While many students are looking forward to putting their feet up this summer to relax after the busy semester of college life, Kayla Spag is not taking a vacation away from her calling.
The first-year public relations student will be spending her sunny days breaking a sweat with advocacy for social issues and trying to make the world a better place through the field she studies.
Spag, 27, has so many projects it takes her a moment to remember them all. She laughs at the question, while she runs through the list, sipping her iced coffee.
As the fundraising and workshop coordinator at the Algonquin QSA, the founder and operator at the Borderline Personality Disorder Support Group and the co-founder of Feminist Twins, her plans for the summer months don’t look too different from the things she has accomplished this last semester.
“Since the QSA is morphing with the pride centre, we probably won’t need to have a club and centre,” said Spag. “So we’re still figuring it all out. We don’t know if we want a bunch of part-timers or one full-timer. We will have a real space, a different budget – it will be a resource centre.”
Spag started Acceptance Day at Algonquin on Jan. 29 where she organized several speakers to come in and talk about topics you don’t hear enough about at the college – body acceptance, cis-normativity and online harassment, to name a few. She did the planning, the fundraising and the graphic design and she was one of the reasons that the college started doing Trans Remembrance. She also organized the SlutWalk Ottawa march in the fall of 2015, which shines a light on catcalling and street harassment within the city.
“I felt like we really needed to push that at Algonquin,” said Spag. “Most people don’t take the time to educate themselves about it. They just see Caitlin Jenner and think that’s enough to know – but it’s not.”
Feminist Twins is a project she shares with her twin sister Jenna that will be celebrating its second birthday in July. It focuses on women’s issues and feminist events in Ottawa.
“There was a need for it here,” said Spag. “And it just expanded from there.”
They wrote their own material, planned events and did social media for other groups.
But she thinks the need is still definitely there.
“When things are slow we table and give out candy just so people know we’re there,” said Spag.
She will be raising money for Ottawa’s BPD Support Group by meeting at the LGBTTQ+ centre KIND, for an event called Support Snaps in June. It will be a curated night of talking about mental health, not necessarily just borderline, but any struggles at all with recovery or addiction. It can come in any art form, from slam poetry to rapping.
Spag’s volunteer work is selfless but also quite personal. She was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder thee years ago and says that her own experience with therapy made her realize that there was a need for other people to get help.
“Once you’re done therapy they’re like, ‘Ok bye’ and then there is no help after that,” said Spag. “You’re going to be on a waiting list for a year. I just saw a need for one that is free and that you don’t have to wait for.”
She says at BPD Support Group there are absolutely no strings attached.
“I don’t make you wear long-sleeve shirts and you can talk about anything you want,” said Spag.
She’s been doing volunteering for years. Throughout high school she and her sister were a part of Ontario Students Against Impaired Driving. They wrote grants and raised a lot of money. They also did bake sales and went to conferences.
“It gave us the idea that this is what volunteering can be,” said Spag.
Although she always liked doing events and never really wanted a desk job where everything is always the same, public relations wasn’t her first career choice. She used to work as a funeral director and when she stopped enjoying that, she wondered about what her new path should be.
“I first wanted to take events management but then someone said funeral services is already heavily based around an event,” said Spag.
She just put it out there on Twitter and a lot of people told her she should take public relations since the advocacy work she was doing was already in that vein.
“In the real world you need a piece of paper to get a job and actually get paid for it,” Spag explained.
Feminism is her biggest passion, and again although selfless in the volunteering and activism work she does, it stems from a deeply personal experience she tells candidly.
“The short answer is: Jenna,” said Spag, as the reason for her interest in the feminist cause.
The long story is that Spag was sexually assaulted by a male co-worker in a bathroom in 2009.
“At the time Jenna was taking psychology at Carleton and learning about feminism and the criminal justice system,” said Spag. “She just taught me the things I wouldn’t have picked up on my own after that experience. We would read a lot on Tumblr, which is a gateway to fandoms and of course feminism was huge on there.”
Her fellow classmates call her a kind and empathetic person and say she is not afraid to stand up for what she believes in, no matter the cost.
“Kayla is very committed to everything she does, and she does a lot,” said Taraneh Dohmer, another public relations student. “She always has at least three events that she’s planning. And no matter how busy she gets, she ensures that they are all successful.”
Spag’s advice for other students who want to make a difference through the work they do is simple.
Just get involved.
“Volunteer for things that make you happy, but don’t burn out,” said Spag. “If you really care about an organization but they’re not treating you properly, just leave. It’s your labour and you shouldn’t waste time on something that becomes more and more of a stressor on your life.”
She believes the best part about what she does is that she is her own boss.
“It’s just nice to know that my work has impacted someone or someone they know and has helped them to volunteer themselves or do something cool with their time,” said Spag.