Who you are is enough

For years, the Q Center has been advocating for the queer community at the UW — and it has made all the difference in students’ lives.

“We can’t begin to think about gender and sexuality without considering how intersectional structural oppression multiplies the barriers to access for marginalized communities.”
Jen SelfDirector, Q Center
Anthony Cheng
“The Q center is one of those few environments where I can just completely be every aspect of myself.”Anthony Cheng (he/him)

Communications major, informatics minor, ’20

More thoughts from Anthony

For me, the Q center means comfort. Being a mixed-race person of color, but also being a gay man, I find a lot of circles hard to navigate, and many of those circles are exclusive to certain identities — so I don’t feel comfortable in the full experience of “me.” The Q center is one of those few environments where I can just completely be every aspect of myself and feel comfortable. We need to create more environments for people who experience marginalization to the strongest extent because it benefits those who aren’t as marginalized indirectly.

As queer people, we’re raised on this idea that we should take up less space. We’re told to keep ourselves small and hide components of ourselves. So a major issue is to recognize the importance of space and how much space you’re giving people. Because look how much we’re flourishing in a small space. Could you imagine something medium? And gosh, don’t get me started on large.

My favorite thing about the Center is the friendships I’ve made. I have some of the dumbest conversations in here, and I’ve never once thought they were counterproductive. I would much rather have a casual and meaningful conversation in the Q Center than a more intellectually stimulating one outside.

I would like people to know that as much as they find comfort and solace in those environments that I don’t — like a football game, for example — that experience of camaraderie, that comfort and sense of belonging, we’re getting that here. It just looks different.

“The Q Center has provided a safe haven for me, a place where I fit in the best.”

Valerie Schweigert (she/her, they/them)

Ph.D. student, higher education leadership; M.A., education, ’17
Q Center education coordinator, graduate staff assistant
Portrait of Valerie Schweigert

More thoughts from Valerie

When I came here in 2016, I was struggling to find mentors and people who aligned with my values and understood what it means to be not only a person of color but also queer. And that’s something I found support for in the Q Center.

Working here has opened so many doors for me. I’ve been going to conferences, giving talks and trainings across campus, and partnering with external organizations. I’m also building a community and finding the support I need.

It’s valuable to have this physical space — we’re always here. Even if you aren’t out yet, and your first year you feel kind of intimidated or scared to be so visible in this space, it’s okay. You can come back your sophomore year, your junior year, your senior year. The faces may look different, but our space and what we stand for will still be here.

In a lot of spaces, people of color, queer people and trans people are silenced, marginalized and not listened to or attended to. You often don’t feel like you can be outspoken or open about who you are. You make yourself small in those spaces just for safety and security. The Q Center is a space where you can show up as your full self and feel empowered to take on projects and launch them.

Please support our work — don’t undervalue it. We’re tiny but very mighty and vital to this campus and this community. If you don’t find your flock, it feels hard to navigate and just exist because you’re not being seen and heard. At the end of the day, all I care about is keeping students alive, particularly those who have multiple marginalized identities.

Portrait of Jaimee Marsh

“When you hear that who you are is enough, valuable, and unique, it builds a confidence that is necessary to be able to navigate complex issues such as identity and justice.”

Jaimée Marsh (she/her, they/them)

B.A., social welfare, ’09
Former Q Center associate director, current executive director at FEEST Seattle

More thoughts from Jaimée

I grew up in a large adoptive family, and we all have different blended racial and ethnic identities. I went to high school in a conservative place, and most people didn’t look like me. I had the experience of feeling like “an other.” It felt like I had to choose between identities that I knew to be fluid and complex.

I remember going to the unofficial opening of the Q Center, which at the time was operating out of a closet in the HUB. It was very affirming, because the Q Center talked about liberation, and that was something I’d never discussed before — what it would look like to feel free, to feel affirmed, to be in a world with no oppression.

I began to increase my leadership skills by getting involved in queer organizations and facilitating conversations about the intersections of race, gender and sexuality. Later I became the Center’s social justice programmer and did my social work practicum here. I gained the ability to create space for folks to come in and feel comfortable sharing their story.

Jen [Self, Q Center director] was an amazing mentor to me. They supported projects I wanted to implement, helped me navigate applying to graduate school, and just believed in me. When you hear that who you are is enough, valuable, and unique, it builds a confidence that is necessary to be able to navigate complex issues such as identity and justice.

Because of the Q Center, I’ve gone from being a strong background player to putting myself out in the forefront as one of the leaders of this space. Before, I thought that as a queer person of color, I had to be absolutely perfect to get anything.

After graduate school, I became the associate director of the Q Center. It was powerful to be able to support students in finding their inner voice. Hearing students’ experiences has always shaped the programming of the Q Center.

It’s really important to talk about our experiences instead of pushing them down, and that’s why we have an informal conversation space here. By learning in community, and learning how to engage with each other, we’re able to thrive and break barriers to achieve equity and justice.

