WHOOSH! UT Dallas Students Serve Campus Pride on Second Annual Alternative Spring Break Trip

Written by Melodie Saucedo (they/them/theirs), UT Dallas Senior and Galerstein Gender Center Community Educator for LGBT+ Programs

As the site leader for this Alternative Spring Break Trip, I have had the honor of facilitating growth, education, and connections for my amazing team. Participation in this program was an extension of my job duties, but I have had such a great time in the planning and execution of the trip that it has not felt like an ordinary project at all. Beyond gaining a support system within my campus, I have reached out to and formed relations with numerous points of contacts across the organizations I will discuss throughout this post. This has all taught me that service learning and LGBT+ advocacy can take many different forms and that the advancement of our community requires both research and reflection on how we can empower specific groups who are queer, including students, people of color, and other intersectional identities.

We a smaller group that consists of myself, our Responsible University Official, Matt Winser-Johns (he/him/his), and our group of students, Lauren (she/her/hers), Harshini (she/her/hers), Cory (he/him/his), and Kayla (she/her/hers). Everyone involved is either local to Texas or hails from a neighboring state, so the idea of traveling to another Southern region to visit the headquarters of an LGBT+ focused non-profit was a bit of a surprise to all of us. We talked about how we would have expected such an organization to be located somewhere more stereotypically progressive, such as California or New York. The gem of Charlotte, North Carolina has shone as an illustration of how queer advocacy work, allyship, and authenticity exists absolutely everywhere.

We arrived on a Sunday and spent most of the day preparing for the week with tasks such as grocery shopping and team-building exercises. Taking this time to ourselves enabled us all to settle into our team roles and responsibilities. It also let us bond with the staff and space of our lodging facility, the Holy Covenant United Church of Christ. While Charlotte is full of a variety of religious centers, HCUCC truly sticks out as a beacon of inclusivity and affirmation. Beyond the displays of rainbows alongside crosses and signs that demand we “reject racism,” Holy Covenant allowed us to interact with an institution that truly embraces social justice work as interconnected with acts of religiosity.

This Sunday enabled us to hit the ground running on Monday morning. We visited yet another church with a bookstore and coffee shop adorned in matching “I Heart UTD” shirts, proudly brandishing our rainbow hearts. We ordered our first round of local coffee while Matt and I led a mini-workshop called “LGBT+ 101.” This allowed us to teach our group about the basic tenets of sexuality, romantic orientation, and gender identity and expression. In discussing these identities and issues, the group engaged in symbiotic learning. From here, we headed to Time Out Youth, a local community center that serves queer adolescent people in the area. The facility was kind enough to host us before they opened, so we volunteered for hours by helping them inventory for an upcoming fundraising auction, organizing their kitchen space, and cataloging their library books. That evening, we talked about the impact of our work. While these tasks may seem mundane, they actually served the greater purpose of improving the quality of life Time Out Youth’s staff experiences. Often, non-profit staff are simply spread too thin to put forth resources in these time-consuming tasks, and we were all thankful to contribute to the community by enabling their professionals to focus on their larger mission and goals.

Tuesday was our first day with Campus Pride. After a morning of visiting Amelie’s, a French bakery and Charlotte cultural staple, we met with Don Wilson, the facilitator of Campus Pride. He introduced us to the work that the organization does and led us on a scavenger hunt of CP’s website. We were asked to find information such as when Campus Pride was founded, what sorts of programs they host, and what the Trans Policy Clearinghouse is. This was a perfect segway into our first service project, which was furthering the research for the Clearinghouse. We each chose a single state to research on how specific campuses do or do not affirm transgender students and staff.

On Wednesday, we spent the entire day with Campus Pride. We met Shane Windmeyer, the founder and director of this organization. They gave us an informative presentation about the State of LGBTQ+ People in Higher Education. Our team learned more about the tenants of activist work and the importance of advocating for students specifically. As future world-changers, students need to feel safe and supported in their learning spaces in order to cultivate their skills of self-confidence and empowerment. We then engaged with a panel of local business leaders who are a part of the LGBT+ community as they spoke about how their queer identities and professional work intersect. They spoke about coming out in the workplace, barriers to queer leadership, and choosing which battles are worth fighting in terms of  microaggressions and institutional discrimination.

Thursday was our last full day of service. We spent half of the day completing our projects. We also filmed advertisements for Campus Pride to promote Giving Day in April, which is when individuals and organizations are encouraged to donate to non-profits in order to give back to the larger community. This was a fun and exciting project, as all team members had a role of filming or starring in the videos. We all also really enjoyed draping ourselves in Campus Pride’s various flags, a visible representation of both our identities and service. We also visited Comic Girl Coffee Shop, a local collectively-owned feminist and queer book shop. My group had a blast interacting with the small business and found great value in seeing another form of queer work and  celebration that we had not previously been exposed to. Our day ended with a pizza party that felt like a perfect wrap-up to our week together.

Our time with Campus Pride was short on Friday, as we had to leave on time to make our flight back home. This morning check-in actually turned in to be one of the most impactful, as we had to opportunity to hear from Roberta Dunn, a transgender activist who has worked for years to progress our community further. As an individual who has experienced several Civil Rights Movements, she was able to give us both hope for a brighter future and insight for how to make that happen.

This trip has meant a lot to me, both personally and professionally. I gained friends, memories, and a love for a city I had never before visited. As an aspiring higher education professional who hopes to spend my life empowering queer students of color, I will carry the lessons that I learned to impact others in all of the work that I do. My teammates have also gained a lot from their participation in this trip. They all started with different levels of knowledge and allyship towards the LGBT+ community, and I feel like they have all been transformed into people who can now venture into their respective leadership roles with a queer and intersectional lens to their work.

Thank you to Matt Winser-Johns of the Galerstein Gender Center, Shane Windmeyer of Campus Pride, and the UT Dallas Office of Student Volunteerism for making all of this possible. WHOOSH!

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