Campus tries to build safe environment for female students

He’s talented and charismatic, but Carlos Andrés Gómez has bad news for young people.

“We call each other ‘Dawg.’ We say, ‘That cat better watch his step’ and ‘Look at that little chicken-head right there,’” Gómez said in one of his poems.

On Dec. 1, students and faculty at Centennial College’s Ashtonbee campus in Scarborough sat mesmerized. Gómez, a spoken word artist, actor and playwright kicked off the college’s awareness week for the White Ribbon Campaign.

He began by reacting to those commonly used messages of disrespect and misunderstanding.

“But we are not animals,” Gómez said. “We are brothers and we are sisters.”

A group of men started the White Ribbon Campaign two years after the Dec. 6 slaying of 14 women at Montreal’s Ecóle Polytechnique. According to the campaign’s website, the White Ribbon campaign continues to be the larges initiative spearheaded by men to stop violence against women all over the world.

The campaign is particularly relevant at the Ashtonbee campus because, according to reports by The Courier student paper and from the Dean of the School of Transportation, harassment of women and also of members of the LGBTQ community has been an issue.

In response to these claims, Centennial College announced the creation of the Respect Campaign that was applied college wide. The Dean of the School of Transportation Jaimini Randev at the Ashtonbee campus and Associate Vice-President of Academic Excellence Kristi Harrison both chair the respect committee.

“This campaign is particularly important to us at Ashtonbee because … we are a male dominated environment,” Randev said. “We have about 55 female students and we have over 2,000 male students.”

Randev told the Toronto Observer that there was no reason that women shouldn’t be involved in the skilled trades, such as the ones taught at the Ashtonbee campus. He did, however, acknowledge the hurdles women face in the skilled trade profession, but he didn’t want the learning atmosphere on campus to be one of those hurdles.

“We encourage and congratulate (students) who demonstrate appropriate behaviour, appropriate language and appropriate dress on campus,” Randev said.

On a campus level, Ashtonbee created an action plan loosely titled “Ashtonbee Campus: Everyone Belongs.” One of the ways the action plan attempts to get the message of equality across to its students is by bringing in speakers such as Gómez.

“I think that Carlos got us off on a great start to the White Ribbon Campaign on campus,” Randev said. “Sometimes we are uncomfortable to speak about these things (like men harassing women). It gives us an opportunity to reflect on ourselves and the choices we make as men.”

Lloyd Quansah is a 21-year-old journalism student at Centennial College. He is not an Ashtonbee student, but he still felt that attending “Behind the Masc” was the right thing to do.

“(This campaign) isn’t the first thing on my mind, but listening to another man telling me how to step up and be a better man was really inspiring,” Quansah said. “He said some things that made me uncomfortable, but only because they’re true. We say these things to our friends, but we never say them out loud to everyone.”

When confronted about whether Ashtonbee had gained a reputation as being a campus that is harassment prone, Randev simply stated that it is something the administration and student body attempts to reverse every day.

The presentation ended on a somewhat awkward note that gave the sense of one step forward and two steps back.

Co-chair of the respect committee Kristi Harrison thanked Gómez for coming. “The reason we have so many female students here today is because we all saw your poster,” she said.

A handful of female audience members responded to this with whistles and cat-calls, while others stared in shock and amazement.

“I thought that comment was really inappropriate,” Quansah said. “(Gómez) just poured his heart out in front of everyone about respect and that’s what you say?”