The Q Center community: Students, leaders, change-makers

A student chats with two staff members at the Q Center.

Laura Miranda, ’20, chats with Self and Marsh at the Q Center last fall.

In 2005, a small room at the end of a long, dim corridor in Schmitz Hall made a big difference. Known as the Q Center, it was a home for a student-run effort to cultivate safety and respect for LGBTQ+ people at the UW. The space wasn’t much, but it meant everything to the students and staff who had fought for years for it to become a reality.

At the tail end of the ’90s, a decade that had brought the federal Defense of Marriage Act and several homophobic incidents on the UW campus, a group of undergraduates pressured the University to provide more safe spaces for queer students. Eventually a task force was formed to review issues affecting the UW’s queer community and make recommendations for improving the climate — and then the University gave the Q Center a home.

In response to COVID-19, the Q Center has temporarily closed its on-campus location — but it offers many online resources and ways to connect.

Today, the center has a colorful space in the HUB, alongside other student organizations and meeting rooms. Its walls are covered in artwork by queer artists. Students browse the bookshelves and gather on comfortable couches. They sit, talk, laugh and cry. Jen Self (pronouns: they/them), ’10, the center’s founding director, says that one thing hasn’t changed: There is no Q Center without a dedication to racial justice.

“We can’t begin to think about gender and sexuality without considering how intersectional structural oppression multiplies the barriers to access for marginalized communities,” says Self.

Val Schweigert, ’18, the center’s education coordinator and graduate student staff assistant, will tell you the same thing: “We are not ‘just’ an LGBTQ space,” she says. “We’re about gender, sexuality — and racial justice. All of those are inherently linked.”

Cross-campus connections

Since the Q Center opened its doors, its students have collaborated with those from the Samuel E. Kelly Ethnic Cultural Center (ECC). The two organizations are natural allies.

“We have so many different viewpoints — religion, culture, ways people have grown up. And that’s why we value the work of the Q Center,” says Cicero Delfin, ECC assistant director. “Like them, we’re focused on providing a space and programming that is inclusive.”

Their students know, too, that the work of justice doesn’t end at the doors of the Q Center or the ECC: It extends into the campus community and beyond.

Take Lavish, a multi-art showcase highlighting the experiences of queer and trans people of color (QTPOC) — it represents ten years of collaboration between the Q Center and the ECC. At Lavish, through music, poetry, dance and visual art, students explore their lives and struggles as members of multiple marginalized communities.

Creating leaders

Among the Q Center’s many roles, it mentors and supports students, helping them become leaders who can take charge of projects and policies they believe in.

Jaimée Marsh, ’09, who was the Q Center’s associate director for six years, recalls how she worked to draw out students’ potential and help them find their voices.

Jaimee Marsh sits on a sofa at the Q Center.

Marsh found the Q Center as a UW undergraduate and went on to become its associate director. Today, she’s executive director of FEEST Seattle.

“Our students’ experiences always shaped the programming of the Q Center,” Marsh says. “By leading programs they co-design and are passionate about, students get great professional development. The job of staff is to support them — to help them create their vision in the most successful way.”

Countless Q Center and ECC leaders have made a powerful impact on the UW by collaborating across the University. In 2006, Q Center students worked with a wide variety of communities — including students with disabilities and Muslim students — to write a policy brief about the need for gender-neutral bathrooms.

Unisex bathrooms would welcome people of any gender identity, offer greater privacy with locking single stalls and be more accessible for people with disabilities. The students called the project “Free to Pee.”

“These students just kept on it, and on it, and on it,” says Self. It took five years, but in 2011, the Q Center and the Office of Student Life secured a commitment from the UW to begin renovating bathrooms.

Self, who is moving on from her director role this summer, is proud of what the students of the Q Center have accomplished over 16 years, but there’s still a lot of work to do. “I want people on campus to see our students — see who they are. They are accomplished leaders, thinkers and innovators in their own right.”

Q Center: 16 years and counting

Chalk sign at the Q Center

1999: UW student leaders send a letter to UW President Richard McCormick about the need to support LGBTQ students; a task force is formed

2001: Task force makes recommendations, including establishing an on-campus resource center for queer students

2002: First year of Lavender Graduation, now a hallmark Q Center event

2004: Jen Self hired as graduate student service assistant to start the Q Center

2005: Q Center opens in a small office in Schmitz Hall

2011: After years of advocacy by Q Center students and allies, the UW funds the creation of gender-neutral bathrooms across campus (physical work begins in 2014)

2012: Q Center relocates to its current larger space in Husky Union Building

2013: Mental-health care for transgender students established in collaboration with Hall Health and UW Counseling Center

2018: Students and employees are allowed to include their preferred name on their Husky Cards and change their name and gender in UW databases

2019: BestColleges names the UW the best school in the country for LGBTQ students

Originally published April 2020