SAGA Creates Space, Community for Queer Students

At its annual Pride Week this week, the Sexuality and Gender Alliance offers celebrations and reflections to build inclusivity for LGBTQ+ students on campus.

By Melanie Thibeault
A student sitting in front of a TV screen with Jeopardy questions in GHH
Parker Schwartz, vice president of the Sexuality & Gender Alliance, at a Jeopardy-style event held in Global Heritage Hall in celebration of Transgender Day of Visibility on March 31.

BRISTOL, R.I. – The Sexuality and Gender Alliance’s Pride Week, with events running today through April 8, is a great way to learn more about the organization whose mission is to promote an inclusive community for LGBTQ+ students and allies at RWU. 

A headshot of Sophie Speliopoulos
Sophie Speliopoulos '23

From Queer Fest to Transgender Day of Silence, Pride Week is a way “to show our pride, to show we’re here,” said Sophie Speliopoulos, SAGA’s president and a junior from Granby, Conn.

SAGA, which became an official student organization in the 2018-19 school year, offers students a safe space to be themselves and talk about their experiences.

Ash Bartels, SAGA’s public relations chair and a junior who transferred to RWU as a sophomore, wasn’t out about her sexuality or gender identity before coming to RWU, she said. Having grown up in a conservative Catholic family, SAGA “gave me a community,” they said, adding that the organization “helped me come out as nonbinary.” Bartels, a Political Science and English Literature double major, said she was able to come out at RWU and then to her family.

A headshot of Ash Bartels
Ash Bartels '23

Torrin Lussier, SAGA’s secretary and a first-year student from East Providence, R.I., wasn't out in high school, similar to Bartels, so when they arrived at RWU, they had the opportunity “to test my new name in a large-scale setting.” Lussier, a Marine Biology and Visual Arts double major who’s minoring in Aquarium Sciences, said he loves SAGA. “I’m having an absolute blast.”

“It’s so nice to hear our names and pronouns (being used),” Bartels added.

A headshot of Torrin Lussier
Torrin Lussier '25

While at Queer Fest on April 4, Greyson Simons, a first-year student and member of SAGA from Monroe, Conn., said that organizations such as SAGA and events like Pride Week are important for raising awareness and visibility of LGBTQ+ students on campus. Pride Week, he said, is a "nice celebration of all things queer." 

"It's fantastic. It's more than I expected," they said about Queer Fest. "Come hang out (at other events this week). You don't need to be a member of the LGBTQ+ community." 

Creating Community

“Creating a space for queer people on campus is super important,” said Grayson Scanlon, SAGA’s OUTreach chair, a senior from Jefferson Township, N.J. “People want to find community. Some people care about educating other people; others want to just have fun.”

The six members of SAGA's e-board outside University Library
The members of SAGA's executive board, from left, are Torrin Lussier '25, secretary; Parker Schwartz '23, vice president; Sophie Speliopoulos '23, president; Grayson Scanlon '22, OUTreach chair; Ash Bartels '23, public relations chair; and Atlas Wloch-Rapetti '25, treasurer. 

That sense of community was especially important during the early months of the pandemic, when many students returned home. “Some people may not be comfortable at home (around their families),” said Scanlon, an Architecture major with a minor in Computer Science. He added that SAGA offers a space for students to “vent about things they deal with on or off campus.”

A headshot of Grayson Scanlon
Grayson Scanlon '22

When the pandemic first hit in 2020, Speliopoulos was the only member to remain on SAGA's executive board, or e-board. “I feel very strongly about the importance of (SAGA),” she said. “It’s so important to me that queer and trans students have events. I couldn’t let that die.” She said she’s happy that the e-board now has six members.

Over the course of the year, SAGA works to host and co-host events with areas around campus that highlight LGBTQ+ histories and celebrations, said e-board members. In addition to Pride Week, the great programs SAGA plans each year are Coming Out Week, which takes place in October, as well as Transgender Week of Remembrance in November, and Bingo for a Cure, which is Dec. 1 for World AIDS Day. 

A headshot of Parker Schwartz
Parker Schwartz '23

Every Wednesday at 6 p.m. in the QTRAC, SAGA holds meetings for general members, where students can meet one another and chat about current events and on-campus offerings. SAGA currently has 100 general members, according to the e-board.

“All are welcome,” Speliopoulos said. “We have a very flexible attendance policy, so no one should feel like if they come to one meeting they’ll be locked in forever.”

Up Next for SAGA

Moving forward, Scanlon said, SAGA leaders are trying to find ways to engage older students. The organization tends to reach many first-year students and sophomores, but as students enter their junior and senior years, their attendance at meetings and events drops off. “How do we pull them back?” he asked.

A headshot of Atlas Wloch-Rapetti
Atlas Wloch-Rapetti '25

In mid-March, SAGA hosted a Queers, Beers, Careers networking event for students with alumni who are queer professionals. That event, Scanlon said, was aimed at upperclass students and had a “pretty good turnout.” It was well-received by students, he said.

Those who are involved with SAGA also tend to identify as women or nonbinary, Scanlon added. SAGA leaders are planning to create a survey to gauge what the organization is “doing right and not doing right,” he said, so they can tailor events to a broader range of queer students. 

Collaboration Across Student Groups

On March 31, SAGA and the Multicultural Student Union co-hosted a Transgender Day of Visibility event where students played Jeopardy and answered trans-themed questions. SAGA leaders said Trans Day of Visibility is meant to be a positive celebration of the trans community.

The event “is really important to a lot of people,” said Parker Schwartz, SAGA’s vice president, a junior from Cranford, N.J., who is trans. “It’s a fun way to educate (people),” they said, adding that SAGA’s events help to build acceptance on campus.

Collaborating with MSU, and other organizations, is important, Speliopoulos said, because “it helps to broaden the sense of community.”

The Jeopardy event, for example, focused on intersectionality. One question asked who for a famous trans rights activist who wrote the memoir "Redefining Realness," and is a writer, director, and producer for the show "Pose." The answer? Janet Mock. 

Pride Week Events

Members of SAGA’s e-board said Pride Week every April features a lot of SAGA’s traditional events. This year’s Pride Week schedule includes:

Monday, 2-5 p.m., D’Angelo Commons: Queer Fest

The week kicked off with Queer Fest on the green in front of University Library. The celebration featured a mechanical unicorn ride, live music, a bamboo planting station, and a coffee truck serving iced coffee and lemonade. 

Tuesday, 12-2 p.m., Commons: Merch Sale

Stop by Commons where SAGA will be selling pronoun beanies for $10, with all proceeds going to Thundermist Health Center. SAGA members will also be sharing information about queer history and issues. 

Wednesday at 8 p.m. in GHH Atrium: Late Night Drag Brunch

Join SAGA for Late Night Drag Brunch featuring drag performers and brunch for dinner, including crepes and waffles.

Thursday at 3 p.m. in the QTRAC: Tie-Dye Pride 

Stop by to tie-dye provided shirts (and whatever else you would like to bring) and make bracelets.

Friday at 5 p.m., GHH lawn: Day of Silence 

As part of the Day of Silence, anyone can take a vow of silence until 5 p.m., when SAGA will host an event on the GHH lawn to break the silence. There will be a short speech to discuss the purpose of the day, and after the speech, people will break the silence and scream out into the ocean. The event aims “to bring awareness to the harmful effects of the harassment and discrimination against LGBTQ+ students,” Speliopoulos said. 

SAGA Pride Week