Good morning everyone, and welcome. My name is Jen McMillen, I work as the Dean of Students within the department of Student Success and Engagement. It is my sincere pleasure to welcome you to this fabulous event this morning.
There is a number of people set to speak today, and while I don’t want to steal anyone’s thunder, I am first. Usually Chris (Whitaker) gets to do that, but I have a feeling Chris and I won’t be talking about the same things at this particular event.
This is a big day for Humber, and many of us spend a lot of our time talking about what will matter to students and today we get to do something that will actually matter to students and that’s a very exciting thing for us.
The existence of this space matters. My own coming out process started when I was in my undergrad on a campus. It was a challenging time, and I had just about every advantage that you’re supposed to have. I had a supportive family — eventually. I had a strong social network, I was a student leader, I had a very strong sense of belonging on campus.
And the reality is that that’s not true for many of our queer, questioning and trans youth. And the fact that it is a human need, not just a student need, to be able to see yourself in your community and feel that you have a place where you belong. This is what this centre starts to do.
It will matter to those students who choose to come through those doors, but I will also tell you it’ll matter to the students who don’t. When I was coming out there was a center on the campus that I attended, but I never went. But I certainly knew it was there and that mattered to me, because it meant to me that the institution knew I was there and they thought that was okay. Not only did they think that that was okay but they thought I brought something to their community that maybe wouldn’t be there otherwise and that was very important.
We know that this center will be critical in helping students with their transition, help them build social relationships, help them learn, feel connected, but I also believe it will help save lives. We do know that for many LGBTQ youth, the percentage who will contemplate or attempt suicide is much higher than their straight colleagues. When you add to that the multiple intersections that many of our students face, those numbers will jump even higher. And maybe now… (falters, tears up).
Maybe now, students will walk by and will feel more hope. And I will admit, when Thomas and Maureen approached me with this proposal, I played the role of realist more than optimist. And I’m glad that I was wrong. I’m so pleased that I was overly conservative in my expectations.
I am proud of Humber. I am proud of us for taking this step. And I am very grateful to be a part of it. This is also a celebration, this is the reality that when you engage students and help them feel empowered, they will do wonderful things. And that is what I know we will see out of this space.