MacEwan University’s student publication. Honest reporting, quality media, and good vibes.

A career-changing project: How Jessica Scalzo began supporting generations of 2SLGBTQIA+ students

by | Oct 20, 2023 | Campus, People | 0 comments

Queer joy can feel like it’s in short supply these days. Fortunately, 2SLGBTQIA+ students can still find a safer space and community at MacEwan’s Centre for Sexual and Gender Diversity (CSGD). The mood at the centre has been festive lately— in early October, it celebrated the first anniversary of its dedicated space opening. 

Until October 2022, the department had operated without a dedicated space. Jessica Scalzo, CSGD’s program coordinator, has been there since the department’s beginnings in 2020. As soon as she read the job description, she knew this was the role for her. The interview validated that instinct. 

“Listening to those folks describe the job, I knew that I would do well in it, and that I would be able to guide this brand-new entity of CSGD,” says Scalzo. Her office walls are brightly decorated with artworks representing diverse 2SLGBTQIA+ identities. 

The role was a natural progression for Scalzo. She knew early on that she wanted to support young people, inspired by teachers who were her lifeline when she was targeted by bullying. Education abroad in high school and university helped her focus on equity-related work, something she brought to the classroom as well. 

“Being so deeply engrossed in that project really forced me to reevaluate myself, and my experiences, and who I was.” 

Jessica Scalzo, CSGD’s program coordinator

She continued to teach as she began working at The Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA). In 2016, recognition of her previous EDI work led to Scalzo being invited to work on the secondary edition of ATA’s Professionals Respecting Individual Sexual and Gender Minorities (PRISM) handbook. During this project, she realized that she wasn’t working on it as an outsider, but rather as a community member. 

“Being so deeply engrossed in that project really forced me to reevaluate myself, and my experiences, and who I was,” says Scalzo. “It led to me coming out, which really ignited a different level of passion and commitment because it was no longer standing up for others but also myself and my own communities.” 

After writing the PRISM handbook, Scalzo continued teaching equity-focused workshops to ATA teachers, including PRISM workshops. However, Scalzo felt that Alberta’s provincial discourse around GSAs between 2014 and 2016 led to a sentiment that people should keep their identities to themselves. 

“I didn’t think I’d have to spell it so hard to teachers, that this was the right thing to do for our students,” says Scalzo. “I had to reevaluate what I believed about these systems and my role in them … If I couldn’t reach the teachers, how do I reach and support the students?” 

As CSGD’s program coordinator, Scalzo now supports both groups. Among diverse other tasks, her work includes advising 2SLGBTQIA+ students and helping instructors improve classroom inclusivity. Scalzo’s seen the importance of this work firsthand, with recent events like the 1MillionMarch4Children affecting queer students’ wellbeing. “Our students are terrified,” says Scalzo. “It can be really hard for young people in that generation of any identities to have hope for the future.”

“We will persist and resist and continue to be proud.”

Jessica Scalzo, CSGD’s program coordinator

“But I’m also seeing, especially the new students this year, coming in, it’s such a relief to them when they find our space,” she adds. “It also drives home how much we need community and connection, because that’s the only way we’re going to survive this pervasive culture of transphobia and homophobia.” 

Modelling resilience as a response to these challenges, CSGD has embraced Queering the Future as its theme this year. Programming will focus on envisioning a future where queer perspectives are embraced by and benefit others. 

As she helps students stay safe in hostile times, Scalzo herself isn’t backing down, either. 

“I also feel an obligation to increase my own visibility and the work of the Centre to show that we’re not going to hide,” she says. “We will persist and resist and continue to be proud.”

Sandrine Camminga

The Griff


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related articles