Making "Allies" at Dalhousie

- October 14, 2005


As the new school year kicks into high gear Allies at Dalhousie will also be gearing up to create a welcoming space for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (lgbt) students, staff, and faculty.

The main goal of the Allies program is to encourage the Dal community to welcome and respect its diversity. Allies - members of the Dalhousie community who are registered with the Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Youth Project's Ally Card Program - are committed to providing positive support (through listening and confidentiality) to the lgbt members of the Dalhousie community.

The program is not new, tracing its formal roots to 2001. Prior to the formal program, Dalhousie implemented measures to increase activities and awareness including a project at the Sexton campus and the Ally Card Program in the Dalhousie Health Unit.

 Leighann Wichman is Coordinator of the Youth Project, which is responsible for the administration of the Ally program. Leighann was heavily involved in bringing the project to Dalhousie. She says that to her knowledge the Allies program at Dalhousie is the only organized program of its kind in Nova Scotia, in that there is significant involvement from students, faculty and staff and a committee that oversees the program.

While Dalhousie has a number of policies, procedures, and services in place to ensure equitable access to education, employee benefits, and atmospheres free of discrimination and harassment, those involved in the Allies program point out that a university as large and diverse as Dalhousie cannot assume it is free of the prejudices that exist in the wider world.


"Many lgbt students come out in university and may experience homophobia and/or are unsure of where to go to get support or information. Other students may be out and comfortable but want to ensure that their professors, academic advisors, campus doctors or counsellors are familiar and comfortable with the issues. The Ally program helps lgbt students, faculty and staff identify the people on campus who are knowledgeable, supportive and comfortable. It also helps raise awareness of the issues and provides visibility."

At the same time, Wichman points out that things are improving. "There are more people willing to stand up and support lgbt youth in Nova Scotia," she says. "There are more teachers who address the issues, more nurses and doctors who are knowledgeable, more counsellors who can help youth deal with their experiences.  There are also youth health centres, Gay Straight Alliances, campus groups, women's centres, etc. And, of course, there is the Youth Project with its strong presence in schools, communities and universities." She adds that programs like Allies are making a difference, identifying people who can help create a more positive space.

 A workshop on how to become registered with Dalhousie's Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Youth Project's Ally Card Program will be held on Tuesday, Oct. 18 at 2:30 p.m. at the Student Union Building.


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