Students want accountability after NAIT Pride: ‘They don’t care about actually protecting us when the cameras are gone’

by | Mar 21, 2024 | News

After NAIT’s tenth Pride Week and second year raising the Pride Progress Flag on campus, some NAIT students were left feeling like the institution’s commitment to queer students fell short. Members of two NAITSA Campus Clubs are concerned that NAIT and its Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (OEDI) care more about their own optics than the safety and inclusion of students.

According to students from Pride @ NAIT and They/Thems in STEM, NAIT mishandled issues revolving around their Pride Week events and public social media posts. NAIT denied the Nugget’s request for an interview; instead, they provided a statement on March 19 reiterating their commitment to 2SLGBTQIA+ students and their support for queer and gender-diverse individuals. 

Court Slaughter, President of They/Thems in STEM, was initially excited to help raise the pride flag on NAIT campus March 6. 

“I really had the warm fuzzies, like it was a very exciting day and absolute honour to be there,” Slaughter said in an interview with the Nugget. But Slaughter, who uses they/them pronouns, was disappointed when they saw homophobic comments on a photo NAIT posted on their social media. The photo featured Slaughter and three others posing in front of the pride flag. 

“I saw the photos and I was like, ‘Oh my god, cute, I’m going to show my mom.’ And then all of a sudden there were these hateful comments … I looked at them and there was comments like, ‘when is straight pride?’ [and] just like, emojis of puke faces.”

Some of the comments on the post NAIT made on Instagram, displaying a photo of Slaughter and others in front of the Pride Progress Flag.

Slaughter said they were not asked to sign a photo release, nor were they told the photos would be posted to NAIT’s Facebook and Instagram accounts—which have a combined following of nearly 70,000 users. “I did not sign anything … It wasn’t like someone came up to me and was like, ‘May we take your photo and post it on the NAIT account?’ That wasn’t really explicitly said to me, and I did not sign a single thing.” 

“I don’t regret having my photo taken and posted … it’s just that there should be protocols [with] it.”

When the photos were posted on NAIT’s Facebook and Instagram March 6, there was no indication in the posts about how hateful comments would be dealt with. On March 8, NAIT’s Facebook post was edited with a disclaimer saying “hateful comments will not be tolerated.”

A similar disclaimer was added to the Instagram post. As of writing this article, the anti-LGBTQ comments remain on NAIT’s Facebook and Instagram posts and none have been responded to by an official NAIT account. The Facebook post’s comment section remained open to the public until March 19, when it was adjusted to allow commenting from those who have followed the page for more than 24 hours. Comments on NAIT’s Instagram post remain open to the public.

More moderation needed, students say

Lynaya Hawkins (she/they), Pride @ NAIT’s VP Operations, was told the comments were left open to facilitate discussion. But in their perspective, a comment section isn’t the best place to do so. “I think unfortunately if you are going out of your way to post hateful, non-constructive criticism or whatever comments, chances are a conversation in the Instagram comments section isn’t going to magically be changing your mind,” she said. “I think just for the mental health of queer people in general, but especially those that attended the flag raising, it would have been more beneficial to just delete those hateful comments.”

Kyra Chrumka, Pride @ NAIT’s President, appreciated NAIT Student Life’s decision to turn off comments on their pride posts after receiving negative comments. “Because actual club members were in that video and they were, you know, putting themselves out there. And I prefer my club members not seeing hateful comments towards them,” said Chrumka.

Slaughter also praised NAITSA for their quick response to a comment received on their social media, saying, “That’s just how easy it is to either just respond [or] call someone out … that made me even more enraged that NAIT is taking so long.”

On March 13, Slaughter inquired with NAIT’s Communications Manager Robyn Hanson about the moderation policies in place, asking questions like, “At what point is student and staff safety considered a concern or priority for NAIT? For example, would the comments have to be directed at us, or would the comments have to be considered ‘meaner’ to awaken a sense of urgency on our safety?”

A response from NAITSA to a comment on their Instagram post sharing photos from Pride Weeks on campus.

As of writing, Slaughter has not received a response to questions they posed. Instead, Hanson asked for time to discuss with her team and asked Slaughter what they’d like done with the comments. Hanson also added that in the meantime, a staff member is “continuing to monitor comments.” 

The statement provided by NAIT to the Nugget said that “comments made on our [NAIT’s] social platforms that reach the threshold of hate speech as defined by Canada’s Criminal Code and Human Rights provisions will be removed.”

