Paola Quirós, Women's Centre coordinator. Photo credit Chris Ho.

Fast Facts on Paola Quirós

  • Name: Paola Quirós (pronounced: p ah-OH-l ah)
  • Preferred pronouns: she/her
  • Position: Co-ordinator of the SFSS Women’s Centre since November 2017
  • Education: BA in Social Communication and Journalism from University of La Sabana in Colombia and a certificate in International Development from UBC
  • Work experience: Front-line worker in non-profit organizations supporting women and vulnerable populations (such as recent immigrants), member of the City of Vancouver’s Women’s Advisory Committee, co-producer of Suena a Revolución, a podcast that showcases Latin American and Caribbean artivists (activist and artist), and assisting callers who contact the VictimLink, Youth Against Violence, and the drug and alcohol phone lines.
  • Hobbies: Creating art, writing, and discovering new independent female artists
  • Fun fact: Although Quirós comes from Colombia, a country famous for coffee, she doesn’t like coffee at all.

On a cold winter afternoon on the Burnaby campus, I am happy to be warm inside of the Simon Fraser Student Society Women’s Centre, located in the Rotunda between the Lorne Davies Complex and the Maggie Benston Centre. As snow spirals downwards outside, the new coordinator of the space, Paola Quirós, shows me around.

We begin in the All Genders Resource Area, hosting a study space, a colourful geometric-patterned couch, over five thousand woman-centric books, and many resources including crisis-line numbers, pamphlets, condoms, and pregnancy tests. Behind a closed door, the lights have been dimmed, as students are curled up on the couches, napping. A bin of freshly-cleaned blankets and multiple comfy couches fill the space, as well as a fully-stocked kitchen, including a fridge and a microwave. More safe-sex supplies and resources, as well as snacks, line the counters. This is the 24/7 Lounge Area, open to all self-identified women, including trans and intersex women. There is a strict no gender policing policy in place, as well as a five-point mandate: the centre is pro-feminist, pro-choice, trans and intersex inclusive, sex positive, and anti-racist.

In an average day at the centre, Quirós works to keep the space organized and clean, ensures that the free resources are well-stocked, converses with SFU’s diverse student body, and supports anyone in distress, referring them to appropriate services. She also meets with various departments at SFU to collaboratively develop ways to continually support students.

When asked about something unexpected she has encountered at SFU so far, Quirós says: “To be honest, to have a women’s centre in a university. That’s big, and sometimes we don’t see it as that . . . Not all students in Canada [or] around the world will have the privilege to access a centre like this . . . SFU should be proud.” In Quirós’ home country of Colombia, a women’s centre in a university was unheard of. Now, she sees creating a safe, cozy, women-centric space with so many relevant resources as an integral part of supporting students.

An obstacle that she faces daily —which Quirós assures me is actually more of an opportunity, since it will not stop her — is trying to spread the word to students that the centre exists and is overflowing with resources for them. Quirós is passionate about making a positive impact on the wellness of self-identifying women, and all SFU students. She says, “I know that I may not be able to create a big impact, but I know that just by providing a single contact information, or just by listening to the student, by acknowledging what is happening, that is creating a difference.” A bright smile spreads across her face as she describes how much she enjoys interacting with the students she meets, her favourite part of the job.

Her work doesn’t end there, as Quirós has plans for wide-spread sex-positive education within and beyond the doors of the Centre. She believes that sexual education courses at SFU providing “information on sexual activity, and sexual inactivity that promotes pleasure, safety and informed choices across all genders, orientations, and expression” would be a useful resource for students. She hopes to bring sex-education workshops to the Women’s Centre, to build onto the work of SFU’s Health and Counselling Services’ Health Peers.

“I know that many secondary schools offer that training, but I think that we need to continue that line of work. The information does not stop when you move to university,” Quirós says.

Something else she’s looking forwards to? “Centring the voices of Indigenous and racialized self-identifying women at the Women’s Centre, and other minorities who are seldom heard,” she says with a smile. For Quirós, living far from home has helped her acknowledge her mestiza (European and Indigenous) roots and the importance of her identity.

The interview ends with this final message from Quirós to the student body: “Be proactive and check all the resources available at your university for you. Sometimes because we don’t know, we don’t access services . . . It will impact [your] wellness, and that will impact [your] academic life.” And, Quirós adds, “It’s your right.”