One year since the official declaration for promotion of diversity
It has been a year since Waseda University officially announced its declaration for the promotion of diversity on July 1, 2017. Since then, the University has been stepping up efforts across its campuses in promoting diversity, equality and respect for each other regardless of gender, disability, sexuality, nationality, ethnicity, religion or differences. By doing so, Waseda wants to realize a learning environment where each individual’s background is valued and where their potential can be harnessed.
In addition to the previously established Intercultural Communication Center (ICC) and Office for Students with Disabilities, the Student Diversity Center at Waseda University set up the Gender and Sexuality (GS) Center within its administration in April 2017 aimed at providing extensive support such as consultation to existing students. Even so, the level of awareness and understanding in Japan towards such initiatives by the University remains inadequate.
To find out more about what the GS Center is doing to raise awareness and promote understanding in gender and sexuality, we interviewed Kazuki Taiga who works as a professional in the field at the center.
Interview with specialist staff at GS Center
The GS Center was established in April 2017. It serves to provide rich resources and comprehensive support for all Waseda students about gender and sexuality regardless if they identify themselves as LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) or simply just want to find out more about the community or topic. The number of students who visited the GS Center within its first year of establishment was about 1000, way higher than previously expected. Among them, 128 students came to the center for consultation. Being the first in Japan to set up a GS Center, Waseda University and the center have also caught the attention of the general public and Japanese media. There were news featuring the center and events that it organized, such as the talk on being gay by American actor George Takei, best known for his role as Hikaru Sulu in the American TV series Star Trek.
Alleviating concerns of LGBT students
Among the students who came to the GS Center for consultation, there were those who came because they had questions or concerns about their own sexuality and also others who came to get a better understanding of the University’s stand and measurements on gender and sexuality related issues. For example, the center frequently has students who identified themselves as transgender coming to ask what he or she should do if they wish to use a different name from the one given by their parents on campuses. On this matter, there is a need for transgender students to inform their respective school’s administration office, which means that students will have to come out of the closet to the staff there. However, they are many students who are unaware of the procedures and decided to approach the center for assistance. As such, the GS Center has published a guidebook that contains some of the most commonly asked gender and sexuality-related questions for LGBT students. In the guidebook, it also provides instructions and procedures on how to go about making an appointment with the GS Center anonymously without having to use their real name, to make students feel at ease when coming to the center.
In addition, the GS Center has also been communicating with the University’s professors and teaching staff on how they should be thoughtful of LGBT students especially when handling their personal information. For example, faculty are urged to be extremely careful of not revealing the sexuality of LGBT students without their consent. Also, faculty are also urged to be mindful of their presence in class and society, and be cautious about not talking about or discussing topics from a highly heterosexual view, although often unintended. Even so, we have received feedback from LGBT students saying that some professors did otherwise. Ignorance is often the cause of unintended harm. As such, the GS Center has been stepping up efforts to educate faculty about gender and sexuality such as by distributing informative leaflets to all schools as well as conducting talks and seminars.
Nevertheless, responses vary across schools. In light of that, one of the immediate goals of the GS Center is to better engage all staff and faculty at Waseda University such that students could refer to their respective school for consultation related to gender and sexuality in the future before coming to the GS Center.
Diversity and productivity
If we look around globe, we will find that global enterprises such as Google and IBM are always putting diversity as a top priority during recruitment. Apple CEO Tim Cook has also come out of the closet, identifying himself as gay. He believes diversity is the driving force for productivity and progress.
One of the values of Waseda University has always been diversity, and the GS Center stand with it believing that diversity will contribute to the success and ever-evolution of Waseda, giving birth to new ideas particularly in the academic world. However, many Japanese companies to this day think otherwise, believing that diversity should only come after productivity is attained. If Japanese companies want to create innovation, Kazuki feels that they should be more accepting of people of diverse backgrounds at large.
Getting the facts right
Recently, there has been a lot of criticism at Japanese variety shows which made fun of the gay community. At the same time, we are seeing public figures such as Kazuo Katsuma coming out of the closet to the public. These have also spurred discussion on the topic of gender and sexuality among the general public. Kazuki believes that each and every one should raise their voice as a member of the society. In Japan, there are many who did not receive gender and sexuality at school and thus there is a general lack of understanding in the topic and issues. It is thus important to stay open and learn from the right sources.
Waseda LGBT Ally Week 2018. Started in 2016, it has been reaching out to new allies (supporters) for diversity in gender and sexuality and the LGBT community.
At Waseda University, the GS Center has been reaching out to students, faculty and staff to raise their awareness about the importance of diversity. At present, those who visited the center are either for consultation or interested in learning more about gender and sexuality. However, Kazuki wishes to reach out to those who are indifference. By maintaining an open mindset in learning about gender sexuality, it could even change one’s world view. If more people learn about and are engaged in the topic, it will definitely lead to a better change in society.
Working closely with the Health Support Center
The Health Support Center at Waseda University not only provides medical examination and treatment, but also counselling and mental health consultation services to students. Among the students who visited the Health Support Center for consultation, there are those who came with sexuality-related questions and concerns. As such, the Health Support Center would often refer students to the GS Center whenever necessary.
Among his consultations with students, Kazuki came to know that many transgender students feel uncomfortable undergoing regular student health checkup. As such, Kazuki contacted the Health Support Center to allow transgender students to have a choice to undergo health examination in private without others students around. Among the transgender students who visited the GS Center, there were those who said that they would have given up undergoing health examination altogether if Waseda had not had a GS Center.
Since the establishment of the GS Center, the two centers have been working closely together in various ways, such as conducting talks and training for psychologists, councilors and doctors at the Health Support Center, as well as for faculty and staff at Waseda University.
Giving talks outside Waseda
Besides providing inward support and organizing talks on Waseda campuses, Kazuki has also been giving talks at other universities and corporate organizations such as IBM in Japan, which was one of the pioneers that have been doing much to seek employees’ understanding towards the LGBT community at workplace since more than 30 years ago. He has plans to continue to reach out to and engage more people and organizations in Japan, for a society that shows greater compassion and consideration to the LGBT community.