When I first heard about UCLA Ally Week, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes.
It’s not that I don’t believe fervently in supporting the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Rather, it seemed to me that having an “ally” week was like having a “pat yourself on the back” week.
Turns out, I was entirely mistaken.
UCLA Ally Week is not about reaffirming people who already support the LGBT community, but rather about cultivating a broader range of allies on our campus.
It’s a week dedicated to reaching out to people who typically do not know a lot about the LGBT community, said Undergraduate Students Association Council Internal Vice President Avi Oved.
An annual week of events co-sponsored by the UCLA LGBT Resource Center, Office of Residential Life and Internal Vice President’s Office, the week features educational programming dedicated to expanding students’ understanding of LGBT issues and what it means to be an ally.
The problem that Ally Week tries to address is a real one: There are entrenched cultures within student groups on our campus that are unsafe for LGBT community members.
To address these issues, Ally Week includes a Q&A; on identity misconceptions, a religious panel, movie screenings and speakers, among other events.
While the LGBT Resource Center does phenomenal work year-round to support the community and foster increased campus-wide awareness of LGBT issues, a greater effort must be made on this front by USAC to support the ideals of Ally Week throughout the year.
As such, Ally Week itself is not enough. USAC and communities that tend to struggle with inclusivity should work toward creating a university-wide culture that ensures LGBT people feel safe. It is not the responsibility of the oppressed to educate their oppressor – the primary body that represents all undergraduate students at UCLA needs to encourage this educational effort.
Ideally, this type of expanded effort would come through a campaign similar to the Student Wellness Commission’s 7000 in Solidarity, a campaign against sexual assault, which spent this past year advocating to create a safe campus environment for sexual assault survivors through education and institutional change.
Educational programming like pledge cards to oppose discrimination and hate, advocacy like powerful photo campaigns, multiple weeks dedicated to discussing LGBT issues and educating communities that are traditionally less LGBT-friendly on identities would be at least a solid start.
This is necessary, in part, because misunderstandings about the LGBT community, discrimination and hate are as pervasive on our campus as they are nationwide. Sometimes, the climate at UCLA can even turn violent: In January 2013, a student walking on Gayley Avenue was attacked with homophobic slurs and threatened with a knife.
Not all spaces on campus are inclusive, and some can be implicitly exclusive of LGBT identities. As such, institutional advocacy from within USAC could be an effective step toward uprooting these attitudes. Perhaps this could be one of the biggest issues that the council collectively tackles next year, in much the same way that sexual violence was this year.
This type of programming needs to be multifaceted, and should include both education about the LGBT community and advocacy for its legal equality. USAC needs to turn to the LGBT Resource Center for guidance in creating this programming, but it should take the lead on promoting and disseminating it.
“I don’t believe that wearing a T-shirt that says ‘Ally Week’ makes you an ally,” Oved said. “It’s something you have to live up to every day.”
Being an ally means you’re not only a supporter and an advocate for all facets of the LGBT community, but you also recognize that your contribution to LGBT activist work must be in a supporting, not leading, role.
Being an ally is about doing the right thing 52 weeks a year.