Unity Lounge Moves, Making Space for Queer and Trans Center

By Jennifer Hicks

The Unity Lounge, a space open to everyone but focused on students of color and operated by First Peoples has moved into a new space in the Student Academic Support Services offices. First Peoples advising is a service offered on campus geared towards fostering a support system for underrepresented students such as students of color and queer and trans students. They operate two spaces on campus that students may use as they so choose- one being the Unity Lounge and the other being the new Trans and Queer Center (TQC). We previously covered the imminent grand opening of the TQC that moved into the space that was previously occupied by the Unity Lounge. The purpose of the Unity Lounge is to create a space where students can come together to get to know each other, debrief, hangout, receive support and most importantly create community. In aspiring to achieve the goal of community the Unity Lounge offers several services one of which is to hire peer advisors. This is particularly helpful for new students as the peer advisors have all been in the shoes of new students at one time or another. These helpful peers can be found in the lounge ready to help anyone who comes in!

As a student of color here at Evergreen myself I have a fondness for the Unity Lounge—not only do they have tea, coffee and really friendly staff, they offer a safe comfortable place to relax, write a paper and meet people. My first year when the campus just seemed too big and impersonal I would retreat to the safety of the lounge and its vast variety of hot sauce to eat my lunches and hangout. It quickly became a safe space for warm interactions and readily available support.

An exciting thing about the move of the Unity Lounge is not only that it is now in a bigger space but also its proximity to the TQC, this offers a unique ability to have cross over between students of color and queer and trans students. It can be a common experience for people with intersecting identities to feel forced to pick one or the other feeling either that they’re not a person of color enough or not queer enough for one of the groups that they identify with.

I spoke with Mia Harvey who is an advisor for the Trans and Queer Center on campus who had this to say about the move of the Unity Lounge and the creation of the Trans and Queer Center-

“I think one of the exciting parts about the TQC being adjacent to the Unity lounge [is] often times the queer and trans students of color feel like they have to chose one space or the other. When in reality people can’t separate the two [identities]. So this is a great opportunity for students with intersecting identities to develop relationships between [groups of] non-poc trans and queer students and students of color who may not identify as LGBTQIA+. Often times I know for myself when I was going to school [I would think] oh I’m not queer enough or I’m not POC enough, so bridging that and really facilitating that conversation with students and students in that space is really important. You don’t have to meet XYZ to be considered enough these are things you are 100% of the time and these discussions are really important.”

Aside from the new Unity Lounge being larger, the move to the room next door serves to remind the institution that the Unity Lounge and the QTC are both still in temporary spaces and that permanent spots for these places have yet to be identified. The move was a strategic move to make sure that the QTC was established and the Unity Lounge was updated and received a larger space, while also keeping both of these spaces on the radar of the institution so as to not allow them to forget these are needed services that are still in temporary spaces.

The TQC and the Unity Lounge will be working together to create workshops and duel safe spaces for students with intersecting identities. The first of these joint events will be the grand opening of both spaces Wednesday 12 of October at 2pm. The Unity Lounge will also be a part of the upcoming National Coming Out Day- Tuesday October 11- to support intersectionality between the two centers.

The TQC’s new space, located in room 2147,

I sat down with Mimi Alcantar, alumni and Multicultural Student Advisor for First Peoples to ask if she had any advice for new and returning students of color at Evergreen and also to show what a huge effect places like the Unity Lounge can have on Evergreen students.

“Hearing from students helps students to practice how to verbalize their needs and also helps us reassess the way we run these spaces. The spaces are set up in way that we have identified that the students need them [to be], but the way things are set up are not always in a way that works for everyone so it’s possible to request services that you need but don’t see addressed yet”

The connections and skills the Unity Lounge offers can have lasting effects on students as people and also professionally. As a student Mimi frequently used the Unity Lounge and about the support she received she says, “I attribute my ability to have graduated and have my degree now to the Unity Lounge and to the support that I received from First Peoples, because I had been supported so critically I wanted to give back to the community”. As the first person to hold the title of Multicultural Advisor Mimi felt confident she could do the job; “based on the way I was supported I knew what support can look like {the position} was designed in a way that looked to me like the work I was already doing in terms of advocating for students and taking [the] initiative to put together events and workshops, meeting one on one with people to give advice and to make connections. Establish relationships and get to know people’s stories. [to] give back to the place and the people who were so inspirational. As a first gen Latinx student of color being able to give back was really important.”

So head on over to the unity lounge and QTC to check out these brand new spaces offered at Evergreen! If you have any questions for first peoples they can be contacted at firstpeoples@evergreen.edu while the QTC can be found on their facebook page TESC Trans and Queer Center.