The Diversity and Equity Board (DEB), Dean of Students Office, and Sexuality and Gender Acceptance (SAGA) student organization hosted an open house at the new Queer Space in Pauley Hall, adjacent to the MLK Lounge, April 8. According to Maggie Smart-McCabe (junior), DEB student life liaison, the new Queer Space was established as a result of feedback from LGBTQIA+ students on campus who indicated that they were not content with the Center for Gender Equity (CGE) as a resource for the queer community on campus.
“As for student feedback, throughout our space brainstorming events, students repeatedly expressed that they did not think a space under the supervision of [Chief Diversity Officer] Rhonda Brown would provide the comfortable and supportive environment that they wanted,” McCabe said via email.
According to McCabe, Jacques Lesure, president of the Associated Students of Occidental College (ASOC), had been hosting task force meetings with President Jonathan Veitch and other members of Occidental’s administration to discuss different topics. Title IX Coordinator Jennifer Broomfield said that, when the idea of establishing a queer space on campus was proposed during those meetings, Veitch reached out to her to assist in the creation of the space.
McCabe added that Broomfield reached out to her, Venitia Boyce (senior), DEB student life liaison, and Ariadne Makridakis (junior), DEB master of reporting, and that they sat down with members of the Queer, Trans People of Color (QTPOC) affinity group and SAGA. McCabe said the lunch meeting between members of DEB, QTPOC and SAGA presented an idea of what kind of space they wanted.
In addition to DEB and SAGA, Chris Arguedas, Disability Services case manager, was involved in the process of establishing the Queer Space. Arguedas said Rob Flot, vice president of student affairs and dean of students, reached out to Arguedas to see if he would be interested in being involved with the Queer Space.
“Rob talked to me and was like, ‘Can you be a point of contact and support for the students as we continue doing this?’,” Arguedas said. “ I said, ‘Of course, I would love to.’”
Arguedas previously worked at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) and was involved with UCSB’s queer and trans community.
“I partnered with the center [at UCSB], and I did trainings across campus, and I worked with [UCSB’s] version of Queer House, but we call it Rainbow House,” Arguedas said. “With my prior work — but also as a queer person myself — it’s something that’s central to my identity, and the work that I’ve always done and the work that I hope to always do.”
The purpose of the open house was to gather student feedback on how the space should be utilized and what resources students would like to see in the space. Arguedas expressed excitement at the feedback that was received at the open house event. He said students brought up the possibility of integrating queer history in the space, bringing in all of the different flags that represent different groups of the LGBTQIA+ community along with discussing the values that students wanted embodied in the Queer Space.
“One of the other things that I thought was really cool is that we asked a question like, ‘What values do you want embodied in this space?’,” Arguedas said. “One of the things that I felt kept coming up again and again was equity. And so what does that mean for students? To be able to come in and feel like this is an equitable space, no matter who you are, where you can feel seen.”
SAGA co-president Rory Hayes (sophomore) spoke about students’ vision for transforming the space in a physical sense. Hayes said they would like to play an active role in this transformation, similar to student involvement in creating the MLK Lounge.
“I can definitely say for a fact that we want to transform this into a very positive and open space. The first step is fixing it cosmetically and adding really comforting touches,” Hayes said. “Students have definitely talked about wanting to have some say in the physical renovation of it, wanting to help out, do a mural on the wall, or something very similar to how [in] the MLK lounge a student did the portrait.”
In addition to physical renovations, Hayes spoke about students’ desire for the Queer Space to have constant staffing. Comparing possible Queer Space staffing roles to the role of Student Leadership, Involvement, and Community Engagement (SLICE) programming assistants, Hayes said that a staffer would be there to ensure that the space is clean, safe and that students are having a good time. Hayes also expressed a personal interest in utilizing the Queer Space for affinity groups.
“So really being able to use the space and utilize it in a way that’s both effective and safe are the things that students are really talking about and really hoping for,” Hayes said.
McCabe also spoke about the limitations of the Queer Space, pointing out the space’s lack of accessibility and distance from central campus as potential obstacles. However, she added that there are options to expand programming beyond just the physical space itself.
“We’re planning our programming not just in the space but from the space — in other places on campus. We’re hoping that it’s not just this space that’s being activated,” McCabe said. “Obviously those things will be there and it will be a big help for resources, but we’re hoping to be doing more programming beyond the space and other areas on campus that are more accessible. And we’re hoping to be doing co-programming with other departments.”
Hayes, McCabe and Arguedas all expressed excitement about the process of establishing the Queer Space along with its potential to support LGBTQIA+ students on campus.
“I’ve shared with SAGA [that] I really think that the sky is the limit here, with what we can create and really put out to the community and invite people to participate in. So I’m super excited,” Arguedas said.
Hayes said this past semester has marked an important improvement for queer students on campus and that the Queer Space will help further cultivate future campus culture and invite more students to participate.
“I think we’re really getting to a point where we’re not ignoring queer issues and [instead] we’re welcoming them with open arms,” Hayes said.