Students work to raise awareness and create safe spaces for gender and sexual minorities at Indiana State — every day and through the establishment of a conference.
When Zach Moore arrived at Indiana State University his freshmen year, he could feel the sense of unease that gender and sexual minorities had about freely expressing themselves on campus.
Six years later, though, a lot has changed. Moore graduated and returned to work on a master’s degree in graphic design at Indiana State, where he served as the president of the student advocacy organization Spectrum for a year and witnessed the creation of the LGBTQ Resource Center and the addition of the Office of Residential Life’s gender-neutral housing option.
“These are things that make students feel safer and more included from the get-go, and institutionally, it shows a lot of support for this community,” Moore said. “There is still a bit of unease, though, with the current political climate, and Spectrum tries to combat that by being a safe space and providing a community of students who have experienced similar things and can serve as support for one another.”
Spectrum’s mission has evolved to fit the times and its membership. Once known as Advocates for Equality, the organization began with the purpose of activism. Today, though, the group serves as a safe place for students and provides queer-specific programming initiatives.
“I feel the need for a group like this is ever-present but has changed in mission, because we were encountering a lot of students who didn’t feel accepted or safe, and they decided to change the mission to provide that extra security,” Moore said. “Anonymity is one thing we are big on, and we make privacy a high priority. Our goal is to let people be who they are in a space they feel comfortable in.”
Spectrum’s continued efforts to push for such spaces continued into the 2014-15 school year with a petition to establish a campus LGBTQ Resource Center to handle campus-wide initiatives and educational efforts around the LGBTQ community.
“As someone who has done queer-specific programming now, it’s really hard to make sure everyone feels included, because Spectrum encompasses so many variances of identity and self-identifications,” Moore said. “But once you know how to provide genuinely inclusive programming, the conversations you get to have with these students are incredible. When it comes to the types of programming we do, Spectrum really lets its membership dictate what we do.”
When the members were unable to attend this year’s Midwest Bisexual Lesbian Gay Transgender Ally Collegiate Conference in Nebraska — the nation’s largest and oldest continuously held LGBTQ college conference — Spectrum created the Drop of Lavender Summit.
Spectrum partnered with other institutions, including Eastern Illinois University, Ball State University and Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, to host the summit and provide students with an inclusive education through a broad range of ideas and perspectives on topics such as queer art history, defining what queer looks like in Greek life, and sexual health for queer students.
As Spectrum’s president from March 2017 to March 2018, Moore oversaw this spring’s inaugural summit and is hopeful queer students will come here and feel as accepted, supported and included as he has come to feel.
“A lot of that is about taking your own initiative and opening up to who you are to the people around you, and that can be a really scary thing,” he said. “When it comes to being queer, you need that visibility because it is so stigmatized, but living in the Midwest you don’t get that. Offering that visibility as an institution would show support and go beyond tolerance to acceptance, which is the push, I think, the community-at-large is making.”
Spectrum is pushing beyond tolerance now and seeks acceptance, but its efforts have been met with pushback that, Moore added, has some older role models in the community losing hope that inclusion and acceptance will be obtained.
“There isn’t a lot of queer-student visibility on the social media channels, in many publications or in photography, and visibility is a huge part of inclusion, but a lot people view Spectrum like a fishbowl,” he said. “A professor might tell their students to visit Spectrum events and do a report, but that’s not really experiencing diversity.”
Pushing for acceptance and inclusion was a pillar of Moore’s time as Spectrum’s president, a position he never expected to hold when he first enrolled at Indiana State. His intention was to keep his head down, earn his degree and start a career.
What he never accounted for was how his leadership in Spectrum would enhance his college experience. Moore used the connections he made through employment with the Office of Residential Life to help expand the organization.
His biggest goals as president were to establish the Drop of Lavender Summit and build partnerships with more like-minded organizations that are fighting for the same representation and visibility, both of which he achieved.
Maybe the biggest transformation of Moore’s six years in Spectrum has been within himself, something he hopes all the members experience while they’re part of the organization.
“I am not the person I thought I would be six years ago, but I am so glad I am who I am today. That’s not something I thought I would be able to say before I went through Spectrum. For me to feel comfortable at ISU after all the time I’ve spent here, and be who I am out loud and visibly, is an incredible opportunity for me,” he said.
“My hope is that anyone who comes to Spectrum eventually becomes a leader in the queer community, because we don’t have enough of them. It wasn’t until I had real-life, tangible role models that I was able to find myself and become who I am. Now, I try to use it as a platform for other students to be able to do so, too. Feeling loved, accepted and cared for are universal goals.”