Club Profile: Meet QTPOC: Willamette's Safe Space for Queer and Trans Students of Color
QTPOC+ is a student-run organization that is built entirely for queer and trans students of color at Willamette. It aims to create a safe space for some of the most marginalized students on campus. Above all else, the group fosters a supportive community. “It’s the only place where we can not be a minority in two ways. We can be only with people of color, only with queer people. Our identities are not made political in that space,” said Amanda France (‘22), the club’s president. The group makes a conscious effort in their activities and discussions to be mindful of the other marginalized identities, such as neurodiversity and disability, of their members, which also impact their experiences in the world.
At the end of last semester, France filled out a Google Survey indicating that she had an interest in a leadership position within the club, and, much to her surprise, she was the only one to do so. She unknowingly inherited full responsibility for QTPOC. Despite this somewhat daunting assignment, she’s stepped up to the challenge and is guiding QTPOC with compassion and grace. “Amanda always reminds people to take intentional care of themselves, and so I really appreciate that she’s a relational leader. She’s good at tuning into the group and [assessing] what they need, whether it be something a bit more structured and planned, or something more chill where we’re just chatting and being in community,” said Jessica Davis, a QTPOC member and career advisor at the Career Development Office.
Davis has been making time to attend meetings when she can since joining Willamette staff this school year. Her membership in QTPOC has a significant impact on her work as a career advisor with a focus on equity: “I get first-hand knowledge of what students are experiencing, what’s going on around campus, and what students need. It also helps me to build trust. You know, career stuff seems really simple, but a lot of times our identities and who we are play into our career decisions and our development. And so it’s important to me that students trust me with sharing those parts of themselves so [that] we can really be intentional about their career development.”
QTPOC meetings always open up with an accessibility statement and a modified version of Willamette’s land acknowledgment, with revisions made by the club’s Indigenous members. Next, members introduce themselves in whatever way they feel honors their identity best. France noted that she used to ask specific questions, but has since concluded that she’s not there to decide how members present their identities. “Saying how you identify in a safe space is one of the most affirming things,” said France.
After kicking things off, the agenda of QTPOC meetings vary greatly. Sometimes the club offers one another support through conversation about issues QTPOC students are facing on campus, and other times they simply do arts and crafts. In the past, the group has participated in a wide range of activities, including dream interpretation, button making for Trans Awareness Week, discussion of financial literacy for QTPOC, screenings of queer films and attending the Queer Students of Color conference in Portland. France explained that more often than not, QTPOC is just a place for members to hang out and speak with one another in an informal community. She added that she’s been surprised to find how important it’s been for members to have a space where they can let their guards down, and even be childish if desired. “At QTPOC we can draw, we can make play dough, we can bring fidget toys, and we’re not judged for that. I feel like as a minority you can be seen as someone who needs to be super mature and super put together and articulate all the time, but not at QTPOC.”
One noteworthy characteristic of QTPOC is its purposeful choice to remain unaffiliated with the Associated Students of Willamette University (ASWU). The club’s unaffiliated status has been a tradition for as long as the club has been active, and France has honored this precedent as the club’s new leader. The way she sees it, the two benefits of ASWU affiliation would be acquiring ASWU funding and the ability to reserve spaces, two areas that QTPOC already has covered. Up until this year, ASWU didn’t provide funding for the events of closed Affinity Clubs (ASWU defines a closed Affinity Club as a multicultural or religious club “only open to any individual who identifies with the cultural/religious group that the club represents”). While a measure was passed this October changing this policy, thus allowing ASWU to now fund these types of clubs, France said that she still doesn’t see much of a point in filling out the paperwork for affiliation. QTPOC is able to get its funding through the Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA), and the only space it needs to reserve is the Office of Equity and Empowerment.
France pointed out a lack of trust in ASWU as a factor in their unaffiliated standing as well. “Look at the recent events of ASWU not passing the statement of solidarity with trans students. That’s definitely a red flag when it comes to a queer-only organization. It’s clearly not a space that’s made for us. The OMA is specifically for multicultural affairs and for marginalized students, so I feel like that’s the most appropriate place for us to get our funding,” she said. Additionally, France noted that she always wants to respect the privacy of QTPOC’s members as much as possible, and thus doesn’t want to have to submit a roster of names in case there are any members who don’t want to be out or otherwise wish to remain unidentified in this formal manner.
Being a closed organization is invaluable to QTPOC’s members. On the importance of keeping the space exclusive to QTPOC-identified individuals, Davis reflected on how people who consider themselves allies are oftentimes not. “Sometimes we need spaces where we are at the forefront. It’s not just some person with dominant identities being the one to center us. [At QTPOC] we are the center, and there’s no question about it,” she explained. QTPOC also allows students to escape the all too familiar experience of being tokenized in predominantly white, heternormative spaces. France elaborated that QTPOC is a place where members, “don’t have to represent all queer people or all people of color. We can just be in community with each other and meet each other.”
It is not easy to be a QTPOC student at Willamette, especially given the university’s proximity to the state capitol where Proud Boys and white supremacists gather semi-regularly. QTPOC offers its members solace in this environment. When QTPOC students are faced with such trials and tribulations, the club offers a space for members to care for one another. QTPOC’s largest club meeting this year was right after Willamette College Republicans’ hosted a guest speaker who was a member of an organization designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. QTPOC members came together to grieve and process. “It’s always really powerful to see each other’s resilience, and also to see each other’s vulnerability, and I think that some of those events led to space for us to just be vulnerable, to be upset, to share how [we] were really feeling without being worried about where it would go, or how it would be perceived,” said Davis.
The group is really hoping to grow its membership and reach any isolated QTPOC folks who are in need of support and community. “Even if coming to QTPOC just means that you’re in space with people who you can laugh with and forget about what’s happening for five minutes, then we would be happy to be that space for you,” said Davis. France mentioned that even if students have reservations about coming to a meeting, she wants to be able to support QTPOC students in any way that she can, and welcomes people to email her with any questions, access needs, concerns, or anything else. “If you’re a QTPOC person out there, we welcome you. And we don’t want you to be alone. We know it’s hard to be multiply-marginalized anywhere, [and] especially at Willamette, [so] we’re here to support you. Come to a meeting!” said France. QTPOC meets every Friday at 5:30 p.m. in the Office of Equity and Empowerment.