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Students Explore Intersectionality and Advocacy at LGBTQ Leadership Retreat

This past weekend on Jan. 14 and 15, over 30 students attended the first-ever LGBTQ Student Leadership Retreat at Pilgrim Pines Camp. Students spent the weekend gaining leadership skills through workshops, exploring their identities, and making connections with others.

“Queer students have so many other identities and marginalizations,” Megan van der Toorn, assistant director at the LGBT CRC, said. “We wanted to create a space that really focused on those intersections: queerness, gender identity, and leadership.”

Van der Toorn and others on the planning committee also created the retreat with the intent to help boost leadership and involvement in LGBT student organizations around campus, some of which have struggled with retention and smooth transitions between years in the past. The team especially wanted to connect with first- and second-year students and get them involved early on in their UCLA career.

The retreat began with staff-led discussions, leadership skill workshops, and identity development activities, then transitioned to student-led discussions and activities. Van der Toorn’s planning committee intentionally designed the agenda so that day one introduced ideas of leadership and day two gave students opportunities to apply what they learned.

“Something that was really transformative for me was seeing that change in folks from being more reserved on day one to coming out of their shell by day two,” van der Toorn said.

Students had the opportunity to have discussions with groups that shared their identities or interests. Some of these groups were based on race/ethnicity (QTPOC, mixed-race, or white), interest in body image/self-love, being queer and religious, being transgender/nonbinary, or being a transfer or non-traditional student. They also brainstormed specific ways to make change on campus in areas such as mental health care and awareness and LGBTQ classroom representation.

In one activity, students discovered their leadership styles and discussed how the different styles work together in a group dynamic.

“What I hope to be one of the biggest lessons is that leadership doesn’t necessarily have a predetermined look to it,” van der Toorn said. “It doesn’t have to be ‘I am the president of this organization’ or ‘I am an RA’ or ‘I hold this executive position in USAC’. Leadership can be speaking up or advocating for others, it can be organizing for something you’re passionate about; it doesn’t have to be formal.”

Since the retreat activities ranged from identity development and reflection to leadership lessons and applications, both new and experienced leaders were able to learn something new while making connections with other students.

“We had so many students with different identities and at different places in their own identity development,” van der Toorn said, “so what resonated most with people individually depended on where they were at coming in. But I think the one that’s a commonality for everyone was just the ability to communicate with other students and build relationships.”

During Spring quarter this year, there will be a leadership workshop series in the LGBT CRC to continue the momentum created by the retreat. It will be targeted towards students who attended the winter retreat but will be open for others to join.

Other upcoming LGBTQ leadership conferences include the following:
• ¡Presente! Conference — Feb. 3 – 4, a conference for the LGBTQ Latinx community **
• 2017 Southern California LGBTQIA+ Health Conference — Feb. 18
• 3rd Asterisk Trans* Conference — Feb. 24 – 25 **
• BlaqOut — April 21 – 23, a conference for the LGBTQ black community **

** UCLA students get free registration through UCLA

More information about these conferences can be found on their respective websites, in the BruinPride listserv, and in the LGBT CRC.

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Shay Suban (they/them/theirs) is a first-year Computer Science major. Their interests include drawing, video games, national parks, and their favorite foods, which are clam chowder, lobster mac n' cheese, and creampuffs. A fun fact about Shay is that their family has driven across the United States five times!

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