Pride Month and beyond

By Mike Mestas

With Pride Month upon us, the Community College of Aurora (CCA) is taking steps to ensure that all people feel safe, welcomed and accepted as they embark on their educational journey. CCA is the most diverse college in Colorado, with a wide representation of students, faculty and staff from different cultures, identities and backgrounds.

People who identify as LGBTQIAS2+ will find a variety of organizations, task forces and events to help them celebrate their unique gender and sexual identities.

Marco Vasquez is CCA’s assistant director of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) who oversees many of the initiatives in this space. He says CCA’s biggest push to be a more inclusive space for the community came in 2021 with the addition of a LGBTQIAS2+ Task Force. The group gathered to brainstorm ways to recognize and celebrate these individuals and groups. It now serves as one of CCA’s many Employee Resource Groups, which offers community to people with similar interests and identities.

“We provide support with our Student Leadership and Development division through the advocacy team. They provide us with a lot of literature resources that we’re able to give out to folks, so they can talk to our ally folks,” Vasquez says.

He emphasizes the DEI team also makes themselves available to talk or direct people to resources.

A welcoming environment

In October, the school celebrated National Coming Out Day, a set aside to support anyone who “comes out” as LGBTQIAS2+. The school showed its pride and school spirit at the same time with a door for people to “come out” of. CCA’s school mascot, Foxy, was on hand to take pictures and share in the festivities.

Organizers handed out stickers and buttons featuring pronouns and other language that they hoped would get people talking. The idea was just another method to promote visibility. Being seen and heard is very important to gaining acceptance into the community at large.

“We wanted to provide that space to students who have gone through that process, or are maybe debating with the idea of coming out,” says Vasquez, who notes the event is a fun, light-hearted way to show support.

Professional development

Some larger projects have been instrumental in creating safer and more inclusive spaces at CCA. Leaders began two major initiatives focused on education and training, with the intent that more people learn about LGBTQIAS2+ issues.

The first is safe zone training. Vasquez calls this an important step in getting people to speak openly about queer issues.

“We go over terminology within the queer community,” he says. “Finding the best practices for when people come up to us, and we teach people how to have that dialogue.”

Vasquez says the ultimate goal is for everyone to use the same language which will help people be better represented within the curriculum.

A new Cultural Center

In addition to safe zone training, Vasquez says a major focus will be put on the Cultural Center which opened last year. This space gives various groups a place where they can come together to develop programs and series they can bring into the community, and have an impact beyond the college’s walls.

CCA President Mordecai Brownlee says the college prioritizes inclusiveness.

“The Community College of Aurora is committed to fostering an inclusive environment that ensures every student, including our students who identify as LGBTQ+ are valued, respected and supported,” he says. “Through this commitment to inclusion, we empower all learners to achieve their full potential and discover their purpose, fostering a sense of belonging and community that enhances the educational experience for everyone.”

The goal: visibility

Vasquez sums up the college’s efforts by saying, “Essentially, the goal is visibility. Making sure folks know that there are others in their community. It could be their peers, or it could be mentors or just their friends, so that they know that they are part of the community.”

Next up, CCA will celebrate Pride Month in June, with school representatives walking in Denver’s annual parade. Whether on-campus, online or out in the community, each event and group is making an impact on the ways the queer community is represented at CCA.

This article originally appeared in CC Daily.

Mike Mestas

is digital content coordinator at the Community College of Aurora in Colorado.