The Eckerd College Queer Straight Alliance (ECQSA) is a club that welcomes both allies and members of the LGBTQ community to foster a community of acceptance, and believe in the importance of education on a variety of LGBTQ-related topics.
Jordan Wimbish, co-president of the ECQSA and junior, has been a part of the club for the last three years, and wanted to lend a hand in getting other students involved while also meeting other like-minded students.
“Our mission as a club is to make members of the Eckerd community feel accepted, no matter what environment they’re in,” Wimbish said. “We want to do that through creating events, safe spaces and also draw attention to the queer community on campus.”
The ECQSA holds bonfires at South Beach on campus every Sunday for students to come and chat. It is an educational and social space that students can use to meet others and be themselves. AC Pauker, co-president of the ECQSA and junior, is looking to make the bonfires more theme oriented this year from Halloween bonfires to Valentine’s Day mixers.
“Something that we have been trying to initiate more is identity specific bonfires… And it’s just kind of a fun way for people to find out more about their own identity or identities and allyship,” Pauker said.
The club also has queer movie nights, drag show and talks on political issues that are a concern in the community. They also work to include queer voices in safe-sex and other educational talks.
“We want to not just be a source of entertainment, but also a source of information for the queer students on campus,” Wimbish said.
Eckerd’s campus can be a welcoming environment that accepts a wide variety of people, but there are a lot of students that come from the outside of the “Eckerd Bubble” that might have experienced a negative reaction to their identities in the past.
“So much of the population here is made up of queer students,” Wimbish said. “So I believe the QSA is important to normalize these identities and show queer students that even if in the outside world there is a shortage of space for them, that Eckerd is their home. It’s where they’ve come to learn and they’re safe here.”
Lova Patterson, associate director of campus activities, has been the advisor to the club for the past fifteen years. Being older than the student members of the club, Patterson has seen the LGBTQ community as a whole develop and grow over the years.
“It’s been something that’s been in my life for a long time. And I’ve just always felt very drawn and very eager to help students mostly find each other on campus, and for them to be able to offer educational programming and fun programming such as Drag Queen Bingo… I think that the ECQSA has been amazing and has grown so much over the last few years,” Patterson said.
Patterson said she would love to see more conversational events in the future. Given that so much as happened in the world politically and generally over the past few years, she believes these informal conversations are important.
“I just think that it’s a time that we start having more personal conversations, because I’m noticing that it’s not necessarily easier,” Patterson said. “So, that’s what I would like to see more of with the club is just more personal conversations and dialogue about where we are and what we need to do as a community.”
One of Patterson’s favorite events is Burn the Closet. Students write on a closet door things they need to let go of, then break it with a sledgehammer and symbolically burn the closet.
“The thing is, we are very blessed at Eckerd College to have a club and to be such an open community. I feel that Eckerd College is very much a safe space. So it’s a good place to have these dialogues,” Patterson said.
Pauker joined the club when she was a first-year to figure out their own identity and saw the club as a way to reach out to people who were experiencing the same thing as them.
“I think it’s a really good place for people to explore their identity. But I think it’s also a really good space to find community and find companionship for LGBT people and for people who aren’t in the acronym,” Pauker said.
The ECQSA at Eckerd offers an opportunity for both queer students and allies to find a community were they can feel free to explore their identities without having to feel ashamed or unsafe.
“It can feel like, when you’re joining a club, you’re making yourself visible for something [that] can, unfortunately in a lot of the world, get you really physically harmed or emotionally hurt,” Pauker said. “But we provide a safe space for every student, as long as they join with respect… We really want to be able to provide a safe space for allyship advocacy on campus.”