By Sidney Drmay
Transgender students don’t feel safe with the current discrimination and harassment policies on campus.
The university has a Human Rights Services department to work with students regarding complaints for situations that violate the Ontario Human Rights Code, which has not been updated since 1999. Ryerson’s current policies mimic these outdated requirements.
Trans Collective member Camryn Harlick said that they feel unsafe on campus “at least once a week,” and that they feel like there are no official outlets for getting help.
“I wouldn’t be able to approach security. I have friends who have gone to security and they have done nothing,” Harlick said.
While Ryerson’s policy does state that students are protected and can freely utilize gender identity and gender expression as grounds for discrimination, there are no specifications that apply to trans students. Schools like George Brown have a thorough policy that explains what gender identity and expression are, as well as the different forms of harassment and how the reporting procedure works.
The Ryerson Human Rights Services has not done an annual report since the 2011-2012 academic year. Their most recent report does not have any numbers documenting harassment and discrimination rooted in transphobia, despite recorded incidents for racism, sexism and sexual violence.
Human Rights Services has a series of steps that suggests resolving issues through informal resolution and formal resolution. Both processes begin with talking to professors directly.
RU Trans Collective coordinator Gabriel Holt believes that starting at the source is not an effective option.
“There’s some very obvious power dynamics, especially if [students] are trying to talk directly to a professor,” said Holt. “There’s a lot of fear there and a lot of intimidation, even if it’s not conscious on the part of the professor.”
Following this, students are encouraged to speak with the chair/director of the department, the departmental chair/program director and finally, take their concerns to the dean of the faculty.
Harlick finds this to be unrealistic because many officials, in their past experiences, have had a lack of general knowledge surrounding trans issues. They added that in most scenarios, they just “have to deal” with transphobia on campus.
“If I’m feeling particularly uncomfortable in a class … I’ll reach out to a friend and have [them] come to that class,” Harlick said, adding that they’ve switched in- structors to avoid conflict. “It’s obviously pretty unfortunate, but sometimes it’s the only option.”
Since students aren’t finding the support they need within the official systems, they are working to create their own safety through the Trans Collective and within their own circles.
“We’re trying to get volunteers to go with trans students to their classes or accompany them if they need someone when talking to their professors or if they are doing human rights processes,” said Holt.
“Most people have very limited knowledge of trans issues and they need a much broader grounding in anti-oppression,” Holt said.
The only solution, he said, is to update the policies and have staff participate in mandatory equity training.
Until these changes are made, Holt and members of the Trans Collective will continue to rely on peer-to-peer support.
Holt hopes that soon the process to report will be “less intimidating,” and that there will be better efforts to mediate conversations so that “it’s not just students alone.”
Ryerson Human Rights Services was unable to provide comment prior to publication.