When Melanie Lintott used to sit in the University LRT station, she would watch as people’s attention shifted from the phone in their hands to a poster along the station walls. The poster, part of the Gender Based Violence Prevention Project at the University of Alberta, made a simple statement: “Appropriate Use of the Word Rape,” with the right answer, “When naming instances of sexual violence” resolutely circled in red.
Reactions to the poster, which attempts to show that the word rape shouldn’t be used as a joke, in reference to writing a tough exam or beating a team, were as divisive as it was revealing.
“People would look up and get really angry or people would look up and get really excited and take photos and send them to their friends,” recalls Lintott, who was the GBVPP coordinator. “So it was kind of a mix of half the people were so annoyed it was being talked about and the other people were just so grateful it was finally being talked about.”
The rape culture awareness poster series is just one of the ways the GBVPP has pushed the university community to reexamine the many facets of gender-based and sexual violence over the last two years since receiving a government grant. Among many other things, the project brought in several speakers, created the Accountability Action Project to better educate men on the impact of this type of violence, and advocated for policy/institutional changes on matters like gender-inclusive washrooms at the U of A.
With their funding period at its end, the GBVPP has largely come to a conclusion now, with Lintott’s role as coordinator finished at the end of June. Looking back on the last two years, she recalls how although the project received plenty of informal positive feedback—speakers such as actress and activist Laverne Cox and civil rights activist Angela Davis saw over 1000 and 600 people in attendance, respectively, and their poster series is now used in universities as far away as Australia—the at-times adverse reactions proved to be just as valuable.
The GBVPP’s goals will continue on in a new project set to launch at the U of A this September. Tentatively titled The Gender and Sexual Diversity Centre, it will act as both a place where LGBTQ students can come together and a forum for student-led advocacy on LGBTQ issues. Parker Leflar, the new centre’s coordinator and a previous member of the GBVPP, says they will continue some of the work the GBVPP started, such as their efforts towards implementing gender-inclusive washrooms and organizing events like a campus Transgender Day of Remembrance.
“I think that over the last couple of years, GBVPP has really gained a lot of momentum and had a very high profile in raising issues around gender-based violence. To me, it’s a really natural fit to talk about that in the context of gender and sexual diversity because those issues are very linked,” Leflar says.
Lintott is thankful the government funding allowed them to advocate both on campus and within the city over the last two years, and is confident it will continue in the new centre.
“This work still would’ve been done even if [GBVPP] didn’t exist, but we were able to just facilitate all these amazing things that people were already doing,” Lintott says.