Here, Queer, and Safe Spaces Aren’t About Fear.
Without fail, every time I hear someone say “AUGSA” out loud, I experience a two-part response. First, my heart skips a beat and a faint glimmer of hope lights up behind my eyes. Second, I am let down. Why? Not because I am enamored with the idea of grad school and then disappointed by my undergraduate status, but because my mind always interprets “AUGSA” as “Andrews University Gender and Sexuality Alliance,” and I am oh-so-hopeful that that’s what they’re talking about, but the reality is typically much more straightforward.
Andrews University does not have a Gender and Sexuality Alliance, and while LGBTQ+ students have formed groups like AULL4ONE, there has not been any official support or approval from the University, so we have not had the ability to meet on campus. Because of our unofficial status and AULL4ONE’s inability to advertise, many students are unaware of their off-campus resources, and navigate college life without ever finding a safe space.
Depending on who you are, the phrase “safe space” might bring up angry political articles and us-versus-them mentalities, but that doesn’t make sense to me. Whether or not we call it one, most of us have a safe space—be it family, friends, home, a favorite park, TV show, the time set aside to listen to a beloved podcast or music from an artist that you connect with. It’s rarely a geographical location, but is always an environment in which our individual personhood is affirmed, often through a connection with something external. We listen to music that makes statements we agree or identify with. We usually listen to news through a lens that makes sense to us. We watch shows and movies that present information we like to see. Ideally, we make friends with people who support us and encourage us to be better versions of ourselves, not people who constantly contradict or belittle us.
All of these things are connected by the idea of affirmation. If you say you don’t believe in safe spaces and don’t think you have or need them, I don’t believe you. Or at least, I don’t think we understand safe spaces in the same way. A safe space is a place where you can be who you are without having to fight for it. I believe in safe spaces not because I am delicate and can’t handle criticism but because I understand that things are difficult and people should have a place to recover.
For transparency, an inconclusive list of my own safe spaces includes: the open road at 2:00 a.m. when I’m driving home, shouting along to my favorite songs; a clean room and the Invisibilia podcast; my best friend’s house; and the time I spend with AULL4ONE. All of these are experiences in which I can take a break from defending myself and can express myself instead.
It is not only okay but also vital to have safe spaces carved out for personal restoration. There is a prevalent narrative in the current political climate suggesting that younger generations and especially LGBTQ+ persons are ‘special snowflakes’ afraid of any opposition. This narrative is not only harmful, but also blatantly wrong. The reason safe spaces are so important is because the majority of life is not safe. For me, growing up queer/bi in an Adventist home meant books with LGBT characters being confiscated, hearing from the pulpit and the front of the classroom that my existence is inherently wrong, and having to accept that not all of my family will actually love me for who I am.
I have found that particularly in family relationships, it is necessary to spend time with and love people who do not respect all aspects of my identity. It isn’t always practical to cut people off or eliminate people because of one toxic part of the relationship you have with them. It is, however, possible to take breaks from them, at a healthy distance, in a place that doesn’t try to edit your identity.
For LGBTQ+ students at Andrews, AULL4ONE has been that space (if they know about it). For me, the chance to discuss my experiences and simply spend time with friends without having to worry that the conversation will suddenly turn into a homophobic or biphobic rant is refreshing and restorative. Here I have learned more about spirituality and a theism that strives to “love thy neighbor as thyself” than in my entire life up to this point. Finally, it provides affirmation through connection with others who share similar experiences. Because it has been such an important part of my college experience, I want others to have the same opportunity, but I #can’tTELLeveryoneAboutItbcWeDon’tAllKnowEachOtherContraryToPopularBelief
However, during the last two years, a taskforce has committed themselves to consulting with LGBTQ+ students at Andrews University to establish the next step of support and care for LGBTQ+ students. One element of this that you may have seen was the Framework at the end of the 2016-2017 student handbook. The taskforce’s second endeavor has been to create a proposal for an official on-campus group for open dialogue and support for LGBT+ students. This includes provisions for LGBTQ+ students to meet as an official group on campus with both faculty and student leadership, as well as the opportunity to share educational materials as they are created in the future in cooperation with the University’s faith principles, was recently approved by the Student Experience and Faith Development subcommittee of the University’s Board of Trustees.
In short, Andrews University has opened the door to engaging with LGBTQ+ students in a safe space on campus. While this may seem like a small step, it is my hope that this signals a change in attitudes toward LGBTQ+ students at Andrews, a chance for dialogue instead of talking about, and the ability to connect with and support other students. What this means to me is that my university is finally allowing me to meet with my peers on campus with the same visibility as the vegan club. Full stop.
If you are interested in this new University-based group, or would like to know more about resources for LGBTQ+ students at Andrews, contact Student Life or current AULL4ONE leaders at facebook.com/aull4one.