While not all comments on the posts are from other students, NAIT’s Student Rights and Responsibilities Policy states that Student Rights include “the right to an inclusive learning environment that respects NAIT’s values and is free from discrimination,” in mentioned in Guiding Principle 4.1.1. The policy’s definition of learning environment includes “all social media platforms,” and discrimination is defined as “the unjust or prejudicial treatment of others based on aspects of identity.”

A bigger problem on campus

But students’ concerns revolved around more than the social media posts. According to the students, NAIT’s OEDI also failed to provide resources and help Pride @ NAIT with campus events. Chrumka and Hawkins were told a Diversity and Inclusion Specialist from the OEDI would be acting as an advisor to guide the club after the previous person left, but Chrumka said “there’s been a lack of support.”

“I needed some support with some of the events that we were planning or other things, and [the office] did not reply to any of my emails,” said Chrumka. As Pride Weeks approached and the OEDI required help from the students, that’s when the emails started to come in, Chrumka explained. The timing of the emails made Pride @ NAIT question the department’s intentions, “which is kind of not a great thing when you are a pride club, you should usually trust an office about equity, diversity, inclusion,” Chrumka said.

Chrumka, who uses any pronouns, was also frustrated with the lack of credit given to the Pride @ NAIT club for their involvement in planning the Queering the Futures Prom that took place on March 15.

“We [Pride @ NAIT] were actually working directly with NorthSide Pride for a few months about planning and contributing to this event. I went to every single planning meeting,” she said. Chrumka added that she contributed $200 of club funds collected over previous years to planning the event, which was open to students from NAIT, MacEwan, Concordia, NorQuest and King’s University. “So to have see the event on Ooks Life and seeing that it is hosted by the EDI office is extremely disappointing and like irritating for me and all the work that I did and the club did for that event.” 

Chrumka said students and staff were asked by the OEDI to provide statements for attendees to view before and after the Pride Flag raising “as a way to reflect on what actual 2SLGBTQIA+ folks feel about it, and about being queer or trans at NAIT.” One statement mentioned in the email sent to Chrumka said, “You only love us when there is a photo opportunity and aren’t making enough change for queer and trans folks here.” 

“I find that very ironic,” said Chrumka. She added, “that feels exactly [like] what they were doing.”

Posters displayed in the Shaw Theatre lobby during Pride Weeks.

“During these past couple weeks … we definitely felt like we were used to make the EDI office look good because we’re students, right? Getting students in there and helping them with their events is literally exactly how that feels, is that they only care about us or want to work with us when there’s a photo opportunity, or putting us on a pedestal to make them look good,” said Chrumka.

At the Paint Your Pride event hosted by the OEDI and NAIT Student Life on March 13, students claimed an Edmonton Police Services booth was present nearby – something Chrumka was concerned about. She referenced other post-secondary institutions’ safe spaces, where security or police are not allowed, saying, “I feel that’s similar here. I would not want security or police around my event because I would be uncomfortable by that. I feel a lot of my members would feel uncomfortable with that as well.”   

According to Hawkins, there was a conversation with the OEDI about how “there wasn’t the Pride Walk this year because of safety issues.” Chrumka added that during meetings with the OEDI, they made her feel like “there is a lot of issues happening right now that might put the club under threat.” 

“They [NAIT’s OEDI] care so much about security, but what about the comfort of the people going to these events? It just seems like overkill in certain areas, but then no care in other areas,” said Chrumka.

“So it’s odd that they [NAIT’s OEDI] focus, ‘Oh, we have to do this and this and protect yourselves and be safe,’” said Hawkins. “But they don’t care about actually protecting us when the cameras are gone.”

What happens next? 

Both Slaughter and Chrumka echoed a need for change on campus. “I really want them to prove that they’re student forward, like all of NAIT,” said Chrumka. She highlighted how students are crucial to NAIT’s community: “You don’t have a job without the students here, and you want to create an environment where all students can learn and feel comfortable.”

Slaughter believes accountability is required from NAIT and the Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in order to move forward. “I would hope that NAIT comes out with full transparency … like, ‘Here’s how we’re dealing with it now, and here’s how we’ll deal with it in the future,’” they said. “I’m a student. I’m just trying to graduate … To have to worry about my safety and worry about NAIT’s thoughts on me and my community, things like that, I have other [stuff] to worry about. This is not what I need on my plate right now.” 

“You say you’re going to be there, you be there,” echoed Chrumka. “Don’t make claims like that, and don’t make empty promises to us.”

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