A walking safe space

UW-Eau Claire student, Devin Dawson’s various involvements share a common goal of helping students feel more comfortable on campus



UW-Eau Claire student Devin Dawson uses their involvement as a Peer Diversity Educator, Peer Haven mentor, PRIDE president and Women’s and LGBTQ Resource Center intern to help and educate other students.

For senior social work student, Devin Dawson’s involvement on campus can be traced back to their second semester freshman year when they attended their first PRIDE meeting during a time when Dawson was struggling to feel comfortable on campus.

Because of classes interfering with the PRIDE meetings it wasn’t until last semester Dawson said they started attending meetings regularly. This was the same semester they began serving on the executive board of PRIDE as outreach and inclusivity director.



When it was time to vote for the next semester’s executive board, Dawson said their experience as an intern for the Women’s and LGBTQ Resource Center and as a Peer Haven mentor encouraged them to apply for the president position.

Because Dawson was educated in inclusive ways to discuss race, poverty and LGBTQ related topics, they wanted to use this knowledge to help bring more change as president. Dawson said this understanding could allow students to feel more willing to share their stories.

Dawson views PRIDE meetings as a time to create a safe space for the LGBTQ community, they said, as well as a place where students can talk about issues relevant to campus.

“We try and foster understanding,” Dawson said. “It’s an opportunity for everyone within the group to learn about other sexualities, identities and expressions different from their own.”

Dawson said being president has taught them not everything is in their hands, that it’s about listening to other people.

“Sure I inject my opinion,” Dawson said. “Anyone in PRIDE can tell you I’m very opinionated, but it’s not because I want to lead conversation, it’s because I want people to know what I’m thinking or personal experiences that could help.”

Dawson also said being president has taught them how to deal with silence. Hearing nothing in response when leading a discussion doesn’t mean listeners aren’t thinking about the topic.

Dawson said silence might just mean they don’t know how to communicate a thought or are too afraid to say what they’re thinking.

As president, Dawson said they need to encourage responses and help draw them out of people as well as give them the chance to dwell in their thoughts.

Kezia Jenkins, a junior chemistry and women’s studies student, also serves on the executive board of PRIDE as vice president. Jenkins said the executive board picks a topic to discuss before meetings and Dawson encourages others to take over the conversation.

“Devin’s always very personal and trying to engage everyone,” Jenkins said. “They’re very welcoming.”

Samantha Otten also attends PRIDE meetings and is a non-traditional student who just applied for the nursing program. She said one of Dawson’s greatest qualities is their ability to befriend everyone.

They go out of their way to personally check in with all members,” Otten said.

Before Dawson was president of PRIDE, they were an intern for the Women’s and LGBTQ Resource Center. There are 10 interns within the resource center, Dawson said, and one of their responsibilities is to choose a change they want to see happen on campus and find a way to encourage it.

Currently Dawson is leading an event they hope to see happen in April with the help of other interns, professors and organizations, Dawson said. The event is called Trigger Warning and seeks to raise awareness about rape survivors.

“Essentially my program tries to provide real experiences to let students know it can happen and it does happen,” Dawson said.

Dawson said they are a rape survivor and it’s necessary for students to be aware of other students’ experiences. Dawson said they also want to help other survivors accept and learn from those experiences.



Not only is this Dawson’s first semester as president of PRIDE, it’s also their first semester as a Peer Diversity Educator – a housing and residence student organization run through the Think Tank.

PDE offers 14 different programs available to students upon request and Dawson said anyone can request a program, but the audience is usually students in resident halls. Dawson mentors the  students from Chancellors and Murray residence halls, they said.

A program called The Onion is one Dawson enjoys leading, they said. It involves seven layers of conversation, Dawson said, beginning with more general questions and eventually discussing worst fears and greatest experiences.

“This is a program that really allows you to be open and honest and very thorough about your past experiences,” Dawson said.

As a peer diversity educator, Dawson wants to engage students in programs that allow education on diversity and inclusivity as well as facilitate growth for individuals, they said.

This is also Dawson’s third semester mentoring for Peer Haven – an LGBTQ mentoring program where students can apply for a mentor to help them strengthen their LGBTQ identity.

Dawson said they take applicants from students who may not be comfortable being out or are looking for a support group within the LGBTQ community. The mentees set a goal and the mentors work with them to accomplish it. Goals could include making five LGBTQ friends on campus, Dawson said, or developing communication skills.

Right now Dawson has been mentoring two people who wanted to learn how to play the trading card game Magic: The Gathering, they said.

“Anything they would like to do we will help them with,” Dawson said. “As long as there is a goal that is what we strive for.”

Dawson got involved with mentoring because they wanted to help other non-binary individuals learn how to navigate campus and feel comfortable. Dawson said it was never the goal to encourage mentees by telling them “it will get better,” but to prepare them for the difficulties and help them understand they’re not alone.

“I want my mentees to be comfortable,” Dawson said. “They don’t come to the university and pay money to feel outed. They come to the university to learn and they don’t learn if they’re not in a comfortable state of mind.”

Dawson said their perspective of the various organization results from their own experiences as an individual and not everyone finds the same values in PRIDE, PDE and Peer Haven.

“Yes I work for all these places,” Dawson said. “But also I work for all these places because I am a queer androgynous person. I’m working for them because I want to see change and finally be comfortable.”

Dawson said there is work and education that goes into creating an environment where everyone can feel comfortable and that’s something they like to teach their mentees.