Six students laugh as they shuffle into a small conference room, chatting about their classes and increasingly busy schedules. As their conversation winds down, they go around the room and introduce themselves.
A brief silence hangs in the air as they prepare to discuss a program that may lead them down a road of exploration, self-discovery and clarity.
This gathering was one of the information meetings for Memoirs, a program focusing on creating a safe space for historically underrepresented and marginalized students. Lia Cook, community engagement coordinator for Associated Students first learned about Memoirs when she attended their spring reception last year, and has been eager to get involved ever since.
She said Memoirs helps students explore and discuss parts of their identities while building community and creating art. The final information session will take place on Nov. 14 from 5:30 to 6 p.m. in Viking Union room 462B.
Hosted by the AS Womxn’s Identity Resource Center, Memoirs programming goes for three academic quarters. Fall quarter will focus on community-building among the participating members and winter will center around discussions of gender, race and intersectionality inclusion. All of this culminates at the end of spring quarter when the AS holds a public reception to show off all of the art created during the program, said Cook.
“We really want it to be a place that’s safe to be vulnerable and really express who you are,” Cook said. “It’s just a really beautiful program where we let folks be who they are and express the different parts of their identity.”
Senior Karina Quiroz participated in Memoirs in 2017 and said she is looking forward to the growth and connections she’ll make through this year.
“It feels really good to be a part of something,” she said. “Especially with people that have different ideas and come from different backgrounds.”
According to Disability Outreach Center Community Engagement Coordinator McKenzie Bolar, who also was the 2017 Memoirs coordinator, Memoirs has gone through several changes in the last few years. Bolar said Memoirs originally began as Western’s chapter of the Vagina Monologues, a performance piece about womxn and sexuality. It has since shifted to the Vagina Memoirs, and now, Memoirs to be inclusive of more student voices and genders.
Cook said though it is only her first year organizing Memoirs, she looks forward to reaching new members of Western’s academic community.
“In the AS, there’s only three STEM students working, including myself,” she said. “I’m really trying to use this event to try and reach out to STEM kids and say ‘I really want you to be a part of this because I wish I had been a part of it [in previous years] and it’s a great opportunity.’”
Cook said that her favorite part of the program is getting to use art to explore identity, while also building the confidence of participants.
“As a student with a marginalized identity, I’ve struggled a lot and I’ve never heard someone say ‘Hey you’re doing a great job, I am proud of you,’” she said. “I want to be that person for these folks and say ‘You are beautiful, you are so talented, I’m proud of you and you’re gonna go far.’”
Cook said Memoirs also provides resources for students with marginalized identities in need of support- resources that the university is currently lacking.
“Western is not doing enough,” she said. “I am very worn out from fighting the system and trying go increase inclusivity and resources for underrepresented students, and that is why I am so excited to have Memoirs and be able to foster that space for the students because the university hasn’t.”
Cook also said that she is frustrated by the administration’s reliance on students for change, claiming that many of the changes on campus only arise from student efforts.
Bolar agreed that while Western has definitely made strides toward being more inclusive, most of the efforts are student-led.
“I think Western itself just relies too much on its students to create change,” Bolar said.“They’re slow to do any institutional change that can really help any queer students on campus.”
For Bolar, the best part of the program is getting to witness participants gaining long-lasting friendships by being vulnerable and supporting each other.
“Memoirs is meant to be a conglomerate of so many different perspectives,” they said. “It’s just a fun time and it’s a great event for people to meet if they love community-building and watching people grow.”