Progress on Emergency Communications and Supporting 2SLGBTQIA+ Communities

In January, we updated you on our progress on action items emerging in the wake of the Hagey Hall attack. We shared our progress on improving our Emergency Response Plan, changes to campus spaces, and on our ongoing work on campus climate and culture.

Today, we’re able to share an update on our work on supports for the 2SLGBTQIA+ communities here at Waterloo, on changes to WatSAFE and more.

The term 2SLGBTQIA+ represents Two-Spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual and additional people who identify as part of sexual and gender diverse communities.

Confirming changes to WatSAFE

Firstly, we’re making progress on changes to our Emergency Notification System. Following a thorough review of our current system, the University will launch a new system this summer which will start full operation in the fall.

The new system – a platform provided by the company, Regroup – will replace WatSAFE to enhance our emergency communications with new features like SMS messaging. It will help us to streamline emergency messaging, ensuring swift and effective communication when we need it the most. You can expect to see communications to support you through the change to the new system – complete with a new app to download – in July.

We continue to make progress on other safety-related improvements – including planning changes to campus helplines and building access controls – and we will continue to provide updates.

Fulfilling our commitments to 2SLGBTQIA+ communities

In the weeks after the attack last year, we heard from members of our 2SLGBTQIA+ communities that they had concerns about the supports available to them at the University. Community members expressed pain and frustration with the institution, and we committed to meet with community groups to better understand gaps, needs, concerns relating to experience and safety on campus. We also committed to hiring a new position to focus on initiatives related to gender identity and expression.

With deep regret, we acknowledge that progress on these two items has been slow. But we remain committed to fulfilling both promises.

Recently, the President and all Vice-Presidents met with members of the Queer-Trans Alliance (QTA) here at Waterloo to listen to the perspectives of the students, faculty and staff who make up their membership. They shared experiences and perspectives with us on life here at Waterloo in our 2SLGBTQIA+ communities.

Members of the QTA reinforced how our slow progress is placing deeper strains on the relationship between 2SLBGTQIA+ communities and the institution, and how so much of the support for these community members has been carried out by volunteers and organizations at the grassroots level. Senior leaders will also meet with 2SLGBTQIA+ student groups in the coming weeks to hear more student perspectives.

With this feedback in mind, we are pleased to confirm that the team in the Office of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Anti-racism (EDIRO) has secured the help of Washington Silk, a 2SLGBTQIA+ Counsellor from Campus Wellness, to facilitate a series of consultations with our 2SLGBTQIA+ community this summer. In their own words, Wash is “a passionate transgender and queer social worker with over 10 years clinical and community experience in supporting adolescents and young adults.”

Working closely with EDIRO, who are analyzing data from employee and student surveys, these consultations will help us build a strategy to support 2SLGBTQIA+ individuals and communities at Waterloo. You can expect to hear about the outcomes from these dialogues in the fall and work on the strategy will follow from there.

EDIRO has also hired a new Associate Director, Equity who will be focused on gender identity and expression. Alexander (Alex) Pershai (they/them) has more than 20 years of experience in promoting gender equity, supporting 2SLGBTQIA+ communities, preventing gender-based violence, assessing organizational equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) needs and capacity building, and supporting new immigrants to Canada.  They will start at the University on June 10, 2024.

Wider work to expand support for the 2SLGBTQIA+ communities

In addition to hiring a position in EDIRO, we have also heard calls for more focus on hiring and supporting individuals from the 2SLGBTQIA+ communities. We agree with this need and that’s why we have been partnering with the organization Pride at Work to support us with a range of programming activities as well as job postings. Pride at Work Canada empowers Canadian employers to build workplaces that celebrate all employees regardless of gender expression, gender identity, and sexual orientation.

What’s more, EDIRO has recently shared a new Gender and Sexual Equity Road Map to help guide individuals on their learning journey on the topic of gender and sexuality equity. This road map is helping individuals at Waterloo change their practises to build more inclusive experiences, in particular for 2SLGBTQIA+ students.

In the past year, many people across our campuses have been involved with groups or organizations who have supported our students and employees. We acknowledge that this important work has been happening with grassroots organizations at the University like, the QTA, EngiQueers, QTPOC KW, Waterloo Womxn + Nonbinary Wednesdays and others in our community. We recognize the work done by community organizations like Spectrum in supporting our community.

We also acknowledge the good work by FAUW and UWSA in promoting a sense of belonging for the 2SLGBTQIA+ communities when they distributed thousands of Progress Pride Flag stickers across campus last fall. Thank you to everyone who has put their time and effort into supporting others at Waterloo over many years.

Marking Pride, and the anniversary of the Hagey Hall attack

We will mark our continuing support for the 2SLGBTQIA+ community during Pride with a ceremony on Monday, June 3, to re-raise the Intersex-Inclusive Progress flag and the Two-Spirit Pride flag (which have continued to fly on masts since last June). Look out for an invitation to this event in your inbox soon, and hold the time 8:45 to 9:45 a.m. that morning.

We have prepared a dedicated Pride website to share news of events and information about Pride activities that are happening on campus this year. We’re keen to support and highlight events and activities happening across our community this Pride – including celebrating our long-standing financial support for the Glow Centre at Pride Toronto from June 28 to June 30.

We will invite you to join us to stand together in the Dana Porter Library Quad on June 28 to mark the anniversary of the Hagey Hall attack. The anniversary of the hate-motivated attack is an important moment for us to come together to affirm our support for the freedom of gender expression and identity. We must also stand in solidarity for our academic mission and in support of everyone who experienced trauma that day or experiences trauma related to their expression of gender. More information on this will be shared in June.

We know that not everyone will want to come out to stand with us on June 28 at 1:00 p.m.. We acknowledge that the approaching anniversary of the attack could also be traumatic for many people on campus. Individuals who have experienced trauma may start to feel anxiety, experience lack of sleep, develop strong emotions and more leading up to the anniversary. We encourage all members of the UWaterloo community to make use of the various resources and supports available to them or register for A Trauma Informed Lunch and Learn session.

Advancing our work on free expression and respectful engagement

Finally, the Taskforce on Freedom of Expression and Respectful Engagement is pleased to share that their consultation sessions have now ended, and they are actively working on drafting proposed principles to guide our community.

In March, Task Force participants conducted focus groups with the many stakeholder groups on campus including open sessions for staff, students, faculty, our employee and student associations, University Relations, EDIRO, Indigenous Relations and others. We appreciate the community’s active participation in these consultations, which are essential to understanding the many experiences and perspectives our University members have regarding freedom of expression and the principles that are foundational to the exercise of that freedom.

Many of you have also provided feedback through the anonymous online feedback form, which will remain open until May 30, 2024.  We invite you to continue the conversation through the feedback form.

We look forward to welcoming many scholars and students from around the world and our own University of Waterloo community to the international interdisciplinary conference “From Targeting in Academia to Promoting Trust and Understanding” on June 27 and 28, 2024.  We encourage members of the University community to consider registering to attend this conference.

We recognize that we have shared a lot of information in this update. We hope it gives you better clarity about the work we have been doing to foster a more inclusive and respectful climate at the University. There is a lot more work we need to do - and we look forward to updating you on more progress later in the year.