When I was choosing colleges, the presence and engagement of an LGBTQIA+ community on campus was a big factor in my search. The institution I chose, Connecticut College, was awarded over a four-star Campus Pride Index. However, once I moved in, I realized that there was no LGBTQIA+ advocacy group being advertised throughout orientation, unlike the other affinity groups like Umoja and MEChA. This concerned me, because as a queer student, I knew navigating a college campus without the help of a supportive community could be difficult. It is extremely easy to ignore queer issues if students are not heavily involved in conversation and are not being represented despite their high population.
At the end of September, I noticed an advertisement on CamelWeb, that a new LGBTQIA+ advocacy group was looking for executive board members. I reached out to the co-chairs, attended the first meeting, and ran for political chair, which I now hold. The new student advocacy group, known as PRISM, provides “a space to reflect on what it means to be queer and how to create change that relates to queerness on this campus,” said Jonny Gomez-Pereira ‘20, co-chair of the organization. Before PRISM, there were three LGBTQIA+ groups on campus: Connecticut College Queer and Questioning (known colloquially as CQ2), Spectrum, and Queer People of Color (QPOC). While the former group is still in operation, the latter two have been dissolved.
When they were still active, Spectrum and QPOC sought to represent the queer community on Connecticut College’s campus. However, last spring “there was a change in [Spectrum’s] leadership, and the club became defunct. The leader stepped down and no one took up the positions,” explained Julianna Donovan ’20, co-chair of PRISM. She continued by saying, “there were fundamental issues with [Spectrum]. There was a tinge of antagonism and had a history of excluding queer people of color on campus. The club needed to end because there was this need for a fresh start.” QPOC also ended last year, when one of their leaders graduated and no one offered to take their place. Once these two clubs ended, there was then a gap in the visibility and activism regarding the LGBTQIA+ community on Conn’s campus. Though CQ2 still operates, it would not have been the appropriate choice for filling in this advocacy gap, as CQ2 is a confidential support group, not a force for activism and advocacy.
PRISM is this fresh start, both in name and in practice. Gomez-Pereira recalled that, “the name has been a work in progress since last year. There was a meeting where people were trying to get rid of Spectrum and it was like a metaphorical rebirth. It makes sense to get rid of the old name because it goes along with changing the constitution, and everything that was previously Spectrum.” Through this, Donovan and Gomez-Pereira set out to create a new club that would not only sufficiently replace QPOC and Spectrum but also focus on queer issues, including gender identity, through an intersectional lens.
As co-chairs and co-founders of the club, Donovan and Gomez-Pereira have clear intentions of what they want from PRISM and hope that the organization translates well into what Conn lacks: a unified and mobilized LGBTQIA+ community. Without a visible queer community on campus, a lot of the necessary conversations around queer issues would not be taking place. As Donovan explained, “We are really focused on the meetings being a platform for how we can spread queer advocacy on campus and talk about ideas of intersectionality that aren’t always discussed in certain settings, especially with the environment in the school.”
PRISM, which meets every Tuesday at 9 p.m. in the LGBTQIA+ center in Burdick, “provides a space to reflect on what it means to be queer and how to create change that relates to queerness on this campus,” said Gomez-Pereira. This is something that I and other queer people on this campus felt was lacking before the creation of PRISM. “[As a first year], during orientation, most of my friends were all straight and white and cis and I felt very out of place and uncomfortable. It is really nice to have a group of queer people to go to on Tuesdays,” Sailor Hurley ’21, PRISM’s secretary, reflected. The weekly meetings are “such a supportive space for queer people on campus […] Going to PRISM and being able to find other queer people and talk to them on your own issues and kind of hang out is so invaluable” said Kenta Bloom ’19, who did not feel that he would have fit in with Spectrum last year. However, despite being a “very serious group where we talk about queer issues,” the meetings “feel a lot more familial this year” according to Taryn Gangi ’20, PRISM’s treasurer. This atmosphere makes it a lot easier for queer students to be able to come and share their personal experiences, knowing, as Bloom puts it, that they will “find validation for issues that maybe your [straight] friends may not understand.”
Overall, PRISM seeks to foster a supportive LGBTQIA+ community and space for political activity on campus. By educating the student body and putting on informational, intersectional events that reflect on what it is like to be queer–including topics related to both gender and sexuality–PRISM comes closer to achieving this goal. Some ideas for events throughout this academic year include talking about “queerness in communities of color, which is a different experience than being queer in a white community because many times queerness is seen more as a white thing,” Gangi commented. Gomez-Pereira remarked that he was looking into finding a speaker to explain machismo, which he described as “essentially Latin American masculinity, and how it is toxic in certain amounts.” Other ideas suggested were confronting “the sexualization and fetishzisation of different identities in the LGBTQIA+ community, especially women who love women,” by Hurley, who also mentioned stigmas against dating someone who is transgender and the “forgotten identities” in the community, like bisexuality, pansexuality, and asexuality.
There is a need for these events at Connecticut College because “we need to talk more about race and culture as it mixes with being queer and what it is like being queer coming from a working class or poor environment as opposed to a richer environment. LGBTQIA+ is not a separate identity from everything else; it definitely plays into everything,” said Hurley. Donovan also commented on the need for an intersectional lens, “because queer advocacy that doesn’t have a focus on intersectionality is upholding a very white history of queer rights in mainstream media recognition,” which is important to address on a campus that lacks racial and socioeconomic diversity. PRISM’s approach is meant to look at “the junctions of [intersectional identities], framing them as being interwoven, not piled on top of each other.”