mathNEWS Issue 116.6: Friday, July 22, 2011

Rainbow Mathies

Because Queer Frosh Are Frosh Too

Hello Mathies, to the final mathNEWS of the term! First, a small plug: the UW A Cappella Club's EOT concert is tonight in ML Theatre. Doors open at 7:30, concert starts at 8, and yours truly will be performing with the UW A Cappella Ensemble (UW-ACE for short, too bad that joke isn't going to be funny for much longer). With that out of the way, onto my article. It's the last chance I have to write this article this year and it still be somewhat useful, so while some other more interesting article ideas have come out in the past two weeks (such as "How to NOT treat a friend you may suspect is queer" and "why Meaningless Quips is a bad wingman and how to avoid his errors"), they will have to wait for a new term. In a few short weeks, a whole new flock of first years will be arriving on campus. A large number of upper years have committed to making their transition as fluid and pain-free as possible, both during orientation week and once classes start. In my experiences with Math Orientation, I think our leaders do an amazing job of this overall. However, based on some conversations I've had with other queer frosh, as well as some of my own observations I've made, there are ways we can improve this experience specifically for queer-identified first years. After all, one of the main reasons I started this article series was to fight the stigma that queer topics experience in this faculty, and this stigma gets passed down to these new first years somehow. Luckily, my readers are in a great place to try and fight this, so for any interested orientation leaders or other people who associated with first years I present: 3 ways to make the first year experience more queer positive!

  1. Inclusive language: I know OLT talks about this a bunch, but I want to reinforce how important watching the language one uses can be in ensuring a comfortable environment. Something which I will probably repeat for many many articles through my time writing is that language, despite its importance, is so hardwired into us and we sometimes don't recognize how much damage our vernacular conventions can cause. While in many cases, using non-inclusive language won't necessarily trigger a negative response in a queer first year, using inclusive language will most certainly result in a positive reaction, even if only internal. There are two general rules to this: Avoid comments which imply a gender or heterosexual binary unless you're specifically talking about yourself, and do this even when you're not communicating directly with first years. This is true, even if you happen to know the gender or sexual identity of the person you're talking about. To give an example: suppose two male-identified Tie Guards are under the Tie, having a conversation which goes something like "'Hey man, what do your girlfriend think about you being on campus so much?' 'She doesn't mind, she knows the tie is important.'" Now, any first year who happens to walk by won't necessarily find something wrong with that statement. However, if the first person had said "your partner" instead of "your girlfriend", personally I would have really appreciated it had I heard that, and I'm sure the same thing would be true for other queer first years.
  2. Programming concerns: Personally, there was quite a bit of issues I've had with some of the programming offered by Oriention in my year. Thankfully, the concerns were mostly with Residence or Cross-Campus events, and I personally enjoyed most of the Math events. The only comment I have to make is that I felt most of the interaction both between leaders and frosh and frosh themselves was that the opportunities to interact were very surface level. There was no activities, either pre-organized or one the fly, where I really felt I had the chance to get to know someone. For queer individuals, especially ones in a new area and faced with the prospect of wanting to come out (perhaps for the second time), making only surface-level connections strongly encourages keeping their identity internalized. I know for me, while some of my best friends come from my orientation group (Intergratable Hulk! YAARRGH!), I never really made friends with them until months after orientation week.
  3. Be comfortable, open, observent: During orientation week, I wore a pride bracelet in hopes that it would allow me to connect with queer-positive individuals and enable them to approach me. Throughout the entire week, the only time someone commented on it was a couple of thugs who tried to queer bash me when I was walking back from a party. I have no idea why it was, because I talked to plenty of my leaders and a number of my fellow first years, but no one brought it up. The one time I talked about my sexuality unprompted was when a bunch of us were talking about the important people we left at home to go to UW, and that was met with people quickly changing the topic. If there are openly identified first years in your group, please talk to them about it! If you're openly queer, or openly queer positive, consider doing something to express that, either by casually commenting about it or sporting some kind of identifying symbol. Something as simple as wearing an "Ally" button or a "Straight But Not Narrow" button can do wonders in making queer first years feel appreciated in their faculty. Don't go too overboard though, if the only thing you talk about with certain first years is their sexuality or gender identity, you risk making them feel like that's the only interesting thing about them and ostracizing them as a result.

If you are queer identified, and are looking for someone to talk to or for supportive allies, there are always resources available to you. You can learn more about GLOW and its offerings, including a phone line at www.knowyourglow.ca. Counseling Services is always available to you; their offices are open 8:30-8MTTh and 8:30-4:30WF, located in Needles Hall across from Student Awards and Financial Aid. If you need support and assistance immediately, you can call the Waterloo Crisis Center at 519-745-1166. If you'd feel more comfortable speaking with someone from a queer specific service, please contact the GLBT Youthline at 1-800-268-9688.

Well, that's it! Best of luck with final projects and exams, my wonderful readers. I'll be around next term, so expect more articles then :). Don't forget, if you're not around next term but want to keep up, all of these are published online at mathnews.uwaterloo.ca, or you can order a subscription.

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