Capstone helping create community

As part of their women’s studies capstone class, seniors and women’s studies minors at UW-Eau Claire Erin Hanegraaf, Abby Hinz and Emily Newman are making the LGBTQ community of the Chippewa Valley a priority.

“We have been learning about activism and feminist theory for so long and this is a class to put it all into practice,” Hanegraaf said. “We had a bunch of different options and this was one that stuck out to us.”

The students have been working with a group called Q2, located at the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin in Eau Claire. Q2 is a place for the LGBTQ youth community, ages 12-18, to come and feel safe. To help raise awareness for this program, the capstone class is reaching out to the community.

Theresa Kemp, the professor who teaches the capstone class, said her role in the class is to keep moving the topic along and to cheer the students on through
the journey.

“It’s radically different than any class they have ever had, and it’s different than a regular 10 hour a week internship too,” Kemp said.

Hanegraaf said some of the places that have been receptive to the LGBTQ community have been the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Eau Claire and The Eau Claire City/County Health Department.  She said many of the places who have been receptive to Q2 have been more than helpful.

“They have been really helpful directing us to other people who can help us and every meeting we go to, we leave with a list,” Hanegraaf said. “It has been an eye opening experience to have so many people in this community who support it.”

She also said the community is a lot more supportive of LGBTQ youth than she originally thought.

“I feel like we are finding a lot of people that are open,” Hanegraaf said. “Maybe they don’t know a lot about it, but they are open about learning.”

In regards to reaching out to the community, Hinz said people might have to investigate a little further to see more outward support.

“There has been a lot of positive response to us in particular,” Hinz said. “I think it’s there, but you sometimes don’t see it.”

The capstone class has been working with Alison Harder, prevention specialist for the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin. She is a graduate from the Eau Claire women’s studies program and said this capstone is close to her heart.

“I really like the aspect of this capstone that tries to get the university students really involved in working in the community,” Harder said.

Harder said the Q2 group is important to the community because LGBTQ youths sometimes need a place to go to be surrounded by acceptance. Harder said it is also a good resource for LGBTQ youths who do not go to school, or do not feel comfortable participating in their school’s GSA programs.

“We really like to focus on the community,” Harder said. “Something that we do is connect youth from different schools, we try to create a place where an Altoona youth can meet a youth from Menomonie.”

The capstone is really helping Harder with the Q2 program overall, she said.

“They are being fabulous,” Harder said. “They are putting in a lot of great work, but really what they are helping to do is create more connections between the group and the community.”

Harder said the Q2 program is only part of her position and sometimes she cannot spend as much time on it as she would want.

“Unfortunately, we don’t always have time to make those connections,” Harder said. “ We really need to, so the capstone is the connection between youth and the community.”