By Darren Lum
Noelle Dupret Smith said being Canadian and having Haliburton in her heart was at the foundation of the rainbow pathways recently installed at the University of Windsor as a symbol of support for the LGBTQ2+ community and of hope.
After a little more than two years, the Haliburton Highlands Secondary School graduate in her third-year of study in social work at the University of Windsor got to see her work become a reality, visiting late last week to see the pathways and the school’s president.
Before she went down she spoke to the Echo about the odyssey she took towards bringing the rainbow pathways comprised of the six colours of the Pride flag, along with stripes of brown and black, painted on sidewalks in two locations on campus – leading to the Welcome Centre and connecting the high-traffic path between Education Gym and Dillon Hall.
Haliburton is more than home for Dupret Smith. It is an inspiration and a touchstone for life.
“There is a sense of community of people who welcome many diversities and many backgrounds and many celebrations and I think I’ve taken that and, especially because I’ve been involved in a lot of the arts in Haliburton, that it’s influenced me to want to bring that sense of community and celebration for the arts as well as many other things to the campus of [the University of] Windsor,” she said.
Dupret Smith said although this effort was for her final project in her first year Queer Activism class, the idea to bring a rainbow path to her school came when she saw a rainbow crosswalk while visiting Halifax during her reading week in her first of year of university.
“I just loved the feeling that it brought to the space and although you can’t guarantee the space is a safe space it just made it feel safe and lively. So, I wanted to bring that same feeling on campus and we didn’t have anything that represented the queer community so I thought it would be a great addition there,” she said.
University president Rob Gordon, who met with Dupret Smith on her recent visit, appreciated the work.
“We are indebted to Noelle for this wonderful way to signal to everyone that this is an inclusive place dedicated to welcoming and developing the talents of all,” he said, as reported by the University of Windsor.
The research for this initiative included learning about associated costs, finding a contractor and the demand for something to represent the LGBTQ2+ community on campus through on-campus and off-campus surveys. From what she knew, only University of King’s College, Fleming College and McMaster University already have rainbow paths.
Then she presented the pitch to the president at the time, who gave approval. In her second year, a new president warranted new approval. Once it was approved again she proceeded collaborating with a team of administrators, working through details such as locations, whether it was on the street or on campus property, the kind of paint used.
“It was a very, very long process, especially being hands on from start to finish. It felt like a long time in addition to doing mid-terms and exams and the other projects you have to do for school,” she said.
Dupret Smith acknowledges the positive effect working over the past three summers for Haliburton Sculpture Forest curator Jim Blake has had on her, and the related experience learning about making pitches and what it takes to convey the importance of art has on a community to people who may not readily accept the value of art.
However, she said this effort wouldn’t be possible without the influence of her parents.
“I have such great parents at home that have also taught me these great skills. Both my parents have been a great help, but my mom is definitely a huge influence in my life. She helps me get work done,” she said.
Her mother Sandra Dupret Smith, who is the former dean of the Haliburton School of Art + Design and current Fleming College VP student experience, has a dozen years of experience working with administration staff and leading teams.
When she learned from her mother that the Fleming Peterborough campus was going to have a rainbow crosswalk installed she vowed at the time to have one added at her own school.
An added incentive is the role Windsor can play as the first place Americans see when they visit Canada.
“We’re a border city. It’s important that we reflect Canadian values,” she said, referring to how the path is representative of how this country strives to be welcoming and kind to everyone.
She believes these colourful paths could be the start of an important movement.
“I don’t think this crosswalk will solve all of our issues, but it’s the beginning of something larger and even if it just sparks conversation and if people say, ‘Hey, I want to take that course called queer activism or I wonder if I could do a project.’ I just want to ignite that idea in people,” she said.