I met Alyy Patel at a semi formal, where right before we introduced ourselves my boyfriend had told me great things about her energetic spirit. Since then I’ve got to experience nothing but a radiant personality with a fiery drive to get the things she strives for done. As the founder of the #ConsentisBAE campaign in Woodsworth, she speaks up about sexual violence within Woodsworth College and around campus. Because of this, I thought she’d make a fantastic person to interview. As an advocator for equity issues myself, the work that Alyy does around campus is tremendous and can most certainly impact the future of UofT in the best way possible.
Name: Alyy Patel
Year: Third Year
Subject POSTs: Sociology, Sexual Diversity Studies, Women and Gender Studies
Favourite soft drink, if any: Diet Coke with ice
1. Can you tell me a bit about yourself in a few sentences or less?
I’m very passionate about social justice advocacy and involvement within the UofT community. I am currently the Co-President of Woodsworth Inclusive (WiNC) and Associate Vice-President Internal and Services at the UTSU. Throughout my time at UofT, I have held various leadership positions such as Orientation Coordinator for Woodsworth College, Associate Vice-President Equity at the UTSU, and Full Time Students’ Director on the Woodsworth College Students’ Association. As an LGBTQ+ rights activist and intersectional feminist, I am extremely dedicated to creating safer spaces on campus, and have done so through a variety of successful campaigns, including but not limited to: the gender-neutral washroom campaign, the Let’s Talk About Race campaign, and #ConsentisBAE (Before Anything Else).
2. How has been your experiences at UofT so far and what do you think has shaped who you are the most?
I have had mostly positive experiences at UofT. While the rigorous academics have definitely not been the highlight of these experiences, I do believe that I have been able to create opportunities for myself to actively engage in impactful ways despite various challenges and barriers. Woodsworth College has definitely shaped me the most. Coming into such a large University that carries the reputation of ‘everyone is a number’ was absolutely terrifying, especially because I have always been one to find happiness in extra-curricular involvement. This, along with my 4-hours-a-day commute, pushed me to almost drop out of University in the beginning of first year. Woodsworth allowed me to take baby-steps back into school involvement. In my first year, I applied for a vacant Vice-President position on WiNC in hopes to continue my engagement in LGBTQ+ activism. My role on WiNC drew me closer to Woodsworth, and allowed me to get further involved with the college’s student government and Dean’s Office. When hired as OC, I realized that I wanted to actively give back to students in ways beyond simply representing the student body on various councils. I started this year off by stressing the importance of involvement to my first years and orientation leaders, and continued to address various issues that are very close to my heart through initiatives in the college. Woodsworth allowed me to shape negative experiences into positive ones, and use these positive experiences to foster a better community. Woodsworth has given me the confidence to go beyond my college community, and work to make an impactful difference in the wider UofT community.
3. Can you tell me a bit about WiNC and the #ConsentisBAE campaign you’ve been working on?
WiNC is the LGBTQ+ group at Woodsworth College, and has historically focused exclusively on queer identities. Since being elected as President two years ago, I’ve worked to expand these conversations by emphasizing the various issues that LGBTQ+ students face, such as racism and sexual violence. Both of these issues have personally impacted my queer identity, as well as that of others, which led me to develop awareness campaigns in response. The #ConsentisBAE campaign centers the narratives of queer survivors of sexual violence. I am spearheading this campaign to ensure that queer students are fairly represented in sexual violence discourses. The structure of #ConsentisBAE is largely representative of my experiences as a survivor, and what I wish people would understand about sexual violence. I translated these experiences and feelings into a three-tier campaign that aims to provide resources to survivors, educate folks on the impacts of sexual violence and how to appropriately respond to sexual violence disclosures, and clearly explain what consent is. One of the most impactful aspects of this campaign was a sexual violence gallery that displayed quotes from anonymous queer-identifying survivors at Woodsworth College expressing their feelings about the incident (image 1). This gallery allowed survivors to be heard without having to out themselves, and provided folks the opportunity to better understand the devastating impacts that sexual violence has on an individual. Image 1: Sexual Violence Gallery at Woodsworth College
4. How do you feel about the general conversation about sexual violence and initiatives that deal with such topics?
I personally feel that most sexual violence conversations and initiatives focus largely on heterosexuality- specially men perpetrating sexual violence on women. Initiatives that include homosexuality often do so minimally and typically focus on MSM. Lesbians are very often entirely erased from these conversations, and the queer identities of survivors are rarely discussed. I think the notion that “most rape occurs between a male perpetrator and female victim” is extremely flawed, as it is largely based on reported case and does not account for the fact that LGBTQ+ folks less often report sexual violence due to the forceful disclosure of one’s sexuality, and the pre-existing discrimination and stereotypes in the Criminal Justice System. As well, I believe that endorsing the notion that men are the aggressors and women are the victims reinforces harmful gender stereotypes, upholds male vulnerability as a taboo subject, and does not allow male survivors to seek support. These generalized campaigns often try to reach out to a diverse audience, and I do not believe that it is entirely effective or appropriate to heavily associate sexual violence with heterosexuality and female victimization. I strongly believe that sexual violence initiatives would be just as effective if gender-neutral language was used where possible, such as in the description of the aggressor and victim.
5. While issues like sexual violence is often a hard topic to talk about, what do you think clubs and even student organizations can do to bring issues like this into the audiences they reach? First and foremost, I strongly believe that sexual violence campaigns should be strongly influenced by the voices of survivors. I personally believe that it is not effective to speak on behalf of these experiences, and that doing so typically results in generic and ineffective campaigns. For instance, many campaigns focus on messaging such as “consent is mandatory” or “no means no,” but fail to go beyond this by actually explaining WHY consent is important, or providing therapeutic outlets/ resources to survivors. The most important thing that student organizations can do to effectively bring issues like sexual violence into the audience they reach is having a plan of what deliverables will accompany their messaging. By focusing on WHY this is important, groups will be able to develop more impactful methods of getting their message across their audience. For example, pairing a sexual violence gallery with consent is before anything else messaging allowed folks to deeply understand the implications of not asking for consent.
6. What do you see for the future of equity issues on campus?
I have a lot of faith in the future of equity issues on campus. I definitely believe that there is a lot of work to do still, but I’m hopeful because in my three years at UofT alone, I have noticed equity issues take the much needed spotlight. Despite the lack of formal achievement in filling the gaps in equity issues on campus, I think it is important to recognize that even putting equity conversations on the stage is a big step toward a better future for equity. I strongly believe that the student leaders on our campus have a lot of potential to foster equity changes, and I genuinely do believe that we, as student leaders, can help fill gaps in equity and create much safer spaces on campus.