UR Pride centre plans campaign to make campus spaces more inclusive
Devin R. Heroux
Some call it the hall of shame. The long walk up 28 stairs towards the dimly lit hallway is considered daunting for those who dare to do it. At the end of the dark hall sits the UR Pride Centre. A small sign hangs above the door: UR Pride Centre, Director Lisa Smith. Dan Shier remembers the first time he made the long walk.
"You were either heading to the Women’s Centre, Pride Centre, or Health and Dental," recalls Shier. "The Women’s Centre was clearly visible, so once you passed that you knew you were going to the Pride Centre because nobody goes to Health and Dental."
Three years ago Shier entered the Centre mainly out of curiosity. He knew that places like this existed but never had the chance to visit one at his high school in Regina. After his first year at the University of Regina studying visual arts with a focus in print media, Shier stumbled upon an advertisement on Facebook alerting U of R students about an opportunity at the Pride Centre. They needed a graphic designer. Shier didn’t think twice.
"That was the real reason I first came in. Then once I realized it was a safe place with great people I started coming every day," said Shier. "I took a big breath and popped into the lounge."
Since then Shier has been updating the UR Pride website and has become a social media master, tweeting and Facebook updating everything the Pride Centre is doing. He even has statistics that show how many users are on the UR Pride Facebook page on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis.
And his social media campaign seems to be working. In December fewer than 200 people viewed the Facebook page. As of Mar. 20 over 500 people had viewed the page. The Pride Centre Twitter has 226 followers, is following 384 people, and has made 218 tweets. The message is getting out there.
"A lot of people are starting to know who we are through our social media. It’s about marketing," said Shier. "In the end I want this to be a place that isn’t thought of as that room down the hallway."
Busy trying to change the Centre’s atmosphere and influence is director Lisa Smith. But it isn’t easy. Between answering anywhere from 30 to 50 emails daily, sitting in board meetings, and speaking to classes around the University, Smith’s time is limited.
"It’s really sad actually. I’m always working," says Smith. "When I go out to the gay bar I usually end up in a work situation. I just don’t go out much anymore."
When Smith first started coming to the Pride Centre four years ago there were a lot of things she didn’t like about it. The Centre felt restricted to a small group of people, a feeling shared by many in the Gay and Lesbian community at the university.
"In the past there was definitely a hierarchy. It was cliquey and hard to break in,î says Smith. ìSo when I became director that was my goal, to make it accessible to everyone."
Lately "everyone" isn’t all that much. Anywhere from two to 15 people will visit the Centre daily. And while Facebook numbers are going up, actual attendance is going down. Fifteen people at the Centre daily is considered good attendance these days, with seven to 10 of those people regulars. Smith is concerned about the perception of the Centre on campus.
"There’s a stigma, I’m sure. I mean there has to be. If there wasn’t, there would be more people here I’m sure. So there must be."
With over 1,300 books with titles like Our Right to Love, Straight Jobs – Gay Lives, and Lesbian Ethics, the room is a walking encyclopedia of gender identity information. There are over 300 different pamphlets people can pick up ranging from safe-sex practices to issues relating to STIs. While there are many resources, Smith realizes that the Centre is a different place for difference reasons to everyone.
"There’s people here that just need support," says Smith. "We’re not pushing anyone to join the gay parade yet. We’re just here to provide a safe place, and a feeling that they can belong."
As a part of that belonging UR Pride is launching a campus-wide Positive Space Network this semester. The PSN bring together a network of allied individuals and organizations that support gay rights on campus. The program is certificate-based and requires individuals and groups wishing to display the logo to participate in sensitivity training workshops in order to qualify. Smith is optimistic about the spin-off this might have for the Pride Centre.
"We’ve got support from everyone. The president wrote a letter of support, the students’ union is on board, and professors have had nothing but good things to say."
And both Shier and Smith hope the support continues. In the meantime they will both continue to make that long walk up the stairs and down the hallway. A click of the mouse can provide the same sense of belonging but it will never replace that personal connection people feel when they visit the Pride Centre.
"It’s a fun space, safe space, with great people," says Shier. "There are a lot of misconceptions that this is just a gay place but it’s for everyone under the rainbow."