Vancouver Island University has spearheaded a new initiative to ensure LGBTQ students and faculty are acknowledged by the university’s broader commitment to anti-oppression. The university’s Positive Space Alliance (PSA) has painted a prominent staircase on its Nanaimo campus to reflect the colours of the rainbow flag — a historic symbol of freedom and struggle for the LGBTQ community. The staircase will also be accompanied by a sign detailing the cultural significance of the flag.
The rainbow staircase, located in a high-traffic area near building 300, took its inspiration from similar queer-positive initiatives installed in public spaces across British Columbia. Michael Olson, an active member of the PSA steering committee and executive director of the VIU Students’ Union, says the rainbow staircase is a perfect fit for campus.
“In recent years, there have been some cities in B.C. that have made public statements about their commitment to supporting the LGBTQ communities through rainbow installations. In Vancouver and Victoria, crosswalks in high-traffic intersections were painted with a rainbow and just this past summer, the City of Nanaimo also painted [rainbow] crosswalks in a downtown intersection. We have heard from students and staff a desire to have something similar at VIU,” Mr. OIson says. “Because of the nature of the Nanaimo campus, there is no high-traffic roadway that would lend itself to this sort of thing. But staircases are a defining feature of our campus-on-a-hill, and so it was a natural, uniquely VIU twist on a rainbow crosswalk.”
Mr. Olson says he has seen an outpouring of support on social media from students and faculty noting the location and scale of the rainbow staircase, and the positive impact it has already had on campus life. The PSA is also involved in several other queer-positive initiatives across the university, including awareness-raising workshops and the implementation of non-gendered washrooms on the Nanaimo, Cowichan, and Powell River campuses.
“These washrooms were converted with virtually no incident, in part due to the educational component in the form of signage in each of the washrooms,” Mr. Olson says.
Mr. Olson says the PSA is working with the university on plans for more inclusivity in the designs of newer buildings.