Cultural centers serve as a great resource for students at the University of Connecticut, as these spaces can offer information, community and — perhaps most importantly — feelings of safety. The Rainbow Center, one of six cultural centers at UConn, has provided for the university’s LGBTQIA+ population since 1998, where education and advocacy are two of the center’s main goals. The establishment of certain organizations, including the Queer Collective, is an example of how these goals should be achieved.
“The Queer Collective is pretty much one big organization — through the Rainbow Center — that is made up of smaller discussion groups that go over a variety of LGBTQ topics,” said Megan Graham, a seventh-semester natural resources and the environment major and president of the Queer Collective.
The organization was founded by UConn alumni Brian Aguilera and Taylore Grunert in 2018, who were both passionate for more inclusive spaces for the LGBTQIA+ community. Although the Rainbow Center does serve as an inclusive space, unity is a difficult aspect to promote when providing for an entire population.
“Most of the discussion groups that we’re running right now are already run through the Rainbow Center, but there wasn’t a lot of cohesion,” said Jude Icoy, a seventh-semester physiology and neurobiology major and vice president and treasurer of the Queer Collective. “So they wanted to create their own little club where it could be more adequately [accessible]. And it’s a really nice resource too because I like to think of it as group therapy for trans people or bi plus or women who love women … stuff like that.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization was not able to be as active as years prior. Now with campus back at full capacity, the Queer Collective is dedicating this semester to hosting more events, gaining more exposure and acquiring new members.
“We’ll be collaborating with the Rainbow Center to do platonic stargazing — the date for that is to be determined,” Graham said. “We’re helping advertise the opening of the [gender affirming closet], which they’re opening up in [one of the rooms in] the Rainbow Center Nov. 12. And we have other events in mind.”
According to UConn’s Office for Diversity and Inclusion, “cultural centers also work collaboratively to bring light to issues that face the community of underrepresented populations.” Issues of discrimination are unfortunately common for underrepresented students, as Kelsey O’Neil, director of the Rainbow Center, had to address two bias incidents made against the LGBTQIA+ community that occurred at UConn last March.
Ash Maldonado, a seventh-semester English pre-law major and secretary of the Queer Collective, opened up about their adverse experiences as a UConn student and how environments like gender-inclusive housing and the Queer Collective have helped combat feelings of being unsafe on campus.
“I’m in gender-inclusive housing, so when we’re in here I’m fine, everything’s good; it’s a really good space to be in and I feel affirmed in my gender and sexuality and just like queerness in general,” Maldonado said. “But it’s a safe space that I don’t really wanna leave because as soon as I leave this part of campus, I’m misgendered all the time — which, you know, whatever, but still, it happens all the time, it’s frustrating. Me and my friends have had just straight up microaggressions — not even microaggressions, just aggressions — during day-to-day life. So the Queer Collective is just a good space … somewhere I can go with a specific plan to talk about gender or whatever it is. But yeah, UConn needs to step it up a little bit with their sensitivity training.”
In agreement with Maldonado, Icoy mentioned the therapeutic value that LGBTQIA+ discussion groups can bring, especially for UConn students who have become familiar with adversity. They emphasized the false claims made by alleged safe spaces and how groups within the Queer Collective have offered students an authentic sense of belonging — a sentiment that has proven to be a rarity on campus.
“I feel like having this group discussion-based sort of group for people — because I run Transcendence, just for context… really benefit from being able to have this place where we can feel safe because there are so many meetings where people come in and they talk and they just cry about the experience that they have at UConn,” Icoy said. “There are definitely some efforts being made, but it could, like Ash said, be better. I know some places that claim to be safe spaces — I’m not gonna say which ones — but there are some spaces in the cultural centers that claim to be safe spaces, but don’t actually provide that sort of help. So, I think that the Queer Collective and the creation of some of our more recent discussion groups allow people to find that safe space that is very hard to come by at UConn.”
For those interested in joining the Queer Collective or for information regarding events, be sure to visit @uconnqueercollective on Instagram. More information on the Rainbow Center can also be found on their website or @uconnrainbowctr.