Fighting gender violence on campus

ConU against Gender & Queer Violence fights for systemic change on campus

Photo Maria Cholakova

Alex Francavilla, Clara Belzile, Bianca Cicci and Steve Kalaydjian were sitting in their Ethics in Community Engagement class, ready to present a project in front of their classmates and professors on pronouns and gender diversity.

Their personal experiences, along with the testimonies of other students, inspired the presentation. The students had noticed that in many of their classes, many professors weren’t sufficiently educated on how to respect the pronouns of queer students. 

The presentation prompted the group to create ConU against Gender and Queer Violence (CUAGQV), an organization on campus which aims to educate and highlight Concordia’s community on gender issues. They are also fighting for systemic change towards the safety of LGBTQIA2S+ students at Concordia. 

According to a nationwide poll of 3,700 LGBTQIA2S+ students featured in Plan Canada, 74 per cent of students reported having been verbally harassed about their gender expression, along with 64 per cent of LGBTQIA2S+ students feeling unsafe at school. 

CUAGQV was founded on Nov. 1, with their first Instagram post highlighting that Concordia’s gender-inclusive bathrooms had cameras. According to the organization, the cameras are a violation of all students' privacy and enforce anti-trans narratives, making trans students feel like they are watched. 

In order to get Concordia to remove the cameras, the organization drafted an open letter for students to sign. The letter also includes a list of other demands that would help the safety and comfort of queer students on campus. 

Their demands include an easier path to name changes on campus, the implementation of a gender-based grievance policy, anti-oppression department trainings, gender-neutral changing rooms in athletic facilities, the implementation of pronoun guidelines in syllabi, and the conversion of single-stall gendered restrooms to gender-neutral spaces—with amenities like menstrual product disposal bins and free menstrual products, along with signage focused on amenities rather than user identity for all bathrooms. 

When coming up with the list of demands, Kalaydjian empathized with the inclusive gender-neutral changing rooms, as it’s an issue close to their heart. “As somebody that is trans masc, using different pronouns than she/her, and somebody that is on a gendered team (the Concordia Stingers women’s rugby team), I don't mind changing with my teammates,” they said. “It's actually a part of the culture to change with your team, to get ready for the game with your team. But it's the fact that there is no option to [do so].” 

“It's not even having a changing room, but to have a private setting that's not gendered, where somebody does not have to pick boy or girl, where they can go in and just do what they need to do in a comfortable setting,” they continued. 

So far, the letter has been signed by 130 students and backed by 11 student groups on campus. CUAGQV is hoping to reach 200 signatures by December. To reach their goal, the organization is actively campaigning with posters and tabling. 

For Aspen Crick, a first-year Concordia student, it’s important to have organizations on campus that support the LGBTQIA2S+ community. “[Places like] the Centre for Gender Advocacy are crucial [for students] to be able to talk to other people within the community,” they said. 

Crick said that it is a blessing to see other queer people on campus and in classes, especially those who are vocal about it. 

According to Concordia’s spokesperson Vannina Maestracci, Concordia is working on making the campus as inclusive as possible. She said that “[w]hen large public bathrooms [...] need major renovations, our goal is to transform them into an inclusive bathroom. Because of their open design and location usually in spaces with a lot of traffic including from non-Concordians, these renovated bathrooms do have cameras that face the common space (i.e. sinks).” 

Currently, Concordia has nine gender-neutral bathrooms at the Sir George Williams campus and 50 single-stall bathrooms, most of which are wheelchair accessible and few which require an access card to enter.

Maestracci explained that Concordia aims to increase the number of inclusive bathrooms on campus. When asked if professors on campus are encouraged to respect pronouns, she replied, “Everyone, not just professors, is encouraged to respect people’s pronouns and their preferred name in their interactions with colleagues and students.”

This article originally appeared in Volume 44, Issue 7, published November 28, 2023.