April 1, 2020
By Smitty Smith (they/them), Photographer/Writer Student Lead
Alyson Grigsby (they/them) is a fourth-year LSA student at the University of Michigan. They are a Political Science major and Japanese Language & Culture minor. Though they are graduating this year, they will be returning to the university next year to pursue a master’s degree in the Transcultural Studies Program. I chatted with them virtually about their time and leadership at the university - including being the co-chair of the Coalition for Queer and Trans People of Color - as well as their recent participation to MBLGTACC 2020, the Midwest Bisexual Lesbian Gay Transgender Asexual College Conference.
Spectrum Center sent a delegation of 15 students to MBLGTACC 2020 in Kalamazoo, Michigan on February 14-16, 2020. Students got to hear from a number of thought leaders, attend panels, and experience various networking opportunities.
Smitty: Can you tell me about your time and leadership at U-M?
Alyson: “My first leadership position started in my sophomore year. So, in one of the learning communities now known as the Lloyd Hall Scholars for the Writing and the Arts. So during my sophomore year, I was Student Assistant for that specific learning community. I was helping with planning events and mentoring a lot of the first-year students in that community. Specifically around managing our club and mentoring the students there.
And for my scholarship organization, which is the LEADS Scholars Program, I started on the advisory board on the Communications committee. So I was in charge of sending out any communication/media-related information to all of the scholars there.
And there was another position - and they might be under a different name now - but what they were previously known as the Inclusive Campus Corps. So, a lot of the student leaders - who might have been in learning communities or in the SLC - they would come there and learn about different opportunities and how to be more inclusive within the campus community. So, learning different identities, marginalization, different types of privileges, and things related to the LGBTQ community, people apart of the disability community; and finding ways to basically make the learning communities more inclusive in general. And so, that was only a one-year program.
I continued with my position with the LEAD Scholars. I worked on becoming the Vice President of the org and then the President of the org. And then, for the Lloyd Hall Scholars, I continued my third year as a Creative Mentor, so that was more helping internally with the program specifically. And it was also junior year that I started working under Coalition as one of the co-chairs with Youna, and then we continued that from junior year up until senior year.
As for my job, I do a lot of outreach to a lot of students, both in- and out of campus through the library system … We try to reach out to students of color, first-gen students, and other underrepresented students as well.”
S: Can you talk about how your identities might have shaped the choices that you made in your leadership roles that you’ve taken on at U-M?
A: “Well, coming into U-M in 2016 - and, like, my freshman and sophomore year, we had a lot of different racist incidents and then subsequent protests, and a lot of people, at least with different identities - whether that be LGBT, people of color, first-gen, etc - they basically felt unwelcome on campus. And I was feeling that, too, to an extent. So, what I at least wanted to do with my spare time was try to help carve out or establish communities where people could feel safer. For instance, whether it was how could I find ways to develop Coalition a little bit more, or join Inclusive Campus Corps, so that if these events did occur I could finally support the students as well as teach them in a way that sometimes Housing and other people can’t. Knowing at least with my position - even if I couldn’t necessarily go in and try to restructure every single thing that was in, let’s say Housing or something like that - I could at least help carve similar communities in other areas or find ways to assist students in other dimensions. Like through the library system and helping maintain Coalition.”
S: So tell me about MBLGTACC and how it has affected you?
A: “What the conference entails is basically gathering a lot of different college students and college student leaders from states in the Midwest, and then we gather over to a specific college to talk about ways to … make campuses more inclusive. And I noticed they try to make it inclusive not just in the realms of LGBT rights, but also with intersecting identities - so for people with disabilities, for instance, people of color, first-gen, undocumented students, etc. This wasn’t my first LGBT conference, but it was my first one tailored for college students, so that was really interesting… With this experience, I’d say I learned a lot; there were definitely some things I may have came in with knowledge about already, but I did get some assistance on how there were additional ways to outreach out to the members. I learned about a little bit of history about some of the specific identities, particularly about lesbian identity... And I did get a chance to interact with a lot more people, especially people who are in academic spaces and working on trying to make their campuses more inclusive since there weren't a lot of people at the administrative level working for their LGBT organization or centers from their universities. So, I would say it was a pretty interesting, and pretty informative time spent at the conference.”
