“I wanted to start something that targeted the straight community,” explains Bertram. “I found that there wasn’t a presence on campus that was doing that, or doing that well enough.”
Studer adds the campaign specifically wanted to target middle schools and high schools to address an age group in which attitudes against homophobia could start to form.
“When kids have gone through years of learning homophobic slurs, especially from the media, and use them in day-to-day life without having anyone say anything to them, the thought that these behaviours may not be okay likely won’t come organically,” he elaborates. “The thought process needs to come externally, and preferably from someone in a role model position.”
Get REAL’s recent outreach success can be largely attributed to a video made by the campaign this past April, titled To My Grade 7 Self. The video features personal stories from Western students directed towards their younger selves with warnings and cautions about how they may feel later about bullying or language they used in the past.
Bertram calls the video “Chris’s brainchild.” Studer explains that, through personal experience at an all-boys’ school, he felt students in grade seven and eight were the most likely to feel insecure and engage in inappropriate homophobic behaviour. He counts himself among students who used homophobic slurs without fully comprehending their consequences.
Both Studer and So went to an all-boys’ school that, according to Studer, had a very intense homophobic atmosphere. “We went to a workshop at my school in Toronto and two gay men spoke to us about acceptance and what it means to say hurtful things when you do realize it and when you do it unintentionally,” Studer says. “This was the first time I’d ever considered what I was doing in a negative light.”
He mentions that, as a social science soph, he had great experiences working with first-year students through leading by example and advocating against using homophobic slurs.
” We just took what we knew from the orientation program, and our experiences, and tried to transform it into something that a lot of people could latch onto. We didn’t want something authoritative or scolding. ”
He maintains that even though people may use certain words and phrases every day, they can unlearn certain language by making an effort.
“That was the message we wanted to get across. We really think that language is one of the core obstacles towards becoming more open-minded, and language can really hurt people.”
Since April, To My Grade 7 Self has opened up many opportunities for the Get REAL team. Both Studer and Bertram say the campaign’s success exceeded their expectations and the video gave them more legitimacy.
Currently, the team is working on workshops for middle school students planned for the summer and the fall. There are also a few videos planned for the future.
“We are going to try our best to film and document everything with photos and videos,” Studer says. “We are also going to put together a video for the end of summer that is really geared towards people who supported the original video.”
Bertram hopes the Get REAL campaign will reach out to even more students in upcoming years. Currently, Get REAL is in talks with two other universities in Ontario and Bertram hopes to see more universities take on a similar initiative.
“It would be great if five years from now, there was a chapter of Get REAL at every university. Students from these universities could also reach out to middle schools and high schools.”
“I would love to see Get REAL become something that people sign off on in O-week —everyone should take the pledge to be accepting of others,” Bertram adds.
In the meantime, next year’s Get REAL executive team is excited to get to work in September. Robert Camastra, one of two Vice President Expansions for next year, hopes to come up with other projects and goals to extend past the video.
“What is important is that we know that [the video] isn’t the extent of our club,” Camastra explains. “It has given us a foundation that middle school and high school teachers can use for their classes. It has given us many opportunities to evoke change, but we must keep in mind that there are more things we can do.”