The rainbow conundrum at UVic: Crosswalk refresh no simple paint job

UVic has said any repainting of the rainbow crosswalk will have to wait until it holds conversations with staff, faculty and students. It’s spent $24,000 on those consultations.

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It has spent two years and $24,000 in consultant fees, but the University of Victoria still hasn’t decided what it wants to do with its fading rainbow crosswalk.

University staff planned on giving the crosswalk, meant to celebrate the LGBTQ community, a fresh coat of paint in September 2020, five years after it was first painted.

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UVic president Kevin Hall requested a quote for paint in 2021, within three months of assuming office. He got an estimate of $8,000 for the 300-square-foot, eight-colour sidewalk with white bars on either side.

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The simple repainting job has turned out to be not quite so simple.

Apart from the two white borders added last September to increase its visibility, there has been little change to the crosswalk since 2015, when it was first painted.

UVic has said any repainting of the rainbow crosswalk will have to wait until it holds conversations with staff, faculty and students. There are also questions about what colours to paint, since different colours mean different things, and what design would be best.

A focus group on Tuesday for LGBTQ staff and faculty to discuss the question of whether rainbow crosswalks make the campus safer was cancelled due to low registration.

LGBTQ students and recent alumni have been invited to a similar event on Thursday. Those attending have been offered a $55 Skip the Dishes gift card as compensation for the two-hour virtual event. A survey is also available for those who can’t make it.

The school has hired PeerNetBC, a Vancouver-based non-profit described by UVic as a “skilled external consultative group,” to conduct those conversations for $24,000, according to documents obtained through a freedom of information request.

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Cleo Philp, director of campaigns and community relations with the University of Victoria Students’ Society, said that money could be used in better ways. “It just feels like throwing money to the wind.”

Before PeerNetBC was hired, more than 15 campus groups had been consulted on the issue by February 2021.

About one in five students at UVic identify as non-heterosexual, with 3.4 per cent identifying as non-binary, a rate that’s three to four times higher than the Canadian average for those age 18-34, according to 2016 data from the National College Health Assessment Survey.

Philp, who is trans and uses she/they pronouns, said “getting the right-coloured crosswalk” is not the solution for making trans people safer on campus. She would prefer that the money spent on consultants go to ­student bursaries for low-income trans and queer students instead.

UVic committed to creating an inclusive campus in its strategic plan released this month and has created a 13-point equity action plan to help “dismantle all forms of oppression,” including “colonization, white supremacy, historical trauma and patriarchal norms.”

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Emails between Sally Eshuys, director of the office of the president, and a UVic facilities management employee show Hall wanted to consider adding the colours black and brown to the crosswalk as a reference to BIPOC people — Black, Indigenous, People of Colour — as early as January 2021.

The university was also considering a design based on the Progress Pride flag, which includes a chevron with additional colours meant to represent trans people, marginalized people of colour and those affected by the AIDS crisis.

But emails between employees in UVic’s facilities management and the university’s communications and marketing departments in May show that facilities management was still “waiting for the appropriate artwork” to come from the school’s equity and human rights department.

Reegan Shrumm, a Victoria-based art curator who uses they/them pronouns and is a frequent consultant on equity, diversity, inclusion and accessibility, said neither the price nor the timeline of the consultations is surprising. “Things just take a long time.”

Shrumm, a former UVic graduate student who recalls people intentionally leaving skid marks on the rainbow crosswalk in 2015 shortly after it was first installed, worries that UVic is focusing on the crosswalk rather than dealing with the issue of violence against trans people on campus.

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On June 6, the City of Victoria quietly repainted its own three rainbow crosswalks in front of city hall.

Victoria spokesperson Colleen Mycroft said in a statement at the time that road markings in the downtown core typically last two to four years, and the $17,500 cost was already accounted for in the road markings maintenance program.

Saanich installed rainbow crosswalks at all four of its rec centres in June. The district also installed a Progress Pride rainbow crosswalk at its municipal hall this year.

A UVic communications official said it was unlikely that they would be able to provide someone to interview about the subject on Tuesday, and referred the Times Colonist to its notice page about the rainbow crosswalk consultation process.

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