There’s no denying that this school year has tested college students; remote learning has come easier for some than others. One of the biggest losses of the year was campus life. For many LGBTQ+ students, this meant the loss of a community. As a queer and trans student at UO, I've had a difficult time staying connected with Eugene's LGBTQ+ community this year, and I was curious if other students felt similarly.
Although the LGBTQ+ organizations on campus have been hosting virtual events and group meetings, this doesn’t take away the feeling of loneliness that queer and trans students have been experiencing. Many queer folks rely on social connection with people who they can relate to, and the pandemic diminished these opportunities to connect.
Alistair Merczak, a UO senior, said that their experience connecting with other LGBTQ+ individuals differed tremendously from last year when they lived on Carson Hall’s queer-friendly floor.
“During the pandemic, I've only met one other queer student, and even then we met via social media, not the UO,” they said.
The UO LGBTQA3 Discord server seems to have given folks some kind of connection, but for some students it creates more stress than connection.
“It is hard to go to a Zoom chat when I don’t know anyone who will be there,” a sophomore at UO, who wishes to remain anonymous, said, highlighting the anxieties that come with remote campus life.
This anxiety is something I’ve also found to be an obstacle. Connecting remotely feels more vulnerable in a way; we’re allowing others to make judgements about us virtually, which gives us less control than we would have in person.
Personally, I find it intimidating to interact with people that I don’t know. There’s an odd feeling of trying to convey your personality to people you don’t know while also feeling like you should be professional in a virtual setting.
“I love interacting with people online, but usually with people I have met in person at least once,” Lane DuBois, a sophomore at UO, said. “It feels strange to meet fellow students over the LGBTQA3 Discord, although the admins really make it a welcoming place.”
On-campus life seems to be limited in terms of connecting with the LGBTQ+ community. DuBois has mostly been living off-campus during the year. Along with financial and mental health issues, he said he has struggled to connect with other queer folks during the pandemic.
“I have really struggled to maintain the same level of connection with the UO LGBTQ+. community this year as I did last fall in-person,” DuBois said. “It feels like I have no time for myself anymore, let alone connecting with others in my community, unfortunately.”
Throughout the year, the LGBT Education Support Services and the LGBTQA3 have done their best to provide spaces for students, such as through the annual drag show ‘Click and Drag,’ UO’s Queer Film Festival ‘Constellations’ and speaker events. However, some things are simply out of their control. Mental health issues and the stress of remote learning contribute to the lack of connection.
“It’s hard to put yourself out there digitally, whereas on-campus it feels more natural that you’ll meet people,” DuBois said.
While the school year has indeed tested UO’s LGBTQ+ community, there is a shared hope that the return of in-person learning starting this fall will give queer and trans students more opportunities for social connections.