Since 2001, Algonquin College students have been trying to secure a space in the college for queer students to meet. Their quest has been sporadic and largely dependent on the enthusiasm of students and the ability of graduates to pass the reins to rising queer activists. But it has also been futile: they have been told countless times by the administration that the school doesn’t have enough space.
This semester the struggle came to an end.
A safe, queer cyberspace, called Pride, has been launched using Blackboard, an interactive learning platform normally used for academic classes.
Pride is run by Exedera St Louis, an environmental studies instructor. It offers students academic advice from staff who identify as queer, a safe space for online discussions, and links to resources in the college library and the greater community.
Since Pride is for students only, the site gives St Louis an idea of how many students actively seek out a queer-friendly space. For St Louis, Pride is a small step in the right direction.
“This wouldn’t have been the way I would have gone about it exactly, but I am glad it is something versus nothing,” she says. St Louis has been working with queer students for the past three years to get some recognition from the college.
She says that the queer-straight alliance (QSA) on Facebook — where students (past and present), friends and allies meet — is active but used primarily for social events.
“It doesn’t provide them with any support other than the potential of making friends. It’s very important obviously, but it is just students doing it for other students,” she says.
Valerie Sampson is a second-year student and one of the co-organizers of the QSA. She says the group has been active this semester: they held a drag show early in September and recently held a community potluck.
Sampson is happy that the college administration is finally recognizing the need for a queer space.
“This year has been awesome. Algonquin has really taken a big turn from last year to this year. They [the administration] just seem to be more on board with everything. They want to help out more; they seem to be taking more steps towards getting a centre, towards being more accepting as a school and as a whole,” she says.
Both St Louis and Sampson say that although it is good to have an online space, a physical space would be ideal.
“I think that a lot of students would be more open to contributing to the QSA if there was an actual physical space and somewhere where they could feel safer going into,” Sampson says.
St Louis agrees but is optimistic that when the new commons building is completed in 2012 there will be a room for the QSA.
Early in the semester she met with Wayne McIntyre, director of student support services, to talk about getting a space. Although McIntyre has since retired, St Louis is hanging on to his words.
“In talking with Wayne at our last meeting,” she says, “he said that as the student commons building gets built, and it is supposed to be built, I think, for fall next year, there will be space. He has told me that there will be space, not maybe there will be space or probably there will be space.”
Until that happens, St Louis encourages students to join Pride. The site currently has 53 student members, but, says St Louis, the larger it gets the more it will help convince the administration that the club is worthy of a new office in 2012.