The apparent gender divide at Ashtonbee has led to problems in the past. But a change in policy and focus on equality is starting to show gradual change in the minds of the students.
By Jackie Dunham
Assistant Managing Editor
Centennial College’s Ashtonbee Campus is home to the School of Transportation, which offers classes in the automotive and aircraft industry. Historically, the campus has always had a higher male-to-female ratio in its population due to the types of programs offered there. Whether deserved or not, Ashtonbee has had a reputation of having more issues with harassment and bullying because of the number of males attending classes there. The Courier decided to explore the gender mix at Ashtonbee Campus to see whether this reputation was really warranted and what changes have been made to deal with these potential problems.
Toni Ellul is the facility and office manager at Ashtonbee’s CCSAI Student Centre. She has worked at the campus for 15 years and admits there were problems with harassment when the school first opened, but she says every year has gotten better since. She says treating everybody with respect no matter what gender they are is an important step.
“You can’t just assume that the guy that’s sitting in the chair next to you wants to hear your trucker mouth or shop mouth. You just can’t do that in this day and age,” Ellul said.
Centennial College began a college-wide campaign focusing on respect that started at Ashtonbee campus a few years ago. Alan McClelland, the Dean of the School of Transportation, says the campaign, emphasized during orientation, includes posters, information tables, discussions, wristbands and a website explaining the new policy.
“We didn’t look at it like here’s a problem, here’s a solution and then it’s fixed. The real challenge is that we have new students come in every year and in some of our apprenticeship programs, new students come in every week,” McClelland said. “It’s how can we create a culture that’s there and consistent throughout, even though new students are coming in, so they can learn that culture?”
Camille Robinson attends classes at Ashtonbee campus for her community development program and says her first year at the campus has been a positive experience.
“How I deal with it? I’m okay,” Robinson said. “I’m not nervous or anything. I can see how it can get intimidating with a lot of males around in their automotive jump wear equipment and looking a bit huskier, but the experience I’ve had hasn’t been negative so far.”
Her classmate, Esther Obotha, agrees with her and says the school has put a lot of effort into teaching students about the respect campaign in their classes.
“It’s very embedded in our classes. We had to even do a test on respect and that kind of thing,” Obotha said. “I think the campus is trying to bring about respect for each other within the campus.”
Ellul says the way a student handles intimidation depends on their background and that diversity plays a role in the campus’ dynamics.
“We’re pretty diligent here about language and just general attitude,” she said. “I don’t think you should have to develop a thicker skin anywhere, let alone here.”
Mustaq Mohammed is in his second year of his parts technician program and says that he has not noticed any issues with harassment or bullying at Ashtonbee campus.
“The staff are good and respectful,” he said. “You feel respected here every time you come.”
McClelland says the lessons students learn here about treating each other with dignity and respect will translate into the workplace.
“It’s about a level of professionalism that we want students to not just learn here and practice here, but it carries right into the workplace and it’s part of us preparing them to go out in a professional work environment,” said McClelland.