June is Pride Month, and over the next few weeks, U of T Engineering will be rolling out a new suite of materials that highlight the Faculty’s commitment to being a positive, welcoming space for everyone, including 2SLGBTQIA+ individuals.
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, people were away from campus for a long time,” says Professor Dionne Aleman (MIE), co-chair of the Engineering Positive Space committee.
“As they return and everything is now happening in person, it’s a good time to strengthen the ways in which we show positivity and inclusivity in all our spaces.”
Founded in 2010, Engineering Positive Space is an informal group of students, staff and faculty who work together to make U of T Engineering a place where everyone in our diverse community can, as much as possible, feel at home. The group meets a few times each year to discuss current issues and support events such as Pink Shirt Day and Toronto Pride.
U of T Engineering is committed to fostering an environment in which each member of our community can excel, contribute and benefit from different perspectives. The aim is to build a community that reflects the society we serve.
“Positive space for an artist is where they want to draw your eye to something of interest, a focus in their artwork,” says Marisa Sterling, Assistant Dean and Director of Diversity, Inclusion and Professionalism at U of T Engineering.
“It is a great analogy to the Positive Space initiative that sees and hears the 2SLGBTQIA+ community. Sexual and gender diversity has been discriminated against, stigmatized and silenced in society and in the Faculty. To embrace Positive Spaces is one way the Faculty can work towards becoming an inclusive school where everyone can feel they belong.”
“When you receive a decal, make a decision to be actively anti-discriminatory by placing it in your space,” says Sterling.
“When you see a poster, please reflect on the 1969 Stonewall Uprising in Manhattan, New York, USA and educate yourself on how this event was a tipping point for the recognition of 2SLGBTQ+ people, the commemoration of their impact and the movement to outlaw discriminatory laws.”
The campaign also includes gender pronoun buttons that can be ordered for free through the Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Professionalism.
“When you see a button, please respect the chosen gender expression of that person and use the pronouns they chose. Wear your own pronoun button to tell people how you identify, to normalize pronoun choice and destigmatize gender expression.”
The U of T Engineering Equity, Diversity and Inclusion page lists many resources for community members to learn more about discrimination, bias and their effects, such as the Implicit Association Test developed by Project Implicit.
There is also a channel to confidentially disclose experiences of harassment, discrimination or harmful unprofessionalism to the Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Professionalism so that they can be addressed.
Later in June, U of T Engineering students will enter a float built by the Blue and Gold Committee in the Toronto Pride Parade. As with the Engineering Positive Space campaign, the project is part of building a culture of inclusion across the Faculty, and with the Engineering profession.
“To me, a positive space is about continually adapting and growing our community in order to make it as accessible and welcoming as possible,” says Kaija Mikes (Year 2 EngSci), one of the Blue and Gold Committee Co-Chairs.
“I have met so many unique and wonderful people here at U of T Engineering and I have had the opportunity to engage with a community I really care about. So, to me this is about encouraging people to carry this message into their own lives, to take care of themselves and the people around them.”
“Positive space means creating a place where members of all communities, including 2SLGBTQIA+ individuals, know that they are welcomed and accepted,” says Aidan Castanheiro (Year 2 ECE), the other Blue and Gold Committee Co-Chair.
“It is a place where everyone can grow and thrive together, making it an integral part of our engineering community.”
U of T Engineering students who want to help build this year’s float or community members who want to walk with the float at the Pride Parade on June 25 can indicate their interest on a form the Blue & Gold Committee created.
“The message is that you belong here just as much as anyone else, no matter how you identify, who you want to date, or how you dress,” says Aleman. “You belong at U of T Engineering, whoever you are.”