To commemorate tenure with the University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union, Pride Centre coordinator Jory McKay and Women’s Centre coordinator Sarah Cassidy talk about their time in the Memorial Union Building.
Besides your interests in 2SLGBTQIA+ and women’s rights, what initially drew you to your positions?
McKay: “I really wanted to focus on bringing more people into the space and healing the space, bringing it some prosperity.”
Cassidy: “Once I became a volunteer and more familiar with the centres and the USSU as an organization, I was drawn to the idea of having the centres be a more active space in all areas of campus. I wanted to use my experience in student leadership to expand our scope.”
You’ve both spoken about bringing changes to the centre. What kind of changes did you make?
McKay: “Volunteer policy … in general, but really, with gender identity, gender expression. They weren’t actively discussed in training our volunteers, so we’ve added things like doing pronoun circles when people first enter the space. We’ve really worked on introductions — how to make people more comfortable — especially because it’s such a social space.”
“Adding Queer Women’s Night, Pride Night, Gender Coup d’état and Gaymer Night have been some really awesome things that I’ve done and worked on with volunteers with ideas that they brought forward.”
Cassidy: “But I’m really proud of the accepting, diverse, incredible, welcoming space that we have… I’ve also been excited about some of the new training opportunities I’ve been able to bring.”
“I’ve had a representative of Saskatoon Sexual Health come in and talk about what it means to be pro-choice and how to navigate those difficult conversations.”
“And at the beginning of the year, I organized a workshop about how to support survivors of sexual violence.”
Were there any surprises upon taking up these roles?
Cassidy: “First and foremost, our responsibility is coordinating our volunteers and maintaining our centre space, offering meaningful programming. But then on top of that, I think there’s so many opportunities to make the job your own — in terms of the partnerships you form and groups that you collaborate with.”
McKay: “When you take on this position, you learn about all the committee work that needs to get done and this large representative role that you play as an advocate.”
“It can be a big task to take on. It’s really worth it, but this job follows you outside the hours that you put into your work week. It’s really a passion project for things.”
“Like queer housing… When I started this job, I never thought that would be a possibility. Once you take on this position, you learn that there’s so much you can do.”
What has best defined this time for you as coordinator, in terms of either personal growth or growth for the centres?
McKay: “I think my maturity level has increased dramatically. I’ve become a much more responsible person — my time has been spent better, and I’ve, overall, been a lot more positive since I took on this position.”
“It’s really allowed me to flourish and become a better person to people around me. I’ve had individuals I grew up with say it’s a lot better to be around me now because I’m doing something I’m passionate about.”
Cassidy: “I’ve learned so much from the people I’ve worked with. I think I’ve developed a lot of incredible friendships while working with volunteers and students.
“And I’ve learned so much from other professionals at the university, whether that’s my co-workers at the USSU or professors. I’ve had the opportunity to grow and learn so much because this job has allowed me to be surrounded by incredibly intelligent people all the time.”
Are there any changes that you wish you had made but have not yet implemented?
Cassidy: “I don’t think so. I mean, are there things that I would love to do that I did not physically have the time for? Yes, of course. I could probably come up with new ideas forever for the Women’s Centre because it’s something that I care so much about. But I can’t say that I have any regrets.”
McKay: “We have done so much. Whenever I look back like, ‘What did I do this week?’ I’m like, ‘Oh, I worked on six initiatives that have major changes for students.’”
“I’ve had the freedom to do things that massively affects student life in such a positive way, and I can’t look back at things that I could have done because some of the things we do take up so much time, so much love and energy are put into them.”
“I just wish I could work at the centre for the next 36 years of my life, until I retire at the ripe age of whatever-that-is. I just want to work at the centre until I die, honestly.”
What do you want to be your legacy within the centres, of the changes you’ve made or things you’ve continued?
Cassidy: “The most important thing I always say at the beginning of every volunteer orientation is that volunteers are welcoming people and letting them know that they’re there to answer questions and support those people.”
“That’s perpetuated by all of us as a team within the centre, and that’s something that I want to see continue, but I know it will because it’s bigger than just one person.”
McKay: “I would love to be remembered for things like queer housing, policy changes and advocacy for more accessible gender neutral bathrooms.”
“I’m just really proud of that space and what we’ve been able to foster, able to change. And I’m proud of us for being able to listen to critiques and not take them as insults but rather ask, ‘How can we fix this?’”
What are you going to miss most come May?
Cassidy: “I feel lucky to have had this position that I care so much about, and I’ll miss the sense of community.”
McKay: “Being able to go into work every morning and have people in there genuinely care about what I’m doing. I’m really going to miss walking into that office everyday, miss walking into a place, talking about 2SLGBTQIA+ issues and everyone being so excited to hear about it.”
Cassidy: “Yeah, I’ll miss working around that enthusiasm.”
McKay: “I don’t plan on leaving this community ever, but I’m going to miss feeling welcomed by a family who cares about me.”
What are your plans for the future?
Cassidy: “I will be finishing my education degree in December, so I’m looking forward to pursuing my career in education.”
McKay: “I’m in my third year of university, so I still have a lot of time in school. I just want to be me and continue doing what I want to do.”
Photo: Kienan Ashton