Campaign School 2014 set to support women and transgender students running for elections

Campaign School 2014 is a workshop running on Saturday, Mar. 1 that hopes to encourage equal representation in student politics. South House felt it was necessary to provide a workshop for women and transgender students.

By Dina Lobo

Student Union Building at Dalhousie University
Student Union Building at Dalhousie University. (Dina Lobo/Peninsula News)

Campaign School 2014 is a workshop running on Saturday, Mar. 1 that hopes to encourage equal representation in student politics. South House is a Women and Gender Resource Centre at Dalhousie University which has been rallying against transphobia, sexism and other human rights gender issues. South House felt it was necessary to provide a workshop for women and transgender students.

South House has annual questionnaires for candidates participating in the Dalhousie Student Union (DSU) elections to see whether or not they have an appropriate understanding of sex and gender issues. Jude Ashburn, outreach coordinator, says that the answers were rated and the results were problematic.

“Some were sexist and some were transphobic. They just needed a little bit of education and needed to work on some things if they are going to represent a diverse student body,” says Ashburn. “We came up with the campaign school to let folks know what barriers they are going to face and it’s really honest. So we say ‘here are the things you’re going to face and this is what it’s like to struggle for representation in the student union’.”

Campaign School 2014 hopes to provide students with advice on how to handle issues like filing a human rights report and what a student could do if faced with harassment and discrimination. Rather than focusing on actual strategies for elections and campaigns, South House wants to remind students that they have support and that there are organizations that will give you resources, says Ashburn.

“It’s not a pleasant topic, no one wants to deal with it. Most people from oppressed groups are sick of even thinking about it and feeling it. The fact is things are not equal and it’s important to fight for that.”

Jessica Dempsey, the first transgender student to run for DSU elections in 2012, is speaking at the event. Dempsey, who ran for vice president, decided to come out during a debate.

“It changed the elections dramatically. People were fighting for my name because it had my old name on the vow and now it’s Jessica. They had to contact the registrar’s office. There is quite a bit of stuff they had to do to make that change.”

Dempsey has inspired a lot of change at the DSU, like the preferred first name policy that will be implemented in the next month to make Dalhousie safer and more welcoming place and the creation of the equity and accessibility committee, which focuses on issues of oppression on campus.

Campaign School 2014 poster
Campaign School 2014 poster

Dempsey says she was surprised and happy with the support she got after filing a humans rights complaint against the cafeteria, claiming harassment and discrimination. South House and other organizations planned rallies in support of Dempsey.

“After I came out on CBC News and it became public, I got personal emails of people who would thank me. They said ‘you have made it easier for me to come out’.”

Ashburn feels it is important for students like Dempsey to join student politics, but that it is also a responsibility for everyone to look at themselves and ask questions.

“If you’re a man in student elections and are a executive counsellor you’re making these decisions and you’re representing the student body and union, ask yourself tough questions. If you’re in a meeting and there’s only men in it, ask yourself why. Really challenge yourself,” says Ashburn.

This is the first time a campaign is designed specifically for women and transgender students running in student union elections in Halifax. In April 2012 a series of one-day campaign schools were hosted by The Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities (UNSM) encouraging women to participate in municipal elections, but not necessarily on those running in student politics.

Dempsey has been with the DSU for three years and continues to be involved in provincial and municipal politics.  She believes it is important for a person to feel like they can express themselves and wants to encourage students to run.

“I really hope I broke down barriers and made it now easier for people to be in the elections.”