This fall, University of Wisconsin System students returned to class, but it was only a matter of time before the COVID crisis returned to campus as well. As some students quarantined in dorms and classes on the UW-Madison campus became a mix of virtual and in-person instruction, LGBTQ+ students were left without some of the sources of community and support they might expect from a traditional campus experience.
Fortunately, the Gender and Sexuality Campus Center at UW-Madison is actively listening to students’ needs and responding in new and creative ways.
“Students are navigating a desire to build community, especially as they are managing isolation, psychological distress, and a lack of support,” said Assistant Dean and Director Warren (War, per/pers) Scherer. “They are rightfully frustrated. They are removed from their respective support networks, friends, and community on campus because gathering is limited. Students who, upon returning home last spring and this fall, may not have a home that is supportive or affirming. They are navigating an experience where they cannot fully be themselves, express themselves, or if they are out it may be a hostile environment.”
To meet students wherever they are, the Gender and Sexuality Campus Center has found a tool more commonly used in online gaming communities to get students connected. Through setting up an online Discord instant messaging and digital distribution platform server, staff have found ways of supporting students through threads of online conversations based on students’ interests—everything from exploring gender identity to their passion for baking or cultivating plants. Combined with virtual events and discussion, students are still finding a sense of community.
“LGBTQ+ people are incredibly resilient,” per said. “They have had to find ways to not only survive but thrive in the environment they find themselves and they have found avenues to access support and community. It mightn’t be the robust community they want. They can’t kiki with friends to watch She-Ra or Pose. It’s not exactly what they envisioned for college, but they are finding ways to thrive and be resilient to all that is going on.”