UTMSU’s Ministry of Equity hosted DisOrientation Week last week with a series of workshops and events to raise awareness about social issues.
Themed “Unlearn”, this year’s DisOrientation Week aimed to reconstruct paradigms and assumptions.
The week kicked off on Monday with the “Pee in Peace” campaign launch. In an information session, UTMSU’s LGBTQ coordinator Miranda Jurilj talked about the need for the establishment of all-gender washrooms at UTM. She spoke of the physical and verbal harassment transgender people have to face while using gender-segregated washrooms.
“This is going to allow everybody to have a place where they can go and feel safe and dignified in using the washrooms. It’s also useful for parents who have differently gendered children or non-binary people with disabilities. Folks who avoid using a washroom and end up holding it are at a higher risk of getting infections and illnesses,” said Jurilj in an interview.
When asked about the possibility of resistance from “binary” people who felt uncomfortable using all-gender washrooms, Jurilj said that the campaign was meant to establish all-gender washrooms alongside gender-segregated washrooms. She further added that renovations like taller cells, reduced gaps, and stronger locks will be required to ensure the privacy and security of all-gender washrooms.
The discussion was followed by a scavenger hunt in which the participants put up posters with slogans promoting the installation of all-gender washrooms in seven different restrooms around campus.
On Tuesday, students marched around the campus in solidarity with victims of sexual assault and domestic violence at UTM. The march was part of UTMSU’s “No Means No” campaign, which advocates for consent before sexual contact and works against social issues like victim-blaming, street harassment, rape, and dating violence.
The event was inspired by the activism of Columbia University student and rape victim Emma Sulkowicz, whose case was dismissed when she reported it to the university. A visual arts major, Sulkowicz decided to protest by preparing a performance piece called “Carry that Weight”, in which she carried her mattress everywhere she goes on campus to symbolize the violation of her privacy.
The march started from outside the Davis Building and ended in the Student Centre. Students marched while chanting slogans and carrying signs demanding an end to rape culture and promoting the importance of consent before sex. Marchers also carried a mattress to symbolize their solidarity with rape victims who “carry” the burden of societal blame and injustice.
“It is very important that we stand with the victims,” said Sierra Calleghan, a member of the Women’s Coalition at UTM. “Coming forward is very difficult. […] In the court of law it’s often referred to as the ‘second rape’ because of the testimony and the brutal humiliation. The system is designed to shut up the people who have gone through this horrifying experience.”
The Women’s Coalition presented a list of demands for the improvement of women’s safety at UTM, which would be forwarded to the dean.
Tuesday night also marked the launch of the “Roots in My Skin” campaign, involving a workshop to educate students about the origin of racism and the history of oppression associated with racism.
The following day, the UTM Food Centre hosted an indoor gardening event to promote local food growth and challenge food supply monopolies.
“We want to give people the knowledge of growing your own food because our food is controlled by Monsanto. There are a lot of things like GMOs and people don’t know whether or not we can trust them,” said UTMSU’s VP equity, Melissa Theodore. “Educating people about growing their own food will allow people to know what they are putting in their body and perhaps have access to more food as well.”
The event was originally scheduled to be a Food Centre Town Hall, but was changed after a lack of response from Food Bank members, according to a Facebook post by Food Bank Coordinator Noura Afify.
The indoor gardening event was followed by an annual open mic night held in the Blind Duck the same evening, which provided a forum for student artists to express their views on the theme of unlearning social constructs.
“Putting a Face to Mental Illnesses” was a workshop held on the last day of DisOrientation Week that was intended to address the stigma surrounding mental illness. The workshop addressed the way language norms disadvantage the mentally ill and allowed students to share their struggles with mental illness and discuss ways to address them.
In the first part of the event, UTMSU’s accessibility coordinator, Tasneem Abdelhaleem, criticized the ideas that society associates with mental illness. “You are not weak if you are suffering from a mental illness. In fact you are strong that you are going through it,” said Abdelhaleem .
DisOrientation Week is an annual event hosted by UTMSU. Last year, the event was held in both semesters.