Several students have been selected to receive special training in leadership for their demonstration of LGBTQ activism on campus.
Five members of Common Ground, Columbia’s LGBTQ organization, will be attending the National Conference on LGBTQ Equality: Creating Change, an annual gathering of more than 3,500 activists and allies run by the National LGBTQ Task Force Feb. 4–8. The conference provides seminars and other skill-building events to promote leadership, discussion and activism in the field of LGBTQ rights.
Students attending the event, which is in Denver this year, include President of Common Ground and senior fashion studies major Michelle Nance, Political Advocacy Chair and junior cultural studies major Lance Cox, and Common Ground members Dana Akre-Fens, sophomore cultural studies major, Liz Zaroogian, freshman cinema art + science major, and Allison Sorrell, sophomore business & entrepreneurship major.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity to be a representative of Columbia at a conference with 4,000 of my peers,” Nance said. “[It’s great to] be able to talk together and share experiences and bring back what we learned.”
Nance said this will be her third time attending the conference and Common Ground’s fourth consecutive year sending members.
To apply for the conference, students filled out a survey asking various questions regarding their involvement with Common Ground, their background in political awareness and what they would hope to learn from the conference, Nance said. From there, three students were chosen to attend the conference with Nance and Cox.
Denver was chosen as the site of this year’s conference because of its active scene in LGBTQ leadership, said Russell Roybal, deputy executive director at the National LGBTQ Task Force. Attendees at the conference include people who volunteer or work in LGBTQ and allied organizations and act as leaders, activists and organizers pursuing LGBTQ freedom, justice and equality, Roybal said.
“I went as a college student many years ago, and it really transformed the way I thought about my campus and the things that we wanted to accomplish on campus for LGBTQ students,” Roybal said. “It was a great leadership development opportunity, so I think college campus activists and campus leaders in particular get a lot out of it.”
In addition to providing workshops, presentations and interactive sessions about LGBTQ issues, the conference acts as a networking opportunity for LGBTQ people and allies to interact with each other, said Lott Hill, executive director of the Center for Innovation and Teaching Excellence.
“There’s a lot of power in being with and in conversations [with] people who are similarly identified and cross the entire population in various identities within the LGBTQ community,” Hill said.
Hill attended the conference two years ago and said Precious Davis, assistant director of the Undergraduate Admissions Office, will be chaperoning this year’s trip.
According to Nance, the trip’s total funding of $1,400 primarily comes from the Student Organization Council. Common Ground also teams up with the Admissions Office, which funded the full registration amounts for two students so they could set up an admissions table promoting Columbia. The remaining funds for the trip are covered by Common Ground’s fundraising account, Nance said.
Nance said she is most excited for the group to attend sessions such as the plenary sessions—attended by everyone at the conference—the State of the Movement Address and a drag show ball held to celebrate the first night of the conference.
“I hope that [students] leave the conference empowered, energized and transformed to go back into their communities, roll up their sleeves and get to work fighting for the freedom, justice and equality of LGBTQ people,” Roybal said.
Following the conference, Common Ground will host its first meeting of the semester Feb. 12 from 4–6 p.m. at the Multicultural Affairs Office in the 618 S. Michigan Ave. Building, where they will recap their experience and share what they learned from the conference.