Students come together to support LGBT community
Using art to recognize the struggles the queer community faces is just one of the ways the Center for Social Justice Education and LGBT Communities raised awareness of these issues during Rutgers Ally Week.
Ally Week allows both students and adults alike to understand the experiences and injustices that minorities face, said Zaneta Rago-Craft, director of Student Affairs at the Center for Social Justice Education and LGBT Communities.
Being an ally means an individual will stand up for equality among the sexualities, according to GLAAD, an organization dedicated to promoting these issues.
“Working from an intersectional and intercultural understanding of oppression, the entire campus community is challenged to examine stereotypes and prejudice,” according to the Center for Social Justice Education and LGBT Communities website.
Several organizations took part in this celebration, including sororities, fraternities and LGBT organizations around campus, said Da'shon Holder, a School of Arts and Sciences senior. Photo booths and pledge stations were set up around the five New Brunswick campuses so students could pledge to be an ally to the LGBT community.
LLEGO, the LGBTQQIA people of color organization, hosted the Queer People of Color Reception on Tuesday, Oct. 13, Holder said. The organization's largest fall event included vocal, dance and burlesque performances along with spoken word poetry and an informal dance party.
The event allowed students to release their emotions through art said Raka Chaki, a School of Arts and Sciences junior.
“We ... connect to each other on a human level,” said Chaki, LLEGO's public relations chair.
The group expected a turnout of around 50 people but were shocked by an overwhelming 200 people at the event, Holder said.
What made the event so successful and unique was its ability to unite all forms of civil rights issues, not limited to only sexuality said Jessamyn Bonfe, a School of Arts and Sciences junior.
"We all need to stand in solidarity together and should move from only being (an ally for a) week to being an ally at ALL times,” said Bonfe, LLEGO's vice president.
Twenty transgender women of color were murdered in the United States this year, Bonfe said.
LGBT issues are connected with other social justice campaigns, she said.
“How can we use this disproportionately magnified rate of murders to think about police brutality towards African-Americans or even campus sexual assault?" she said. "Clearly, we cannot ignore how we view African-Americans or women on a daily basis."
Ally Week helps students understand compassion regardless of identity, Bonfe said.
“Being an ally is an action word, not a noun," she said. "Although we have Ally Week, we always try to support other organizations and go to their meetings so we can build and strengthen our community.”
Other organizations such as Out in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (oSTEM), geared their week’s meetings toward the theme of "ally-ship," said Kelly Ruffenach, a School of Engineering junior and oSTEM's president.
“What’s great is even people that seem to have no free time and can’t attend the longer events can stop by the pledge and photo stations which are quick and simple," she said. "(This) maximizes the (number of) people who are able to be involved.”
This event is not the only means by which the University’s organizations raise awareness about LGBT issues, Holder said. Trans Awareness Week, World AIDS day, Day of Silence, “Gaypril” and Pride Week are events that occur in the spring, but they are all equally important to understanding these minority communities and their intersectionality.
Ally Week was also a means of discussing safe spaces on campus. According to advocatesforyouth.org, a safe space is a place where students feel comfortable to express themselves and is a place where there are no triggers to disrupt their mental well-being.
Holder and Ruffenach said Ally Week highlights the already existing safe spaces on campus.
“What I think is awesome is (safe spaces are) not all on the same campus, so wherever you are at Rutgers, a safe space is not far away,” Ruffenach said.
The community can work to create safer spaces, but no space can be completely comfortable for everyone. Instead, she proposes “brave spaces,” Rago-Craft said.
“Mistakes will happen, as will discomfort, but if we hold one another accountable, speak from our own experiences, and learn how to truly listen to one another's narratives, certainly our spaces will become progressively safer,” she said.