Frosh Week fumbles on inclusion issues

Homophobic comments directed at Queen’s Pride Project booth raise concerns of inclusivity on campus

Queen’s Pride Project social co-ordinator Andrea Chan overheard a Gael make an inappropriate comment about their booth at the Queen’s in the Park event last Wednesday.
Queen’s Pride Project social co-ordinator Andrea Chan overheard a Gael make an inappropriate comment about their booth at the Queen’s in the Park event last Wednesday.
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Not everyone was treated to a welcoming and inclusive environment during orientation.

Last Wednesday, Andrea Chan, Queen’s Pride Project (QPP) social co-ordinator and ArtSci ’10, was at the Queen’s in the Park event in City Park when a frosh group approached her QPP booth.

“A Gael walks past with some of her frosh behind her and she looked at us and kind of whispered, ‘Are there any homosexuals in our group? No? Moving on,’” Chan said. “She said it in a condescending tone, like, ‘Haha, gay club.’”

She said QPP reported the incident to the event organizers and two members of ASUS’s Orientation Committee.

QPP hosts events during the year to create safe spaces for people who identify as queer and organizes Pride Week in mid-March.

Frosh leaders represent the University and comments like this could make people think Queen’s isn’t gay-friendly, she said.

“People don’t realize they’re hurting other people and just laugh it up,” Chan said. “A lot of students are privileged, white heterosexuals, so it’s very easy to talk in an ignorant way because it won’t lead to consequences.”

Incidents like this are fairly common during the year, she said.

Last year, Chan was walking on the street when two men yelled “Fucking dyke” at her from a car window.

She said she hopes the University will take a closer look at human rights issues that come up during Frosh Week because they set the tone for the year.

“Others heard [the Gael],” she said. “There’s always a chance that one of her frosh is a closeted gay.”

Chan said she didn’t come out in first year because she was scared of the reaction she might get.

“I got the vibe that people might judge,” she said. “I’m really disappointed that three years have passed and nothing has changed.”

The Gael who made the comment is writing a letter of apology to QPP, Head Gael Kelsey Newhook said. Newhook wouldn’t release the name of the Gael.

Orientation Round Table (ORT) co-ordinator David Chou said all orientation leaders sign a contract that prohibits them from making discriminatory comments.

They also receive anti-oppression training from the Human Rights Office and the AMS Social Issues Commission. The training covers topics such as intentional and unintentional oppression, individual and systemic oppression and how to recognize and stop such behaviour, he said.

The Gael violated the contract, Chou said, adding that the ORT then has the authority to do one of a number of things.

The ORT may de-leader the offending party, ask him or her to write a letter of apology to the complainant or refer the matter to Queen’s non-academic discipline for violations of the Student Code of Conduct, he said.

The incident isn’t reflective of Frosh Week or Queen’s, he said.

“We’ve made incredible strides in making Frosh Week a welcoming environment,” he said. “We’re working diligently to make sure these incidents don’t happen again.”

“We haven’t done our review yet so I wouldn’t be able to tell you what we’re going to do,” he said, adding that an incident such as this often indicates the need for more specific training.

QPP is filing a complaint with the Human Rights Office, Chan said.

There are two types of complaints a person can file, Human Rights Office Associate Director Stephanie Simpson said.

An informal complaint allows a person to speak with an advisor and receive suggestions on coming to a resolution.

“It’s not unusual for a person who has harassed or discriminated not to realize the impact of their actions,” Simpson said. “People who have inadvertently harassed and discriminated are usually apologetic and are willing to work with the office and the offended community to restore the environment.”

An informal complaint can be dealt with quickly, she said.

A formal complaint involves assembling a complaint board made up of three people, chosen based on their ability to hear the case without bias, the Human Rights Office website says.

AMS Social Issues Commissioner Samantha Boyce said she believes this type of harassment is common.

“Students think human rights are unimportant if they aren’t directly affected,” she said. “It’s downright disrespectful and has the ability to exclude, marginalize and objectify people.”

To marginalize or objectify someone means to make the person the marginalization is directed at feel as though they have less worth, are unsafe and are unwelcome, she said.

“Frosh Week has come a long way but still has leaps and bounds to improve in terms of equity issues,” Boyce said. “It needs to be looked at with a critical eye from a human rights standpoint to understand the consequences.”

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