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Students, faculty and staff paint the university’s rainbow and trans coloured crosswalks in 2019.

5 questions Jessica Scalzo hopes you’ll ask during Pride Month

June 16, 2020 | Society, Campus Life
Jessica Scalzo, program coordinator for the Centre for Sexual and Gender Diversity, doesn’t shy away from facilitating tough conversations and answering difficult questions.

Her entire focus is on finding ways to start discussions at MacEwan not only about sexual and gender diversity, but at every intersection in which students and faculty face oppression.

“Every conversation about every type of discrimination is important, because when you start to look at systems of oppression, you begin to see just how connected every type of discrimination is.,” says Scalzo. “The work we do must acknowledge that. The experiences of sexual and gender diverse people on campus reflect that reality.”

It’s why the Centre for Sexual and Gender Diversity is working closely with other services at MacEwan, including the Office of Human Rights, Diversity and Equity, to develop programming and resources for students, faculty and staff.

An important part of the centre’s work, says Jessica, includes answering questions from the MacEwan community. Here are five she says she would love for people to ask.

1. How can I best support friends, students and colleagues?

The best way to support others, says Jessica, is with your ears and your mind. “Listen and look for opportunities to learn all the time.”

At MacEwan, she says, you don’t have to look very far. The Centre for Sexual and Gender Diversity is building resources and opportunities for students, faculty and staff to deepen their knowledge and develop their allyship skills, including a brand new resource for managers supporting staff members who are transgender and gender diverse, fact sheets for quick reference of terms and resources, and plans for training sessions and workshops. Watch MacEwan.ca/CSGD for updates.

2. How do I ensure free speech while creating a safer space in my classroom?

Some conversations have legal, professional and ethical obligations. “We can help faculty members feel empowered to lead conversations that respect the rights of students, while ensuring that harm is not perpetuated against vulnerable students,” says Jessica.

3. How can I connect to people who understand my experience?

Jessica says this question has come up a lot in her conversations with students. “Students are very interested in connecting to the community and with each other – to be able to spend time with people who understand their experiences,” she says.

The centre can help connect students not only with services and organizations on campus – student groups, counselling, and more – but also in the broader community. “Once the centre has a physical space, we also hope to become a place where people can gather to form deeper connections.”

4. How do I make sure my course syllabus or curriculum is inclusive?

A course syllabus, says Jessica, is powerful, so staff at the centre are happy to offer an extra set of eyes to make sure they include diverse perspectives.

“Research shows that syllabi and curricula lacking diversity lead to two major problems: they can deter members of underrepresented groups whose experiences are not reflected in the course materials and they give the impression that overrepresented perspectives are somehow universal.”

A robust education, she adds, must include diverse voices and perspectives, so the centre has a role to play in advocating for more inclusive learning experiences.

5. I want to stand up and speak out when I witness discrimination, but I'm not sure how. Where can I start?

The first step, says Jessica, is recognizing that we all have learning to do. “Everyone is at a different place in their knowledge journeys, so if you do see something happening that shouldn’t be, we want you to feel empowered to intervene. A simple interruption with 'that’s not right' can be a powerful invitation for further conversation.”

Getting comfortable with taking action against hate, bias and discrimination is something the centre can help all members of the MacEwan community get more comfortable doing. “We can help students, faculty and staff learn not only to intervene, but to shape the follow-up conversations that can ultimately help create a campus that is safe and inclusive for everyone.”

Scalzo says she hopes people will ask each of these questions – and more – until there are none left to be asked or answered.

“When positions focused on anti-oppression no longer need to exist, when we live in a world where no one is shamed for or ashamed of their experience or identity, when we’ve moved from tolerance to acceptance, that’s when we’ll know our work is done.”

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