For people who identify as LGBTQIA+, having support while on campus can be a lifeline to help ease the stress of challenges faced in everyday living. That sense of belonging has been carefully cultivated to ensure everyone who seeks resources can find what they need to cope and hopefully flourish.
“Regarding student belonging, a large part of our approach involves community development through different social engagement opportunities for students and education as well,” said Shelby Hearn, assistant director at the U’s LGBT Resource Center. “For community development, we have regular events for students to get together to meet other queer and trans students on campus and just really develop a space they are in regularly where they can have a home on campus.”
The LGBT Resource Center offers various programs, including the Queer and Trans Students of Color Initiative which provides bi-weekly events for students who identify as Black, Indigenous, or people of color. “It’s an affinity space meant to engage that student population,” Hearn said.
“We’ve found that regardless of campus, queer and trans students of color find themselves feeling like they must pick and choose which identity they are comfortable with,” Hearn said. “For example, do they go into the Black Cultural Center versus an LGBT Resource Center? So, we really try to build that intersectional space for them.”
Hearn said this year the LGBT Resource Center started to explore other affinity-specific community-building spaces like private channels for students where they can opt into being a part of one of those for students of color or another that is for asexual and aromantic students.
There are also discussions about building a space for trans and non-binary students, too. The LGBT Resource Center recently held its first in-person asexual and aromantic meet-up, which Hearn described as “really successful.”
Regarding facilitating post-graduation success, the center has worked to develop initiatives for students who are on the brink of leaving campus to begin their work lives or continuing their education.
“One of our bigger areas of focus to address post-grad life is leadership development,” Hearn explained. “Students work on tangible skills that you can put on a resume, that you can talk about in an interview around conflict resolution and approaching problem solving from a critical thinking perspective. Additionally, they can find empowerment in their own identities along with the skills, talents, and experiences they would bring into formal or informal leadership roles they already have.”
“Sometimes, the White cis-heteropatriarchy tells young people that coming from an immigrant background and being trans means that you’re not going to be a leader, that your style of leadership isn’t acceptable,” Hearn explained. “But they have really, really valuable experiences to bring from those identities.”
Hearn noted students at the center are taught to approach life in terms of what strengths each individual brings with them, no matter what the situation.
“We work with students to think about what your assets are. What is it about being queer that has taught you about yourself? What does it tell you about the world and kind of your unique strengths that you bring to a community space?” Hearn queried rhetorically. “We work with students to identify those qualities in themselves, coming from more of an empowerment model. We really strive to create a model for students of where their expectations should be in terms of acceptance and inclusivity. It’s so they know we’re not an exception to the rule as a place on campus, but there are other places in the world that are like us. We just want to set that standard for students.”