Harnessing the power of language

Student Society Profile: Dal Gets REAL

- January 28, 2015

Dal Gets REAL director Bobby MacPherson makes more than a fashion statement with one of the society's iconic pink hats. (Ali Seglins photo)
Dal Gets REAL director Bobby MacPherson makes more than a fashion statement with one of the society's iconic pink hats. (Ali Seglins photo)

Bobby MacPherson is an active guy on campus. The native of Newmarket, Ont. has been involved with Residence Life as an RA and senior RA, the East Coast Student Leadership Conference, Movember, and DalConnects, but these days he’s known for his pink hats. He gets asked about them all the time.

“They stand out in a crowd and they’re a great marketing tool,” he says. “They symbolize uniting young people in a friendly, positive, and exciting movement towards changing perceptions, changing harmful language, and promoting inclusivity in a fresh and youthful way.”

The 4th-year history student is the director of Dal Gets REAL, part of a national movement by university students who work to stand up and speak out against homophobia. The organization was started at the University of Western Ontario in 2011 and Bobby put together the Dal team in June of 2014. It’s now in 16 schools across the country.

Get REAL is built on a platform of proactivity. Its aim is to eliminate LGBTQ discrimination by sharing personal stories that demonstrate the harm that comes from using homophobic and transphobic language. Through community outreach and presentations at middle schools and high schools, Get REAL aims to demonstrate to young people why it’s unacceptable to address their peers with slurs and other derogatory names. It was this angle that really drew Bobby to the initiative.

“That proactive measure of going into schools when kids don’t yet understand the language they’re using—I thought that was amazing,” he says. “We have a lot of different groups who provide support for people who experience discrimination, but we don’t have a lot of groups who go in proactively and try to stop this discrimination before it happens.”

Get REAL presentations are all structured around true stories told by Get REAL members. The initiative is open to anyone and everyone who has experienced discrimination and wants to speak out about it. Nation-wide, Get REAL does a school presentation each week, on average. Since Dal Gets REAL is still in its infancy, it’s currently in the process of setting up its first presentation.

“Get REAL convinces people to come forward and tell their own stories,” says Bobby. “We don’t do a lot of retelling. It’s very inspiring to hear other members of Get REAL telling their stories and getting reactions from students. After presentations, a lot of students will identify themselves as members of the LGBTQ community. It’s really motivating to see those students come forward.”

Finding a support network

Bobby was motivated to start up the Dal chapter of Get REAL because of his own negative experiences with the power of language. Realizing it’s something that a lot of people deal with on a regular basis, he saw his opportunity to help make a change.

“I’ve seen a lot of discrimination in this area—personal and friends,” he says. “It wasn’t until I came to Dalhousie that I was fully accepting of who I was. I like the idea of not even having a classification or labelling yourself. But being comfortable with myself was something that I really struggled with in high school. When who you are has such a negative image, that’s something that you want to repress. It wasn’t until I was here at Dalhousie that I realized it doesn’t matter what other people think of you, it’s what you think of yourself. I want to encourage others to stop using those words.”

He says there’s an open culture at Dal that encouraged him to start Dal Gets REAL and have it be embraced by the community. It’s the same mindset that helped him overcome his shy, reserved nature in high school and allowed him to discover his true self.

"I didn’t get involved in high school,” he says. “But in first year I realized everything’s different here. Everyone’s encouraging you to do what you want. Everything I’ve done has always been met with open arms. I’ve never been told that something’s too big or that I couldn’t do it. And that’s something I love about Dalhousie: that I’m always growing. And if something fails I can learn from it.”


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