The Dalhousie Student Union’s (DSU) new equity and accessibility department is excited to start tackling some of the bigger issues on campus, including racism, sexism, homophobia and more.
Elise Boudreau Graham, the campaigns and partnerships coordinator, was tabling outside the Grawood leading up to Halloween with information on their costume campaign.
The mission? Discouraging cultural appropriation in Halloween costumes.
“It’s a lot to do with people not knowing,” says Graham, “and I think once it’s explained people understand. There’s so many options of things you could dress up as.”
She handed out treat bags that included a tip sheet on how to handle being called out for a culturally insensitive costume. Backup costumes were available for students whose outfits raised red flags.
“Something like this has never been addressed on our campus, or in public, in Halifax, ever, especially since I’ve been in Halifax,” says Ishika Sharma, DSU international representative.
The equity and accessibility department helped South House organize Take Back the Campus earlier this semester, a rally and march fighting sexual assault and rape culture. Graham loved the large turnout and speakers present at the rally.
Graham’s first concern is to support students in their current endeavours, and she’s already seeing a lot of “awesome work” happening at Dalhousie.
Graham encourages students to contact the equity and accessibility office if they have questions, concerns or suggestions. In the future, she’d like to have one-on-one coffees with students to talk about these things.
“Because I’m not a Dal student,” says Graham, “and Dal students know best what needs to be addressed on campus.”
Jillian Banfield, the communications and assessment coordinator, created a survey for student feedback about equity and accessibility issues on campus.
“We hear individual stories, but that’s not necessarily representative of student experiences,” says Banfield. The survey is live on the DSU website, and will be up for the next few months.
Equity and accessibility wants to reinstate the DSU’s ombudsperson, a position which was slashed last year due to budget cuts. The ombudsperson’s job is to be a neutral party for student concerns and direct students to the correct place to find solutions to their problems. Without the ombudsperson, students approach the equity and accessibility office for these redirections, which is not the department’s job.
Elise also wants to begin a poster campaign to increase student understanding of what oppressive terms are, and why they shouldn’t be used. The Unlearn campaign will be run by the equity and accessibility department with Dalhousie’s student associations. Each association will create content for posters related to the association’s concerns to help students understand what oppressive terms mean.
The poster content will change every two weeks to address different concerns, but the design will remain the same so people will know that it is still part of the campaign.
“[The associations] create this language so it’s not the office speaking for them,” Graham said.
The equity and accessibility office will be holding a town hall meeting in late November, focusing on issues of physical accessibility.
The time and location of the meeting will be announced at a later date.