One of the greatest shocks to me when I arrived on campus my freshman year was the lack of a queer community. Sure, we had plenty of queer students, but everyone seemed to have sectioned themselves off with minimal crossover. People had formed groups in their departments based on mutual interests and shared classes, but there was no unified community that celebrated queer identity and invested in the well-being of fellow queer students. There had been a Queer Student Union on campus in the 2010’s but it struggled for a few years, lacking an active presence since before the pandemic – and 2020 seemed to bury it entirely. Put simply, there was no Queer Student Union(QSU).
For a university that has been on Campus Pride’s “Best of the Best” list for eleven years in a row, the lack of a QSU is shocking. When the QSU was active, it championed the founding of the Queer Resource Center (now the Social Justice and Equity Center). It hosted drag workshops, clothing swaps, and movie nights – but it also worked with off-campus businesses to help create opportunities and resources for students.
At a time when Southern Oregon University students have faced protesters on campus multiple times, and more than 500 anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced across the nation, it is important to have a platform for queer students: to connect with one another and to build the future that supports the queer students at SOU.
Last Friday, students gathered to discuss a future for the QSU. Many of these students were interested in leadership positions and taking up responsibility for creating a community here on campus. In the short term, the QSU is trying to fill officer positions and generate interest. There are a few ideas being tossed around about events – terrarium building, clothing swaps, study groups, movie nights – but without more people, those ideas remain ideas.
As for long-term goals, I sat down to talk with one of the driving forces behind this resurrection: Sweets Underwood, the new Belonging and Engagement Coordinator for the Social Justice and Equity Center. Sweets is new to SOU this year, but she’s hit the ground running. “I’ve been bridge building,” she told me, “Reaching out to community partners that support any and all things queer, to bring more resources onto this campus for our queer students.” Sweets will be the faculty advisor for the QSU. She will be helping whoever is elected to office navigate applying for funding, coordinating with local businesses, and creating connections with other students.
Sweets told me that one of her goals in reviving the QSU is “People establishing deep and meaningful relationships with others who share their identity.” She shared how important to her own identity a QSU had been: “Having that safe space, having…those communal moments, they offered me a platform to get comfortable with my identity as a queer being.” In a country that is increasingly divided on queer issues, getting comfortable might sound a bit far-fetched, but that’s the point of community: doing that work together to create a future where it’s not so impossible.
The push for a QSU comes from a need on our campus for queer spaces and conversations about a queer future. “It’s absolutely necessary,” Sweets said about the QSU. “Our queer students are craving community.” As a queer student, I’ve noticed the same craving – in myself and others. The more our society isolates us, the harder it is to reach out to others to come together and fight for the future we want.
But Sweets isn’t here to do the work for us – “I’m just the fuel,” she told me. “You all are the spark that will be igniting the movement.”
Officer positions are currently unfinalized. A town hall is to be held on Wednesday, October 18th to vote in officers. It will occur on the first floor of the Stevenson Union in the Diversions room, from 5 to 6:30 PM. The town hall is open to anyone interested in a queer community on campus, and don’t worry about missing dinner – food is on the house!