Projects celebrate ‘the other side of the story’ of LGBTQ+ life at WSU

Drawings hanging on a wall and items under glass as part of a queer art and items exhibit.
Higher Ground, an exhibit of queer art and items related to the experiences of LGBTQ+ people at WSU, will be on display in the Terrell Library ground floor at WSU Pullman through October.

The history of LGBTQ+ Cougs likely goes back to the founding of Washington State University in 1890 but most of those stories remain untold.

A recent effort by faculty, staff, and students is starting to change that.

Josie Cohen-Rodriguez, the student life and community coordinator at the LGBTQ+ Student Resource Center, said the 30th anniversary of the student resource center sparked the idea for the WSU Queer Archives project.

Student interns and volunteers have identified material from the WSU Libraries’ Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections that document queer history and experiences at the university. Now in its second year, WSU Queer Archives is also collecting oral history interviews with LGBTQ+ alums.

Another project, called Higher Ground, is an exhibit of queer art and items related to the experiences of LGBTQ+ people at WSU, which will be on display in the Terrell Library ground floor at WSU Pullman through October. Alums donated materials for the exhibit that include artworks and photos, but also mementos of everyday life at WSU Pullman. It was co-curated by Cohen-Rodriguez and WSU Assistant Professor June T. Sanders.

“Part of what we’re doing with the exhibition is showing the broad range of community and connections here,” Cohen-Rodriguez said. “There are a lot of assumptions folks have about rural places not being welcoming for queer communities, but we have a vibrant community that cares a lot about each other.”

The WSU Queer Archives team has now produced a research guide that can be used by anyone interested in the LGBTQ+ experience at WSU, including faculty who might want to incorporate the material into classes.

Cohen-Rodriguez said the archives project and the exhibit both highlight LGBTQ+ history at WSU that had been missing: community and happiness.

As an example, “There’s good documentation of the opposition to queer student organizations, but not a lot of instances of queer folks celebrating themselves, even though we knew it was always there,” she said. “It just never made it into the archive. The work we’ve been doing is trying to capture the other side of the story.”

WSU a top-ranked school for LGBTQ+ students

Gradually over the years, WSU has adopted policies and programs to make the university a safer and more welcoming place for the LGBTQ+ community.

Its policies and procedures have earned the university a top ranking from the Pride Index as an LGBTQ+ friendly school. It was the first college or university in the state to open a resource center for LGBTQ+ students 30 years ago. And last fall WSU was chosen by the state to conduct the first survey of its LGBTQ+ citizens, taking place at Pride events throughout Washington.

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