From October 18 to 20, the Associated Colleges of the Twin Cities (ACTC) hosted their third annual LGBTQIA weekend retreat at Camp Friendship in Annandale. This year marked Macalester’s first participation in the event.
The retreat focuses on creating a “larger support network” between and for the student leaders who attend. Items discussed each year include current issues facing LGBTQIA students on their respective campuses, power and privilege within the LGBTQIA community, and what it means to identify as an LGBTQIA person.
The five member schools—Macalester, Hamline, Augsburg, St. Catherine and St. Thomas—host a joint retreat because of their small size.
“We have some awesome resources here and there…none of our campuses is large enough,” said Demetrius Colvin, Assistant Director of the Department of Multicultural Life. The retreat was a way to “pool resources to create a bigger event” for interested LGBTQIA students,” he said.
“[The retreat] isn’t something you get lectured at,” Colvin said, describing the discussions at each retreat as being engaging and meaningful. “We shared our stories…student leaders get together to learn from each other.”
Kate Gallagher ’16, who represented Macalester at the retreat, said that despite the different campuses and backgrounds among the 38 students in attendance, the similarities were striking.
“We were all looking for the same things: community and change,” she said. “The fact that people from so many backgrounds and experiences with their queerness could come together and have the same goals was awesome.”
The retreat spent a lot of time on problems that ACTC LGBTQIA students face at their respective schools. Colvin said the LGBTQIA students at St. Catherine and St. Thomas do not find similar support to those at Macalester.
“They’re struggling for visibility,” he said.
He added that while visibility or acceptance is not as much an issue at Macalester, LGBTQIA students here still face challenges on a regular basis. Those students choose to remain silent about the LGBTQIA issues that confuse them.
“People are afraid to express opinions or ask questions,” he said. “[Many students do] not want to make mistakes.”
Gallagher agreed and said that the Macalester community fails to recognize all members of the spectrum.
“While I believe that Macalester is great at providing a safe and inclusive place for LGBTQIA students to thrive, there are definitely changes that can be made,” she said. “Often it feels like the focus is primarily on the L and G of the spectrum, and during the retreat we worked on brainstorming ideas that would make Mac an even better place for everyone else on the spectrum, especially the B and T.”
Colvin added that the absence of all-gender bathrooms in buildings on campus is another issue, along with “assumptions of heterosexuality and misunderstandings about gender pronouns.”
Student leaders at the retreat also spent time sharing their personal stories and discussing broader LGBTQIA issues that the nation is currently facing. For Gallagher, this part of the retreat was the most powerful.
“[It] was basically a chance for people to open up to the group about the joys and hardships they faced during their journeys,” she said.
Both Colvin and Gallagher counted the weekend as a success.
“It was definitely in the top three retreats that I’ve facilitated,” Colvin said. He added that Macalester students’ reviews of the retreat matched with his own hopes heading into the retreat.
“I would totally go again and recommend it to any number of LGBTQIA students at Mac so that we could show up in greater numbers next time,” Gallagher said.
“It’s for allies too!” Colvin said, pointing to the importance of opening conversations about LGBTQIA issues to the entire Macalester community and allowing allies to explore their identities as supporters of LGBTQIA persons.
Gallagher said that the retreat motivated her and the other Macalester participants to tackle LGBTQIA issues in new ways on campus.
“We want to work on improving ally education and responsibility, as well as creating more all-gender spaces on campus and perhaps doing more to connect queer faculty, staff, administrators, and students,” Gallagher said. “The main goals that we had was to educate the Macalester community about the personal positive and negative experiences queer Mac students are having on campus in order to raise awareness that just because we’re at Mac doesn’t mean that everything is perfect.”