The semi-positive space program

Holes in Queen’s positive space training hinders its overall effectiveness 

Michelle Allan points out flaws in positive space training on campus.
While the EQuIP and Positive Space programs at Queen’s are both valuable student resources, the positive space training itself needs an upgrade if it’s going to make a lasting impact on student leaders.
 
The Education on Queer Issues Project (EQuIP) is a student-run organization under the Social Issues Commission of the AMS. It aims to foster tolerance of sexual and gender identities at Queen’s. Founded in 1999, it co-sponsors the Queen’s Positive Space Program, which trains students in “making sure all members of the Queen’s community are affirmed and supported”.
 
The first time I publicly came out, I was playing board games with my floormates in the Harkness Hall basement. I was only a few weeks into first year, but I felt comforted enough to casually mention that I wasn’t straight. 
 
The stark contrast between the small town, staunchly Catholic environment of my childhood and a moderately progressive university with little rainbow triangles plastered on every laptop, dorm entrance, and office door gave me a feeling of assurance I’d never experienced to this degree before — an assurance that I wasn’t putting myself in danger by having my romantic orientation in public domain. 
 
In the religion courses at my Catholic high school, homophobia was never condemned. It was sometimes even outwardly practiced or encouraged by both students and teachers. 
 
When I saw the pride sticker in the front window of the admissions office at the end of my Queen’s campus tour, it felt like a beacon of hope. While I was prepared to keep my head down amidst intolerance at whatever university I ended up choosing, knowing that Queen’s publicly advocates for their queer students made me feel like I made the right postsecondary decision.
 
Throughout my first year, I noticed pieces of the positive space program ingrained in many aspects of my life at Queen’s.  It was like a gentle, constant reminder that I am welcome here.  
 
When I had the opportunity to take the training offered by the Positive Space program, I jumped at the chance.
 
However, it wasn’t exactly the experience I thought it would be.
I showed up excited to learn more about queer issues and become a better ally to marginalized peoples. 
 
I left with a handful of stickers certifying my completion of the program and a sense of disappointment. 
 
The whole course consisted of a slideshow of random definitions and symbols I could have found in five minutes on Google, and didn’t really delve into any issues beyond surface level.  
 
We weren’t required to prove that we learned anything, and the curriculum was almost entirely limited to words we shouldn’t use. 
 
While a list of terminology that is generally considered wildly offensive could be useful to some people, being a good ally to marginalized groups requires a little more than limiting your slurs. 
 
The program could be more effective if it fostered a more comprehensive understanding of oppression. 
 
While compressing the concepts of sexism, cissexism, racism, and homophobia, and other forms of prejudice into a two hour seminar is a nigh-impossible task, Queen’s owes it to both marginalized and non-marginalized students to at least try — it would have a greater impact on students than arbitrary vocabulary policing. 
 
Even explaining the origin and cultural context behind a slur to students would be more effective than the current slideshow of definitions that forms the safe space program.   
Additionally, the program would feel a little more genuine if the instructors were selected more appropriately. 
 
When we were doing the module on the difficulties trans and genderqueer people face in school, a lot of us asked questions. Our instructor, although clearly very intelligent and passionate about the Positive Space program, lacked the knowledge to provide adequate answers. 
 
Like everyone else in the room, she was cisgender. None of us had the right information or resources to provide any valid training. Just as Queen’s wouldn’t have a Russian Literature course taught by someone who’s never read Nabokov, it shouldn’t delegate people who have never experienced racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia to serve as an authority on any of these topics. 
 
Give us the tools to think for ourselves instead of giving us a list of socially acceptable terms to parrot — the Queen’s community will be better off for it. 
 
Michelle is a third-year English major and Jewish Studies minor.
 

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