UWEC named best in state for LGBTQ students

BestColleges.com names UWEC the best school in the state for LGBTQ students for the second consecutive year

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Rebecca Mennecke

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November 11, 2019
The+%E2%80%9CRainbow+Floor%E2%80%9D+offers+LGBTQ+students+and+allies+a+safe%2C+inclusive+space+to+live+for+the+duration+of+the+school+year%2C+Christopher+Jorgenson+said.+
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UWEC named best in state for LGBTQ students

The “Rainbow Floor” offers LGBTQ students and allies a safe, inclusive space to live for the duration of the school year, Christopher Jorgenson said.

The “Rainbow Floor” offers LGBTQ students and allies a safe, inclusive space to live for the duration of the school year, Christopher Jorgenson said.

Photo by Anya Yurkonis

The “Rainbow Floor” offers LGBTQ students and allies a safe, inclusive space to live for the duration of the school year, Christopher Jorgenson said.

Photo by Anya Yurkonis

Photo by Anya Yurkonis

The “Rainbow Floor” offers LGBTQ students and allies a safe, inclusive space to live for the duration of the school year, Christopher Jorgenson said.

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BestColleges.com recently named UW-Eau Claire the best college in the state of Wisconsin for LGBTQ students for the second consecutive year.

Christopher Jorgenson, the director of the Gender & Sexuality Resource Center, said he attributes this success to strong interdisciplinary and intersectional programming across campus and the Eau Claire community.

“At UW-Eau Claire we do an excellent job of balancing advocacy with celebration,” Jorgenson said. “Which is to say, acknowledging the sorts of resources and services LGBTQ+ students, faculty and staff need to be successful on campus, but also spending an equal amount of time celebrating their identities — which is just as important.”

Part of what makes their programs so successful are the relationships that the GSRC builds with other departments across campus, Kallie Friede, the associate student services coordinator at the GSRC, said.

“We have so much support administratively, in other departments, in different areas across campus, which makes our jobs way easier because people are incredibly supportive of LGBTQ programming on campus, which is so nice,” Friede said. “And it’s unique, not all offices like ours have those relationships.”

Rainbow Floor

New to UW-Eau Claire’s residence halls this year is the “Rainbow Floor” on the seventh floor of Kaarlgard Towers Hall, which, beginning this fall, offers a living community for people of all gender and sexual identities to live.

People who identify with the LGBTQ community or are allies are welcome to the floor, with a 72-person capacity that was maxed out early on, Jorgenson said.

“It’s definitely a full floor,” he said.

Among students on the floor is Quinn Wilson, a first-year music education student who said they  would have felt uncomfortable and unsafe living on a gendered floor, they said.

“Having this kind of space definitely makes me feel safer and more welcome on campus,” Wilson said.

The floor will have two RAs — as well as Brandon Wegner, a support staff member, who will offer additional mental, emotional and academic support to students in the living community in a new, piloted position as a support staff person.

“Living communities that bring together LGBTQ+ students aren’t exactly common in higher ed,” Wegner said. “And we are happy to be offering this option.”

Rachel Iaquinta, the Towers Hall hall director, said it’s beneficial having many helping hands to set the floor up for success. She is hoping to turn previously restrictive practices into inclusive ones, she said. For example, she said she encourages RAs on the floor to allow students to self-identify with their own names on their door decorations. Towers will also have all-gender bathrooms on every floor.

“We’re all just really excited about the floor,” she said.

freaQweek

As an intern at the GSRC, Aja St. Germaine read an article about the word ‘outcast’ — with the word implying that certain people live on the outer edge of society but are not really a part of it. Comparatively, the word ‘freak’ implies certain people are a part of society but are not yet the norm.

“It’s implying that there are a lot of freaks that are still functioning, full members of society, but they’ve just been pushed aside to make way for what society views as ‘normal,’” she said. “It’s a very intersectional way of putting it, almost. Because who are you to denote what ‘freak’ means?”

This, she said, was the building block of the newly revitalized Eau Queer film festival, now called “freaQweek.”

“We’ve all been called these derogatory terms, and (Jorgenson is) just trying to reclaim another one,” she said.

This film festival includes a two-week immersion experience in San Francisco where a cohort of students attend the Framelime Film Festival — the oldest and largest queer film festival, Jorgenson said. They see a minimum of 25 films and then choose a handful to bring back. This is then the “anchor” for freaQweek, which is more than a queer film festival, Jorgenson said.

“(It’s) a celebration of queer artists,” he said.

This year, those who attended the festival are bringing back 11 feature-length films and five shorts programs to freaQweek — a weeklong festival at UW-Eau Claire that will comprise National Coming Out Day, an admissions visit for prospective queer students and their parents/guardians and festivities all over campus.

All films will be open the public.

“Everybody has to be involved whether they like to or not,” St. Germaine said. “It’s one of those things where you’re going to have to walk around it even if you don’t want to participate, you’re still going to see it. And I think visibility is the first step to normalizing anything.

More information can be found on the freaQweek website at www.freaqweek.com.

Out.

Out., like many undergraduate zines, accepts poetry, prose, artwork and music. But, it also accepts all kinds of queer people, St. Germaine said.

“It kind of boils down to all of these queer people maybe have had less experience to put their art elsewhere and so now we’re giving back by saying this is a queer-only space to put art,” she said.

Unlike many literary publications, acceptance in the zine isn’t based on what is “good” or “bad,” St. Germaine said. It’s about what college students would like to read about. This helps foster a more interdisciplinary community that isn’t comprised of exclusively English students, St. Germaine said.

Out. is currently recruiting people who are interested in graphic design, photography and editing. People interested in getting involved may email [email protected]

Fireball 

Other schools might call their campus-run drag shows simply the “Campus Drag Show.” At UW-Eau Claire, they titled it something that conveys the experience: Fireball, Jorgenson said. 

“The Fireball, from the get-go, has always been designed to be an experience that people have,” Jorgenson said. “And then to use that platform to talk about very difficult issues faced by queer people in contemporary society.”

About 1,500 people attend every year. The only reason more people don’t attend is because the space limits attendance to 1,500 people, Jorgenson said. 

Every spring, the Ojibwe Grand Ballroom hosts headline drag superstars from RuPaul’s Drag Race, with former performers such as Latrice Royale, Alyssa Edwards, Raven, Kennedy Davenport, Chad Michaels, Shangela, Katya, Bob the Drag Queen, Manila Luzon, Detox, and Sharon Needles, according to the UW-Eau Claire website. 

More information can be found on the Fireball website at https://www.thefireballuwec.com/

The CookOUT

Every year, the GSRC hosts the CookOUT, a welcome week event designed to welcome LGBTQ students on campus and connect them to others who are “passionate about creative a positive (and fun!) environment for all students,” according to the UW-Eau Claire website. 

This year, the CookOUT will be from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 5 at the backyard of Horan Hall. 

Internships 

In order to create robust programming on campus, the GSRC relies on their student interns, Friede said. 

“Our students are so dynamic and ever-changing, so the program always looks different,” Friede said. 

Every year, they have ten student interns, either through academic credit or through work-study. 

They’ve never had to advertise for internships, Jorgenson said. People usually come to GSRC in search of internship opportunities, he said. 

“People can expect to find community here,” Jorgenson said. 

Mennecke can be reached at [email protected]

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