind. Once, in second year, I spent an hour debating whether a “harmless” joke about women as gold-diggers was offensive or not. This year, I found myself arguing that the biological act of having children doesn’t pre-dispose women to have less ambition, or desire, to climb up the ranks in the workplace. 

In these moments, I had the choice to either argue with my — mostly male — colleagues about whether or not women are biologically less ambitious or be the only person in the room arguing against perpetuating harmful stereotypes. Either way, these are the moments that make me question whether I’ll ever be perceived as an equal.

This kind of toxic culture gets worse in more boisterous environments like Model United Nations. During my five years of competing across the North American conference circuit — including time spent at Harvard National Model United Nations to McGill’s version of the conference — I saw firsthand that these issues aren’t limited to Queen’s. 

In fact, at a conference in Toronto just a few months ago, the executive had to come in and speak to each committee about respecting female delegates during debates. As a result, moderators — both male and female — have had to be removed from their positions or spoken to because of inappropriate comments or behaviour towards delegates across conferences. Within debate itself, I’ve seen first-hand the ways that women are continuously talked over, pushed out and are quick to be labelled a “bitch” if they dare to be an aggressive competitor. 

Not to mention if women dare to win, jokes about trading sexual favours for an award are easily thrown around. 

The subtlety of these kinds of incidents makes them difficult to explain to those who haven’t experienced them. It becomes even more difficult in traditionally male-dominated fields. Although it seems like I’m talking about the “real” world, this perception extends to Queen’s as well. 

In a school where more than half the population are female-identified students, the majority of positions in technology, entrepreneurship and finance clubs continue to be dominated by men. If there are concerted efforts to change this outside of our campus, shouldn’t we take an internal look and ask ourselves why the numbers of women in leadership roles are still so low at Queen’s? 

So where do we go from here? We can start by acknowledging the problem and looking seriously at the ways we’ve perpetuated these behaviours and attitudes. Some of us will have to deal with situations in which we have a lack of understanding, training or context. In those instances, it’s okay to not know exactly what to do and instead ask for help, listen and learn. 

We can’t forget that we have the ability to make small individual changes that will hopefully have a ripple effect. It begins with our recruiting and hiring processes. We can’t only support truly exceptional female (or of any other marginalized group) candidates. Rather, we must make a concerted effort to diversify and widen our field of applicants, participants, mentors and judges. 

By virtue of having more women in the room, clubs open up their networks and ensure no one forgets to think about representation or to invite a female mentor or speaker amongst 20 male ones. During my term at QIAA, we introduced bystander intervention training for all executive members because of several incidents within the club.

It doesn’t even have to be this. It can even be as simple as acknowledging that we work in male-dominated fields and that we make sure to go out of our way to not perpetuate inequities because that’s “the way it is.”

We need to work to change all of this. It can’t remain an issue that only women speak on or act on — it’s critically important that male leaders treat with just as much gravitas. It’s time we begin to have this conversation and start making changes.

Hana is currently the Market Research Manager of the AMS and is a Tri-Colour Award Recipient. She’s a fifth-year Commerce student. 

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