A student giving a presentation in front of a projection.
Camp Qmunity challenges its participants to explore VCU, seeking ways to make it more accessible to and inclusive of LGBT+ communities at the university. (Office of Institutional Equity, Effectiveness and Success)

Students pitch ideas to university leaders to increase resource accessibility

Presentation caps off third annual Camp Qmunity Summer Intensive Program.

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A group of students want to see the resources Virginia Commonwealth University offers for people from marginalized communities made more visible and accessible on the university’s website, and they recently pitched a plan to senior university officials to make that happen.

“I know my experience as a freshman. When I first got here everyone tells you, ‘Oh, join clubs, find your people, find the communities you want to be part of.’ But it's pretty damn hard,” said Sally Wells, a senior in the VCUarts Department of Painting + Printmaking. The students emphasized that if locating resources on the university's website is difficult for people who navigate the university structure every day, then it must be even more difficult for people without that knowledge, such as prospective students.

“I didn’t realize that I’m coming into a school where there are a lot of trans people and a lot of queer people too,” said Bryce Griego, a sophomore studying in the Department of Communication Arts. “There are a lot of people like me at VCU, and I was surprised. I could never tell that VCU had a huge queer population from just the website itself.”

The pitch meeting marked the end of Camp Qmunity 2022 for Wells, Griego and eight other students.

Camp Qmunity is a four-week summer intensive program in LGBT+/Queer Studies. The program challenges its participants – typically a cohort of ten to 12 students – to explore VCU, seeking ways to make it more accessible to and inclusive of LGBT+ communities at the university.

Students participating in Camp Qmunity gain access to cutting-edge LGBT+ scholars and researchers, and even university alumni. Students earn a $500 stipend for their work in the program.

The students offered three concepts for what they described as a digital intervention. The option that garnered most of the attention and conversation included a free-standing menu featuring virtual stickers with graphic design elements that could serve as a bridge to real world signage and marketing. The students said their approach was inclusive and focused on visibility of all marginalized groups, not putting one group in front of the others.

The Office of Institutional Equity, Effectiveness, and Success (IES), and the Queer Research and Advocacy Center, known as the Q Collective, host Camp Qmunity, which occurs throughout the month of July with a combination of virtual and in-person sessions.

While Camp Qmunity is in its third year, 2022 marked the first time the program was held in person. This year’s camp was co-directed by nicole killian, director of the Design, Visual Communications MFA and associate professor in Graphic Design, and Archana A. Pathak, interim director of the Q Collective.

“Having physical space where so many students from so many schools are able to be together has been really powerful because we realize that we can’t just build queer space. It has to happen from being together, and so I think the students were really able to experience that from our time together,” killian said.

“What the students ultimately arrived at is simply brilliant,” Pathak said. “It’s not a call to centralize the resources; it's a call to map the resources. They’re creating a community-shared story about who we are and serve.”

The students explored and researched how other institutions presented resources on their respective websites but ultimately decided to create their own model for their proposal.

“We wanted to create something that others would model themselves after,” Wells said.

"It is remarkable that in such a short period of time, this cohort engaged in a nuanced assessment and developed sophisticated and practical suggestions for improving the web experiences for LGBTQ+ students. at VCU,” said Maurice N. Gattis, senior advisor to the Q Collective. “Their efforts will translate to enhanced in-person experiences on campus in a way that captures the intersectional nature of identity. I look forward to seeing the implementation of these ideas."

More than half-a-dozen university leaders, representing University Relations, Academic Affairs, Student Affairs, and IES, attended the students’ pitch presentation.

“This project was, like, literally one of the best things I ever did. I’m really happy that I got to be part of something that not only I enjoyed, but also a part of change within the VCU institution,” Griego said.

College leaders said they were impressed with what the students accomplished in just four weeks, and they said the results may count for much more than just an academic exercise.

“Your timing is impeccable. We’re about to begin work on a redesign of the university’s website and your work will inform our considerations,” said Grant J. Heston, vice president for University Relations.

Camp Qmunity leaders say that level of engagement makes the experience invaluable for students.

“A lot of time in institutions, whether you’re faculty or a student, it feels like the feedback goes into the ether and you’re not sure who’s reading what you’ve presented or reading an evaluation,” killian said. “The fact that there were people in front of these students, being active listeners, that’s meaningful.”