“Who here is angry?”
There is a rustling in the Lillooet Room of Irving K. Barber as students and faculty shuffle paper plates and plastic cups to raise their hands.
“Who here is heartbroken?”
More shuffling, more raised hands. They are gathered for Get Connected: Queer, Trans, & Allies Community Night, an event put on by the Equity and Inclusion Office (EIO). Dr. Aftab Erfan, EIO’s director of dialogue and conflict engagement says the purpose of the Get Connected events is simply that: connection.
“What we’re trying to do is create connection in our community because we know that queer and trans students who come to UBC often [find] it takes a while for them to find each other,” Erfan said.
This is the third time EIO has hosted the Get Connected event for queer students. In the past EIO has hosted the event focusing on other underrepresented groups as well. They have held Get Connected for Black, Indigenous, Person Of Colour students as well as transfer students.
Usually, the event helps to connect students not only with each other but also with faculty and staff.
But despite the tables overflowing with food and murmur of chatter, the mood of this year’s event was far from festive.
“This is a difficult time for the queer and especially for the trans community,” Aftab said.
At UBC, there is currently tension around a talk by anti-trans activist Jenn Smith on “The Erosion of Freedom: How Transgender Politics in School and Society Are Undermining Our Freedom and Harming Women and Children!” The talk took place at UBC on June 23. Many students and faculty are upset about this event taking place on campus.
On June 14, UBC Provost and VP Academic Andrew Szeri released a statement saying that the event is an external booking, and is not sponsored by UBC. But unlike Trinity Western University and Douglas College, which have already decided to cancel Smith’s talks, UBC will allow the event to proceed as a commitment to free speech.
“On behalf of the University, I want to assure all in the UBC community that the university is deeply committed to the principles of equity, diversity, inclusion and maintaining a respectful environment, both among students, faculty and staff and in our commitment to educating future leaders …” said Szeri.
This support for members of our own community, and work in education and research, can be regarded in balance with the institution’s commitment to freedom of expression. As a public academic institution, UBC also places a paramount value on the free and lawful expression of ideas and viewpoints.”
Many students are upset about the talk taking place on campus and UBC’s decision to allow the event. These emotions played as the backdrop to this Get Connected night.
Darcy Bandeen, a first-year Arts student and Pride Collective representative, believes students need to take a stand.
“Because if we’re not, we’re being complicit and letting this kind of bigotry and hateful speech happen on campus,” said Bandeen.
But they also acknowledge that responding to events like these can be complicated and tiring.
“It’s lose-lose. We remain silent and they win, or we react against them and stand up for what’s right, and somehow, you’re also losing because they predicted it … like, ‘Oh, look at these angry queers,’” Bandeen said.
Other students feel that action towards these events should not be the sole responsibility of students, but of administration.
“[Students and faculty should] protest those speakers and pressure the administration to actually take a stand. The fact that they are sitting on the fence without doing anything when they do have the power to do something,” said Louis, a fourth-year arts student and member of UBC’s Students Against Bigotry group.
In the end, it all comes down to support. At the back of the room there is a piece of white Bristol board with colourful writing: How can UBC better support its queer and trans students? Beneath it is three words, in large, purple block letters: CANCEL JENN SMITH.
“Any sort of activism is good activism,” Miles Justice, another representative from the Pride Collective said. “There are so many ways to show support.”
A student who attended the event offered administration a simple plea:
“Actually do something.”
EIO plans to host more Get Connected events in the coming school year.