Jonathan Lee ‘20
Queer students at Davidson are celebrating Coming Out Week — lasting from October 6th through 11th — more visibly than ever this year. With support from the Center for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI), students are hosting daily events and creating public displays about coming out stories and queer history at Davidson.
“It seems like literally in the past three to four years, Davidson has become a lot more queer,” said Sanzari Aranyak ‘22, a CDI student staff member. “We have programs that just keep getting stronger, and every class seems queerer than the last.”
Though this public programming indicates how far the Davidson queer community has come in its collective coming out process, struggles persist, particularly among more marginalized members of the community.
“We’re still in the South,” Aranyak noted, “and there are still a lot of people here who say that they’re not homophobic but don’t actually have to think about what […] being an ally means.” Many students emphasized the work that still needs to be done in the way of queer and trans mental health initiatives.
This week’s CDI-sponsored programming includes a trans dinner, a queer POC karaoke night, a screening of the 1999 film But I’m a Cheerleader, a pride party at the CDI, a coming out story display, and an archival exhibit.
The CDI’s student staff, which includes Aranyak, Amaya Bradford ‘22, and Ellie Kincaid ‘20, spearheaded these initiatives with guidance and support from Dre Domingue, Assistant Dean of Students for Diversity and Inclusion. “These are all their ideas — they were not mine,” Dean Domingue said.
The trans dinner is particularly notable because it’s the first exclusively trans and gender non-binary event sponsored by Davidson.
The “We’re Here, We’re Queer Showcase,” curated by Aranyak and located in the Union Atrium, features submissions about coming out, perceptions about the queer community at Davidson, and other ideas about queerness. The display functions “as a celebration of queer people and queer voices on campus,” Aranyak said. “One of the things that I think makes people connect and empathize with others is stories.”
Kincaid curated the “Queer History Comes Out in the Archive” exhibit, which is located in the lobby of the E.H. Little Library. “A lot of queer people on campus feel like we’re lacking a history,” Kincaid said. “I haven’t seen an organized queer movement towards solidifing history. And maybe that’s a thing that is never going to make sense for queer people. But I thought it could be fun to look at what we do have.”
The exhibit includes one of the first archived mentions of queerness at Davidson: “Davidson is the worst place on Earth to come out,” an anonymous student is quoted as saying in a 1986 Davidsonian issue.
Both Kincaid’s and Aranyak’s displays not only provide community building spaces for queer students, but also invite the broader Davidson community to engage with queerness, especially those who might otherwise not. “I’m hoping that people will engage with it at the level at which they’re interested,” Kincaid said of her archive exhibit.
Queers & Allies (Q&A) participated in Coming Out Week by “flagging” Chambers on Sunday night — members adorned the entrance with pride flags and lined the walkway leading to the building with dozens of mini flags. “It’s a reclamation of Davidson’s campus as a queer space,” said Raven Hudson ‘21, President of Q&A..
This week’s events build off previous queer events last year, such as Davidson’s first professional drag show, which was held in the 900 room. Hudson described the show as a “huge step in terms of campus-wide visibility.”
Amidst this newfound visibility, however, queer students continue to push for more administrative support and reform, even more widespread acceptance, and active allyship.
“The institution needs to invest in its LGBT students a lot more, especially trans students,” Aranyak said. HD Mellin ‘20 urged the administration to “prove that [queer and trans mental health] is an institutional priority, because right now it absolutely isn’t.”
Mellin stressed that queer people and people of color, especially queer women of color, have often done the labor to catalyze institutional change, often without administrative support.
Dean Domingue concurred, noting that “recently a lot of queer activism on this campus has been centered around queer folks of color and trans folks. That is very parallel to what I think we’ve seen on a national and international front.”
Dean Domingue believes that her office should offer campus activists a “continuum” of support. She noted that, on the one hand, “I do very strongly believe students should do their own activism, [and] administrators just have to listen and respond.” But in some cases, she explained, the administration should take on that labor. Many times, she added, students and administration work in tandem.
“I feel very lucky to be doing this work,” said Kincaid.