In 1999, the UC Santa Barbara Resource Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity created the Marsha P. Johnson Volunteer Program to allow LGBTQIA+ students and advocates at UC Santa Barbara the opportunity to support the center’s mission and goals as the university’s LGBTQIA+ center.
Twelve years since its founding, the Volunteer Program is continuing its mission to promote student engagement, community building and the Resource Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity (RCSGD) and reflected back on their work during the pandemic.
The Volunteer Program — named after Black trans activist Marsha P. Johnson, a prominent figure in the Stonewall Riots of 1969 — recruits students every year to educate volunteers and other students about LGBTQIA+ communities and identities. This year, the program focused on creating presentations and online programming through social media in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rising fourth-year psychology major and volunteer coordinator Marco Sosa described the program as a way for student volunteers to engage with RCSGD and create community among other LGBTQIA+ students and advocates.
“If students want to actively engage and create programming with the RCSGD, this is the way they could really do it,” Sosa said. “Building community is always a really big part of RCSGD events.”
“The program isn’t just [about] people coming in and doing their own program,” he continued. “We also teach [students] a lot about our communities and identities and how to operate within the university [as a LGBTQIA+ student].”
Due to remote learning, Sosa said that the program primarily focused on the educational and community building aspects this year, specifically within the queer and trans (QT) community, as the pandemic made it difficult to create spaces and community in person.
“The pandemic and being online made community building very difficult, so we wanted to focus more on being able to create a welcoming space for people to get together, get to know each other, get to know our broader communities so that they could feel a sense of belonging to the QT community on campus, rather than just feeling isolated at home with programming,” he said.
Efforts to build community on Zoom were created through meet-and-greets for volunteers, UCSB staff members and campus organizations.
“Our meetings were always group meetings, and people would come in and learn while chatting through the chat feature on Zoom, or they had their own group chats where they could go and communicate with each other,” Sosa said. “A lot of it was individually driven … But there were also a lot of [virtual] retreats that were guided more towards personal discovery and community building, getting to know each other.”
Despite these difficulties in this past year’s remote nature, Sosa highlighted major events that the Volunteer Program held this year, like the Volunteer Symposium. Held for the first time this past year, the symposium allowed volunteers to give presentations that they worked on throughout Spring Quarter 2021 on various issues within LGBTQIA+ community.
The symposium “was on QT issues that were the most relevant, the most pertinent,” Sosa said, noting that the live Zoom presentations were also recorded.
Sosa highlighted a few of the many presentations given during the symposium, one of which focused on the Transportation Security Administration body scanners and how it impacts those who exist beyond the gender binary, given by rising fourth-year mathematics and sociology double major Julieta Corral Phun, as well as a presentation on LGBTQ+ foster youth.
Rising second-year writing and literature major, 2020-21 volunteer and an office assistant for the 2021-22 school year Mikayla Buhbe was one of the presenters at the volunteer symposium, where she discussed sex education and how it impacts the queer community.
“It was getting more into statistics and how queer students report what their experiences [with sex education] were like,” Buhbe said.
Buhbe said her favorite presentation was from rising fourth-year history major Helen Roades, who discussed QT youth in the juvenile detention system.
“They’re so professional and so excited to be there and were really able to articulate these very complex, societal ideas, and I loved hearing them present,” she said.
Along with the Volunteer Symposium, Sosa emphasized the programs the volunteers coordinated this past year, one of which was titled, “QT Pod-Crafts,” which was hosted by Buhbe and first-year art and economics double major and 2020-21 volunteer Anastasia Senavsky for the winter and spring quarters.
“We hosted a mostly bi-weekly podcasting event on Instagram live, where we both chose a topic to discuss and created a craft that went along with it,” Buhbe said. “One of our topics was on symbols in the [LGBTQIA+] community and how these symbols develop into how we think about ourselves and our identities, and the project we were working on was designing your own pride flag with whatever colors you want to represent you.”
Another event Buhbe organized during her time in the Volunteer Program was a Sex Ed and Activism Panel in a collaboration with the Women’s Center and SexInfo Online.
“We were mostly talking about what sex ed activism looks like and how it factors into the queer community specifically,” Buhbe said. “We’re talking a lot about education and the power of that, and the actions to how we can improve that system, talk about different identities more and make that a more inclusive space.”
Sosa highlighted the work of Julia Samuel, RCSGD marketing coordinator and fourth-year sociology major, for their work on increasing engagement through RCSGD’s social media platforms.
“They actually went and handled all of the data analytics of [our social media] and analyzed how we can best get engagement,” he said. “They actually created a theme for the entire year, which was a kind of retro pink and blue color scheme, which got us more engagement because it was very aesthetically pleasing to the eye.”
Looking forward, Sosa said that the Volunteer Program is waiting to hear about all of UCSB’s COVID-19 restrictions and guidelines for the 2021-22 school year to finalize programming. Sosa said he aims to focus on programming that is dedicated to first and second years to help them become acquainted with campus.
“I’m hoping to do different kinds of programming, as they never got a year on campus, whether it’s through guided tours or things like that,” he said.
Overall, Sosa hopes to focus this coming year to help LGBTQIA+ students readjust to campus life and get acquainted with their communities.
“I want to allow [LGBTQIA+ students] to have a space to process the fact that they weren’t able to be in person for a full year, which can give you a sense of loss,” he said. “We want to be able to provide spaces where they can come in and process that and talk through it and make sure that they are feeling well supported and not like they were left behind.”