A student ponders their experiences performing gender at Western’s first gender fair

From Oct. 18 to Oct. 22, Resident Directors M Powell and Gage Deeter led this semester’s second week of LGBTQ+ Workshops, which featured Western’s first-ever Gender Fair and two workshops. According to Powell, they organized this three-part series because, “we just need people to show up better for Queer people here. We don’t want more allyship, we need it. The lack of resourcing on this campus for LGBTQ+ students is crisis-level, and these workshops are a start in getting the community aware of the lack, and prepared to advocate for the meeting of those needs.” 

The Oct. 20 Gender Fair took an informal approach to educating students about a variety of gender and sexuality-related issues, with tables run by the Sociology Club, the Office of Student Affairs, Gunnison Valley Public Health, the Leslie J. Savage Library, the Gunnison County Food Pantry, Western Colorado University Athletics, Spectrum, Gage Deeter, and M Powell.  

The Sociology Club’s table aimed to start discussions about healthy masculinity. According to Club Advisor and Sociology Professor Matt Aronson, “our table was really simple: on colored paper we just posted some ‘big questions’ meant to stimulate conversation. So mainly I hope folks might keep some of those questions on their minds. For example: ‘what does masculinity mean in my life?’, ‘is this mostly a good thing for me?’, and ‘are there things about masculinity’s role in my life that I could change if I wanted to? If so, what are they and how could I start that change?” 

The Office of Student Affairs showed their support for gender expansive and trans students, and made more students aware of Western’s unofficial name change process. “Our department hopes to help students feel comfortable, safe and empowered to be their true selves,” said Alexis Armstrong, Executive Assistant for Student Success and Enrollment. Anyone interested in submitting a “Preferred Name Request” form can stop by Taylor 301 or email Alexis Armstrong at aarmstrong@western.edu

Gunnison Valley Public Health shared information about their services and offered free on-site STI testing. “Gunnison Public Health’s Family Planning Clinic offers a wide range of services which support all genders. Appointments are available to everyone, regardless of income and/or insurance status – we will never deny services,” Public Health Educator Beth Coop said. 

Western’s Leslie J. Savage Library advertised its collection of books centering LGBTQ+ stories, voices, and issues. “In the past several years the library has been increasing its collection of diverse fiction and nonfiction. This last year we acquired a large amount of new titles in LGBTQ+ and other areas like mental health,” Library Administrator and Acquisitions Technician Cheryl Dandel stated. Dandel believed it was important to collect and advertise books like these because, “it’s part of our jobs as librarians to provide resources that support the unique needs and interests of our students.” 

Other table themes included food insecurity in the LGBTQ+ community, NCAA policies about transgender athletes, Spectrum’s activities, and performative gender. Students had a predominantly positive experience at Western’s first-ever Gender Fair. Junior Maria Alvarez stated, “It’s a good opportunity for people to become educated and to learn. Out of the three years I’ve been here, this is the first time they’ve done something like this, so I think it’s really cool.”  

Western student Cory Ragsdale visits the NCAA booth

The workshops on Oct. 18 and Oct. 22 focused on intersectionality and the systemic erasure of intersectional queer identities in higher education, and how Western Colorado University can work to combat that erasure and support LGBTQ+ students. According to M Powell, Western Colorado University as an institution needs to “enshrine queer support in policy, which means uprooting white supremacist cis-hetero-normative systems and structures here and rebuilding systems of deep care.” This means adding well-paid LGBTQ+ advocacy positions on campus, writing policies that actively support LGBTQ+ students, faculty, and staff, and creating resources that cater to the unique needs of LGBTQ+ students. 

So far, attendance for all of the LGBTQ+ workshops has been low. “We’ve had fifteen people show up to these workshops, which is not encouraging. There’s work that needs to be done.” said Gage Deeter. In order for this critical work to happen, people have to put in effort. To be allies to LGBTQ+ members of the community here at Western, Powell stated that students, faculty, and staff need to “show up to do the work of allyship. Practically that means: coming to Queer events, working on your own to learn about the community & its experiences, respecting someone’s correct name and pronouns and chosen categorical language if they have any, following LGBTQ+ voices and scholars in your social and academic feeds, speaking up when you see something cis-hetero-supremacist happening, and most importantly, recognizing that all of our liberty is intertwined and thus we have to support students of color and disabled students and undocumented students and other marginalized voices just as hard as queer ones.” 

According to Powell, the workshops have been valuable so far, despite low turnout: “We have had beautiful conversations in the small spaces we’ve convened thus far, and we want more people involved!” The next series of workshops will be in November: 2-3 p.m. on Nov. 15, 10-11 a.m. on Nov. 17, and 10-11 a.m. on Nov. 19. All of the workshops will be held in the University Center North Conference Room.  

The next series will provide intellectual resources and discuss Queer Theory and Queer Pedagogy; “I think it will be a particularly fruitful space for those occupying classroom spaces regularly,” says Powell. Deeter summed up the importance of Western as a community showing up to support LGBTQ+ students and opposing erasure of intersectional identities: “If we’re not doing work that is anti-oppression, anti-racist, and anti-colonial, then we are all of those things.”

Western’s Spectrum Club table