Finding community among discomfort: Reflections on spaces for queer students of color

The Queer Archives Project and other on-campus organizations give a voice to queer students. (Photo courtesy of @qpoc_laf on Instagram)

By Shiloh Harrill, Contributing Writer

This October, Lafayette students join people around the world in celebrating LGBTQ+ History Month. Lafayette’s queer students of color have a unique history of finding and creating safe spaces at the college over the decades. Two of these organizations are still providing some students with a home.

One step in fostering a safe environment for Lafayette’s queer student population was the creation of the Queer Archives Project (QAP), which is committed to an intersectional perspective that acknowledges the influence of race, religion, ethnicity, nationality, gender, age and other identity markers on the LGBTQ+ community.

The QAP features the experiences of queer Lafayette graduates from the 1950s to as recently as 2019. Several alumni of color have shared their stories as part of the oral history project.

Xavier Walker ‘22 recalled their participation in the project as something that was crucial to feel safer on campus. Walker is an English and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies major who worked on the project during their freshman year. The project gave them the opportunity to write about experiences of Black queer people at Lafayette.

“Homophobia here is more cultural and social. It’s more present in the general ambivalence,” Walker said, referring to the ways in which Lafayette community members use performative language but lack a desire to understand the struggles of their fellow students on a deeper level.

Speaking about their own experiences, Walker said they have established a certain level of visibility that demands attention to their queerness and race.

“My experience has been isolating…but I’ve met the best people due to QPOC,” Walker said.

Queer People of Color (QPOC) is an organization for queer students of color at Lafayette, founded four years ago by Alex Diaz ’22 and several other QPOC, including Walker when they were just a first-year student.

“It was really important to participate in QPOC as a freshman. I wanted that community in college,” Walker recalled. “QPOC’s space is safe and comfortable in a way I didn’t have in high school…We understand each other on a different level.”

When QPOC was first founded, the organization did not focus on education. Rather, it focused on creating a space where people could be wholly comfortable and build community.

“The white queer and the queer POC experiences are very different,” Walker explained.

The QAP, an oral history project that features the experiences of queer Lafayette graduates, has shared the stories of several alumni of color. (Photo courtesy of Lafayette College)

According to Walker, QPOC is the first example of an intersectional organization of this nature here at Lafayette.

“QPOC has been a home in a way that has been really nice,” they said.

Walker, now a senior, acts as the organization’s informal advisor.

“It’s nostalgic being a general member for the organization, and really beautiful seeing how the underclassmen are coming in with more awareness of themselves and support from their non-queer friends,” Walker said.

According to Walker, the organization has had an immeasurable impact on their time at Lafayette.

“QPOC has been one of the brightest spots of my Lafayette experience,” they said.