Rallying Allies

The Queer Voices Project inspires support for LGBTQIA+ Seahawks

By Venita Jenkins

Audrey Schumacher ’20 had not come out to her professors, but that changed when she noticed one simple detail on sociology professor Ann Rotchford’s email: her pronouns.

“That was my immediate cue of inclusion and that maybe she is a safe space for me,” recalled Schumacher, an interdisciplinary studies major. “I thought maybe I can talk to her about topics that I am passionate about and I can bring up queer things to her and she won’t discriminate against me by failing me.”

The simple act of including one’s pronouns in an email signature is one of many suggestions offered on a new resource website to aid faculty and staff in fostering a more inclusive environment on campus. The comprehensive website (uncw.edu/lgbtqia_ resources) was developed by Schumacher; Rotchford; Meg Robertson ’20M, a graduate assistant in the Mohin-Scholz LGBTQIA Resource Office; and English assistant professor Addie Sayers over the summer. The site serves as a one-stop shop for tools and resources.

The Queer Voices Project was inspired by UNCW’s Safe Zone training, which helps campus allies foster an atmosphere of support and safety for LGBTQIA-identifying individuals at UNCW, said Rotchford. Schumacher was awarded a Summer Undergraduate Research and Creativity Awards grant, provided by the UNCW Center for Support of Undergraduate Research and Fellowships, to fund the project.

“I realized after the training that if you want to be an ally, there’s a lot of information that would be great to have in one place,” said Rotchford, who approached Mohin-Scholz LGBTQIA Resource Office coordinator Brooke Lambert about the project.

The resource site is populated with information based on feedback and narratives collected during interviews of 26 current students and alumni about their experiences at UNCW. While the data showed progress in serving the LGBTQIA+ community, there was still room for improvement.

Resources to support queer faculty, staff and students and housing and classroom practices were common themes among participants. Volunteers also spoke of the need for representation in faculty, curriculum and intersectionality among resource offices on campus.

“Students sometimes feel like they have to check a certain identity at the door depending on where they are,” Schumacher said. “There’s a need for intersection between resources because not all of our students are going to fit in certain boxes. We are all different and have different needs.”

The team plans to share data from their research with divisions across campus as well as in publications and presentations.

“What’s beautiful about this particular project is that it is blending activism, science, pedagogy and community,” said Sayers. For Robertson, the creation of the site means that “for the first time, LGBTQIA-identifying students are being heard, seen and asked to share their experiences by the institution as a whole.”

“By UNCW allowing the website to be an official page, a door has been opened for so much more progress that is driven by LGBTQIA-identifying students, the individuals who should have a say in their education, in the resources that they need and in the change they wish to see,” she continued. “This page is only a starting point, the most basic information students feel that faculty and staff need to know, but it takes pressure off students to expend that energy of having to explain and justify themselves. It’s a first step in the right direction that will hopefully encourage faculty and staff to continue to learn, change, and challenge other ideologies and practices that limit student potential.”

(Above, L to R) Meg Robertson ’20M, Addie Sayers, Ann Rotchford and Audrey Schumacher ’20

Read more in the Winter 2021 issue of UNCW Magazine