By KYLIE KENDALL
Two months ago, Carleton student Arun Smith was informed by two fellow students that his picture, featuring extremely hateful and homophobic text, was being sent around the internet.
“I wasn’t alerted in a way saying ‘you should be really concerned about this,’” he said, “They said, essentially, ‘Put aside your indignations of political correctness and you might get a laugh.”
Of course, he did not get a laugh.
Smith reported the incident to the Ottawa Police, who are now investigating it as a hate crime, and Carleton University administration, who are working toward imposing sanctions to ensure that similar incidents are prevented.
Being actively involved in campus life at Carleton, Smith knew where to reach out for help, he says, but many do not have these resources. Many are suffering in silence.
“I was very, very scared and didn’t feel safe coming on campus,” he said, “but after working with my support group I realized that I do have a support system and still felt scared. Imagine people who don’t have access to these resources.”
Together with Youth Line, a lesbian gay bisexual transgendered (LGBT) support organization, the Canadian Federation of Students released a campaign on May 17 called Challenge Homophobia and Transphobia.
Inspired by what happened to him, and driven by his desire to ensure that no one would suffer the same intolerance, Smith decided to bring a chapter of the campaign to Carleton. He hopes that the campaign will spread awareness of the available resources to students who may be experiencing homophobia or transphobia at Carleton.
“We have to make sure that people aren’t suffering in silence and that people aren’t suffering at all,” he said.
The campaign is dedicated to educating students about homophobia, transphobia, what can be done to stop these forms of oppression, and the proper terminology related to LGBT issues.
It basically provides a tool kit which can be used by students to combat homophobia and transphobia, said Sarah Cooper, administrative coordinator for CUSA’s GLBTQ Centre.
Cooper said the Challenge Homophobia and Transphobia campaign is a good way to reach out to students and educate them about the important issues pertaining to homophobia and transphobia.
“University is a time in students’ lives where often and stereotypically a lot of changes take place,” she said, “so this is where people do a lot of growing, changing and adapting.”
For this reason, Cooper said, it is important to make sure support services are in place for students who may be struggling with internalized issues, and to educate both the people who are going through life changes and those around them.
“It’s easy to make fun of something you don’t understand, but as soon as you begin to understand it and you gain a stronger vocabulary, it’s harder for you to make those sorts of judgements,” she said.
The campaign was launched at Carleton on Thursday, May 24th. The first coalition meeting was held in the quad, and consisted of about 25 Carleton students, both undergrads and graduate students.
“We have a very diverse campus here, and we need to work to educate each other on what that diversity really means and how we can ensure that we connect with each other as equals,” said Elizabeth Whyte, a graduate student of Social Work at Carleton.
In addition to support for the coalition, support for Smith himself and dedication to ensuring that such oppression is prevented at Carleton was shown at the meeting.
“The recent events are shocking and unacceptable,” said Chloe Grace Foggarty-Bourget, a Masters of Applied Linguistics student at Carleton, referring to what happened to Smith in April. “I feel like it’s a shame for something like this to happen for the school to take a stand against it.”
The coalition meeting laid out some long term and short term goals for the upcoming school year. The obvious overall long term goal was to end homophobia and transphobia at Carleton, and the short term goals included means by which this could be achieved.
“I’d like to see homophobia and transphobia on campus stopped, but I know that’s not going to happen tomorrow,” Smith said, “so I want people to become more educated.”
Some short term goals included a twenty-four hour health and crisis line, promotion of the campaign starting at undergraduate orientation in the fall, and gender-neutral washrooms around campus.
Gaining the support of CUSA, the Rideau River Residence Association (RRRA), and various clubs and societies at Carleton would also aid in achieving the ultimate long term goal. One way students involved in these organizations can show their support is by writing letters to their executives stating that they support the Challenge Homophobia and Transphobia campaign.
“Not everyone identifies with the LGBTQ community, but for those who don’t, there’s always room to be an ally,” Smith said.
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