Hi everyone! Sophia here with two last posts to end off my time with The Inside Word 🙂 

I’ve mentioned this very briefly before, but I identify as queer, and I’d love to talk a bit more about my experiences as a queer person in engineering and design. To include some diverse perspectives, I’ll be sharing some thoughts from a few Rainbow-identifying friends of mine in the two programs as well. I’ve also decided to split this into two separate blogs: Part 1 will focus on queer experiences in the Design programme, and Part 2 will focus on experiences in Engineering. Whether you’re queer or not, I hope you enjoy reading about some of our experiences in these programmes and in university in general!

For context, I didn’t start being openly “out” until about my 2nd year of university, and even then, I kept it fairly low-key (eg. with trusted friends and club teams). My pronouns also changed a couple times throughout that year (I’ve currently settled on they/she with an extremely vague gender identity of gender-diverse — it’s an ongoing journey as always). I also remained very quiet about my queer identity during my internship, since I had no idea whether I would be respected in my workplace if I came out. However, during the final week of work, I talked about my queer identity when raising certain equity issues with a trusted colleague of mine, leading to conversations about how we could work together to make the workplace more inclusive. In light of this, as well as the confidence I’ve gained in myself over the past few months, I’ve decided to be more open about my identity going into 3rd year. My goal is to use my identity to advocate for change and to help others feel more accepted, especially in university and moving into industry. I guess this blog is a way for me to start using my identity in that way 🙂 Alright, enough from me — time to let my older friends in Design share their experiences being queer in the programme!

1. Do you feel you get the chance to express your identity through your degree/program? If so, how/in what ways? If not, why not? (expressing oneself might not look like being openly out)

Erin (they/them): There have been certain papers where I discussed about queer communities with correlation to my queer identity. I would also discuss my correlation with the topic by stating my pronouns (which is a new experience as previous wasn’t publicly out to the program). Other than that there hasn’t been a lot of papers that made me talk about my identity.

Yasmin (she/her): Yes and no. I take an arts conjoint (majoring in sociology), when asked to discuss my own positionality within essays, or when given the opportunity to explore areas of interest in essays, I find that this is one of the key areas I am able to exercise self expression within academia. With the other half of my degree, as I am doing a design conjoint, I feel that all of my work is an act of self expression. For me, the creative process is heavily tied to who we are as individuals, and therefore all of our work is an extension of oneself. Then again, there are plenty of projects that I have done which I feel are heavily tailored to suit the brief or aesthetic preferences of the teaching staff for that paper/my group (in the case of group projects). In summary: sometimes I am given the opportunity to, other times I am not. I feel it is more often the former (but I think i am just looking at this with rose tinted glasses, given that I am nearing the end of my summer break right now)

2. Have you found any sense of community within your degree/program that’s tied to your LGBTQ+ identity? If so, please describe; if not, what’s your experience like instead?

Erin (they/them): The degree itself hasn’t been inclusive to trans/nonbinary identities (which could contribute to the lack of awareness or ignorance). Misgendering is still normalized even after constant reminders. Referring back to the queer communities assignment where I publicly stated my pronouns, immediately after performing my presentation I was immediately misgendered in front of the whole class. This has been the most humiliating experience and made me reevaluate me being open. The system may have not provided a safe and welcoming environment. However, within those who experience similar experiences and/or identify as queer, I was still able to find my community. However, that’s not because of the program.

Yasmin (she/her): Yes. Within my first two years of uni I didn’t really feel a sense of community. This is probably due to the fact that I didn’t have many friends or any sense of community at uni. Once I started to feel more comfortable at uni and made more friends, I definitely felt that sense of queer community. This was entirely accidental, I just ended up becoming friends with a whole bunch of other queer people, which has been great.

3. Do you feel comfortable being yourself or expressing your identity (whether you’re out or not) in your degree/program? Do you feel that you are/would be generally accepted by those around you, including staff and students? 

Erin (they/them): I am now openly out and comfortable with people who support me. Even those that misgender me or contrary to those who aren’t supportive, I became desensitized by it and just tolerate it. This applies to both teachers and students.

Yasmin (she/her): Yes, I feel comfortable with most students. I have experienced not so nice comments from particular individuals regarding my queer identity. Luckily it’s only been a couple of individuals, and I have found it easy to ignore and avoid said people. I have had quite a few arts lecturers who are part of the LGBTQ+ community, which honestly, has been great. It’s an added level of understanding, and honestly makes me feel a lot more comfortable. Within CAI it’s a bit harder, a lot of ingrained ignorance, which is really frustrating. I know this impacts some of my friends a lot more than it impacts me. However, it still makes me mad. It’s 2023, why are we still misgendering people? it’s one or two words that you have to change in vocab. It’s not hard.

4. Do you have any advice for young queer students starting university, both in general and potentially in the same degree/program as you?

Erin (they/them): I really want to say that they are not alone and that we look out for one and another. And focus on those that are there for them. 

Yasmin (she/her): Be yourself. As corny and cliché as that sounds, it is truly the best advice I have. You will find people like you, people who understand you, people who will be there for you, who will back you, who will fight beside you. Sometimes it takes a bit of time, but trust me, you will find these people. Also, university can be a wonderful and accepting place, however, there are still a significant amount of disgustingly ignorant people out there. However, there are loads of clubs, teams and offices that are specifically there to help fight for you, to help stand up for you. They’re filled with lovely people who genuinely care about you. 

A huge thank you to my friends in design for being willing to share their experiences! For my closing thoughts on this as well as queer experiences in engineering, please head over to Part 2 of this blog (I promise it’s the last part). Hope you’ve enjoyed reading so far!