On the path from Convocation Mall to West Mall Centre, before the Starbucks, is a cheerful sign featuring colourful monsters informing students that Out on Campus (OOC) is open for service. Most SFU students are likely to have walked back and forth past that sign multiple times without pausing, but this week, The Peak entered through those doors to sit down with OOC’s volunteer coordinator, Kyle McCloy, and learn more about the services and the role the space plays in our community.
“Two doors is scary to walk through,” joked McCloy, “and a lot of people haven’t been in here, but they’re always surprised by how cool and well-furnished it is.”
The room inside OOC is multifunctional: the large yet cozy space harbours an office, a fridge, a study space, a library, and two large sofas covered in pillows. The area is meant to serve as a safe space for students to come have their questions answered, access health resources, and just hang out.
OOC has been a part of SFU for over forty years. It originally began as a student club, but is now a part of the Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS). Currently they employ three staff members, and have five volunteers. McCloy has been working with the group for only a few months now — he began work in May — and for him, the most rewarding part of the job so far has been the one-on-one interaction the position offers him with students.
“Instead of a planned response [to students’ problems], our approach is ‘what do you need specifically, and how can we make sure you get the best experience,’” he said.
Throughout the summer, the centre was open Monday to Thursday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. During hours of operation, students walking into the office are welcomed by a staff member or volunteer present in the space and are free to ask for any help or ask questions they might need answered. Alternatively, students are also encouraged to come by simply to have a conversation, eat lunch, or take out one of the books from the extensive library featuring works on the topic of LGBTQ+ community or written by LGBTQ+ authors.
“We get a lot of prospective students asking us questions,” McCloy said. “They ask us what the environment on campus is like for queer students and how they might fit in.”
Students also often come in with health concerns, issues they may be having with a class they’re taking, or specific SFU policies such as how to change their gender on their official records.
In addition to maintaining a safe space on campus, OOC holds various events for students and staff. They host lunches and board game socials to provide opportunities for students to meet other students. They also have a developing education series called the Positive Space Network.
The Positive Space Network consists of workshops held for staff and students to help them develop a greater understanding of LGBTQ+ issues — sexual identity, gender identity, and sexual orientation to name a few. McCloy reported that the workshops had recently been gaining popularity with university departments that hold a lot of one-on-one student interactions, such as Health and Counselling and Student Services, to help staff better relate to queer students and the issues they may face.
The department has also published a “Trans and Gender Diverse Guide to SFU,” which can be accessed online. The guide provides information geared towards trans and gender diverse students as they navigate campus life. The 42-page publication covers everything from advice on coming out, to medical transitions, to details on the washrooms available on campus.
Information about OOC’s events as well as community events is disseminated through their newsletter. McCloy also recommends students visit OOC’s website or send an e-mail if they have further questions or want to volunteer. “Actually, the best thing would probably just be for students to come in,” he said, “and we can talk right then and there.”
One of the biggest misconceptions about OOC that McCloy has recognized is that the service was only present for queer students. “In the past, it’s been seen that if you’re not queer you can’t come in,” McCloy said. “But we’re not just a safe space for queer students; anyone can come in and ask questions.”
“People are scared of asking questions now, but we want to make [the conversation] more open and support allies because they help make the campus a safe space as a whole,” he emphasized.
Moving forward in his new role as volunteer coordinator, McCloy’s vision is to grow the programs OOC offers and make them more frequent and regular. He also aims to increase the presence of OOC at SFU. “Even some students who identify as LGBTQ+ don’t know what we’re here for and what we do,” he said.
Near the end of the interview, I told McCloy about the only other time I had ever walked into OOC’s office. It was an overcast January day and I had chosen to wear these beautiful, yet not quite broken-in, grey flats to class. A few hours had barely passed before I felt the backs of the shoes chafing against my heels and giving me blisters. Eventually, I just couldn’t take the pain anymore and I took my shoes off and walked barefoot across campus looking for a replacement pair.
After failing to find flip flops in the bookstore and convenience store, I had nearly given up as I walked past the cheerful monsters directing me towards the OOC office.
I didn’t even have to say a word: when I walked in, a lady in a grey cardigan sitting behind the main computer looked up, noticed my bare feet and the shoes in my hand, and asked, “Shoe crisis?” She then located a pair of flip flops, hand sanitizer to wipe them with, and Band-Aids for the blisters on my feet. More than anything, I remember the overwhelming gratitude I felt in that moment to have this space on campus that is simply there to provide support to its students.
When I told McCloy this story, he smiled and replied, “That’s what we’re here for.”