Written by: Wil Prakash Fujarczuk
If you’re not sure that you have consent, Unita Assk!
Drag is powerful. And though we live in a time with more RuPaul’s Drag Race franchises than any one human can possibly keep up with, reality TV is only one part of that power. Drag has a long history of being used for activism and education. As Keenan and Lil Miss Hot Mess (2021) note, “drag pedagogy provides a performative approach to queer pedagogy that is not simply about LGBT lives, but living queerly.”
In my role as Manager, Sexual Violence Prevention Education with McMaster’s Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Office (SVPRO) and as a long-time lover of drag, I brought to life my own alter-ego, Miss Unita Assk. Unita’s mission is threefold: to be an access point to the office, to serve some queer visibility on campus, and to demonstrate a strengths-based approach to this work.
Access point for the McMaster community
The SVPRO is in University Hall—the building is old, it’s beautiful, and for the past month since convocation ceremonies began, I haven’t been able to get in through any entrance without photobombing at least a couple family grad photos.
Last year, I invited my cousin to meet me outside the building so I could show him the SVPRO space. He was beginning his second year at Mac at the time—his first year on campus due to the pandemic. As we walked up the steps to the building, he told me “I feel like I’m not supposed to be going in here.” I realized how intimidating the building must be for a new student—the gothic architecture, the wrought-iron door that feels like it’s three times heavier than me, and the silence of the hallways once you’ve stepped inside.
If a student with a cousin working in the building feels as though it’s somewhere he doesn’t belong, what must it feel like for a student to enter that space without knowing anyone working in the building? As those of us in this sector know, a lot of folks who experience sexual violence don’t reach out for support, and my cousin’s comment was a reminder of the many barriers that exist, including an intimidating office name and building.
Part of why I wanted to create Unita was to make our office a little bit more approachable. If I can connect with students about such a tough topic in a more fun, informal manner, maybe that will make them feel safer taking those steps into University Hall, opening that heavy door, and getting connected to the support they deserve.
My makeup skills aren’t great, and I don’t practice as much as I probably should. When I watch Drag Race, I think, “I’m nowhere near these queens. Why am I even trying?!”
And then I remind myself that drag is, and always has been, so much more than polished makeup and high, high heels. For me, it’s about making queerness unapologetically visible on campus.
Unita is living proof to students, and other staff and faculty, that they don’t need to sacrifice their gender expression and queerness on campus or for professional gain.
Finally, Unita demonstrates an important shift away from thinking the conversation about sexual violence is only about harm and trauma, and towards valuing conversations about healthy relationships and healthy sexuality. In Unita’s signature event, “#RelationshipGoals,” students share their stories about self-love, coming out, the beauty of friendship, and supportive partners.
Unita helps the community explore answers to questions like, “What kind of world do we want to build? What does a world without sexual violence look like?”
Unita is still young, but I’m excited to see the journey she will take me on and the impact she might have.
Keenan, Harper. & Lil Miss Hot Mess. (2021). Drag Pedagogy: The Playful Practice of Queer Imagination in Early Childhood. Curriculum Inquiry 50.5: 440-461, doi: 10.1080/03626784.2020.1864621.
Suggested Citation: Prakash Fujarczuk, Wil. (2022, June). Unita Assk: Drag Pedagogy in Prevention Education. Courage to Act. www.couragetoact.ca/blog/unita-assk.