(Delegation of U-M students headed to MBLGTACC 2020. Photo credit: Hannah Brauer)
S: What was your favorite part? I read that they have some pretty important people there.
A: “Oh yeah, definitely. So, I did happen to get the chance to see a couple guest speakers. One of them was Kat Blaque (she/her), who is a particularly well known trans Youtuber. And so she does a lot of things related to activism for people of color, transgender people, as well as doing art for her career as well which was pretty interesting. And Kay Ulanday Barrett (they/him), who was like one of the first people to speak at MBLGTACC - I believe they’re a poet if I remember correctly. So … listening to them, they were very interesting, both them, as well as some of the speakers at the specific conference. I know one of the people at the University, Bee Taylor, was doing a seminar on the idea of rainbow capitalism in higher education - about how they were supposedly trying to lure LGBT students to universities under the guise that the universities were LGBT-friendly - and that was something that they were currently working on and studying, which I thought was also very interesting.”
S: How did you hear about MBLGTACC?
A: “I actually have a friend who goes to Michigan Tech, and he would post about his time going to the conference. So, that’s the first time I heard about it. And when I found out the University is actually going to the conference, I thought, ‘Oh, sweet. I can go as well.’”
S: How has your experience at MBLGTACC impacted your roles at U-M?
A: “It wasn’t that long ago, but I’d say that at least going through MBLGTACC has given me a couple of ideas to find ways to promote Coalition more. We’ve been having a small issue of trying to … getting members to come to meetings, especially since a lot of different obligations come into play, and trying to coordinate the right times and things like that. Even despite, I’m in a bit of a unique predicament since we’re planning on trying to pass down the leadership roles to other members for next year. But what I can do is take what I’ve learned and try to give it to them in terms of how do we incorporate more outreach - especially to a lot of first- and second-year students so they can come up more into Coalition - and finding what ways we can support and plan more events and things like that.”
S: You’ve talked quite a bit about Coalition. How were you involved with Coalition, for how long, and how has that impacted your time at U-M?
A: “So, I officially joined Coalition my freshman year. As soon as I found out there was a group of LGBT people of color, I said ‘let me sign up’. I guess I didn’t officially become a co-chair until junior year and then I’ve been continuing that up until senior year. My primary thing is doing course communication with the rest of the community and people on the list about what events are coming up, and communicating with Spectrum Center to see about what ways they can support us - whether it be through additional guidance in trying to promote the club more or even funds for specific events and things like that. In terms of impacting my life, it made me think about what ways could we try to engage with the broader U-M community especially since this isn’t necessarily a niche group, but it’s not the biggest group out there. So, finding continued ways to engage with them, but also getting a chance to meet more LGBT people of color on campus is also reassuring and really cool because, at least coming into my freshman year, I noticed a lot of the people who were LGBT and people of color were often senior and grad students and other upperclassmen. But now I’m noticing - kind of the reverse - it’s a lot of first-year and second-year students coming in - which I think is really cool and I wanted to see if I could engage them more into the community.”
S: Since you’re a senior now, about to get on outta here. Is there anything that you may have learned from MBLGTACC that you’re gonna be taking with you for the future?
A: “I’m trying to incorporate finding out who exactly isn’t in the room, when it comes to both meetings and other events in general, and then evaluating why those people aren’t in the room - whether it be issues of accessibility, costs (even though Coalition doesn’t really require costs for anything), or any physical time barriers or anything like that. So just evaluating what specific barriers are things that are preventing people from being in the room - whether it be specific underrepresented identities or anything like that - and then finding ways to incorporate them through additional outreach, through restructuring, and things like that that make the space more inclusive.”
If you are interested in or have inquiries about the Coalition, their email is firstname.lastname@example.org.