More than a year after its opening, the HWS LGBTQ+ Resource Center has developed an infrastructure of programming and support to deepen the campus’ awareness of and appreciation for members of the community.
For Valerie Cuellar ’20, who helps manage the center, one of the best parts of the growth over the past year has been “helping students find their spaces in and out of HWS. I get to help people feel comfortable and open to voice their opinions on LGBTQ+ issues on campus.”
A central component has been the PRISM peer-mentoring program, which aims to pair upper-class LGBTQ+ student leaders with incoming LGBTQ+ first-years and transfer students. PRISM mentors, now numbering 13, also staff the center and assist in campus-wide education and outreach efforts, including training sessions and workshops with students, faculty and staff.
These efforts around education and visibility have been and remain top priorities, says Associate Director of Student Activities Chad Freeman.
“We really focused last fall on increasing the amount of queer programming on campus and solidifying an LGBTQ+ line up of major events,” Freeman says — from training sessions to “Queer Jeopardy” to the annual Drag Show, which brought to campus local drag performers, Derrick Berry (from RuPaul’s Drag Race), and more than 100 HWS and local community members.
In fact, programming doubled between the spring 2018 semester and the fall 2018 semester, when the Colleges hosted the first LGBTQ+ Welcome as part of the new student Orientation.
Over the past year, the Center has collaborated with Sankofa and the Queer People of Color theme house to host a variety of discussions and events focusing on the intersection of race, gender and sexual identities.
Following a campus visit from Dr. Bill Valenti, national HIV/AIDS expert, LGBTQ+ health advocate and founder of Trillium Health, the Center partnered with Planned Parenthood and Trillium to coordinate free HIV/AIDS and STI testing on Dec. 1 for World AIDS Day.
Other speakers during the past year include anti-bullying activist Jane Clementi (mother of Tyler Clementi), who conducted a workshop with Campus Life professionals; and the keynote speaker at the Center’s ribbon cutting, Savas Abadsidis ’96, managing editor for Retrograde Communications, which produces content for the country’s top LGBTQ+ publications including The Advocate.
For Cuellar, some of “the most important events that we have sponsored and I’ve helped coordinate have been Q-talks in which we focus on a specific topic that includes the LGBTQ+ communities, like Drag 101.”
Q-talks offer a forum for people to gather “and talk about fun, serious or confusing topics in a safe space,” she explains. “This helps us attract people who prefer to be in smaller groups. Our larger events are helpful because we have the opportunity to invite those who do not identify with the communities but feel like they can learn new things about our communities.”
As part of the emphasis on support, advocacy and education across campus, the Center coordinates SafeZone Facilitator training for faculty, students and staff, and hosted SafeZone trainings for more than 300 faculty, staff, and students last year. To build on that foundation this spring, Freeman explains, “we’re in the process of revisiting the way we approach safe zone/safe space training to re-energize our efforts.”
Meanwhile, PRISM mentors will be staffing tables in Scandling Campus Center several times each week throughout the semester, engaging the campus community in game matching key terms around sexual identity, sexual orientation and gender expression with definitions.
As part of Transgender Day of Visibility in March, HWS will partner with the Smith Center for the Arts “to celebrate lives of transgendered identified folks and facilitate dialogue with trans activists and allies,” Freeman says, with a screening of the HBO documentary The Trans List. This will build on last year’s events, when student volunteers set up information stations with literature about trans inclusion on campus and the Upstander anti-bullying campaign.
Other initiatives the LGBTQ+ Resource Center include establishing a lavender graduation ceremony to celebrate graduating seniors who identify as LGBTQ, and working with the Office of Advancement “to solidify a base of out LGBTQ alums,” Freeman says that “more visibility is always a good thing. It’s what I like to refer to as the lighthouse effect: often times there are folks who might be members of the community but for whatever reason they aren’t able to be out, or live their authentic lives. The more events that happen on campus, acknowledging that there are other folks who are members of the communities, the better we can reinforce how LGBTQ friendly HWS can be.”
As the Center looks toward the upcoming semester and beyond, Cuellar hopes that it will “become a core place for our students, LGBTQ+ or not, to find resources and a space for them to be themselves. I want to leave an impact on our school by creating an LGBTQ+ community that supports and stands with each other through everything.”
Located on the first floor of de Cordova Hall, the LGBTQ+ Resource Center opened in the fall of 2017 on the 15th anniversary of the LGBT Studies program at HWS, which was the first of its kind in the country.