By: Melissa Gonzalez, firstname.lastname@example.org
MSUM’s first time hosting the Minnesota Out! Campus Conference (MOCC) was a success as students from North Dakota and Minnesota attended over the weekend of Oct. 26-28.
Over 100 people from 20 different universities attended the conference. In addition to the universities, over 20 organizations attended, including the Minnesota-based Bisexual Organizing Project (BOP) and local pastors and churches.
The conference, hosted between MSUM and Minnesota State Community and Technical College (MSCTC), split its time between the two campuses.
William Lewandowski, senior English major and co president of MSUM’s SPECTRUM organization, utilized his leadership abilities to educate and entertain at the conference.
Olivia Matthews, coordinator of Multicultural Affairs in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion (ODI), helped students register and ensured the conference ran smoothly throughout the weekend. She reflected on Lewandowski and the other student volunteers present at the conference.
“I think it went very well and I’m really proud of all of the students that were there. Watching them as they run workshops, moderate workshops, introduced keynote speakers, run the registration table. They just did it,” Matthews said. “They’re amazing student leaders.”
The panels and keynote speakers were held at MSUM and attendees started their days early at 8:30 a.m. that Saturday. After an afternoon meal, panels and breakout workshop sessions filled the rest of the afternoon.
We caught up with Lewandowski, who also volunteered for the conference, after he attended a discussion on similarities between Native American and trans activist movements led by JAC Stringer, one of the keynote speakers from Ohio.
Lewandowski took on a lot of responsibility for this event. The student leader helped plan the conference, volunteered throughout the weekend, facilitated his own panels and hosted drag trivia and bingo, the entertainment for Saturday night.
He co-moderated an identity caucus with Faye Seidler, a Fargo activist who advocates for trans folks in the community. Together the two discussed asexuality and aromanticism, two identities within the LGBTQ+ community that are not as main-stream as other orientations.
According to the LGBTQIA Resource Center Glossary, people who are asexual do not experience sexual attraction and people who are aromantic experience little to no romantic attraction to others.
Lewandowski, Seidler and the attendees discussed the nuances of the identity and the high amount of gatekeeping that happens within the LGBTQ+ community towards asexual and aromantic folks.
Due to lack of representation in the media and lack of knowledge or understanding of these two orientations, many people who identify as asexual or aromantic experience discrimination and prejudice.
But people with these identities are perfectly capable of having, and do have, healthy friendships and relationships with others.
Later, Lewandowski hosted the entertainment for Saturday evening, using his skills as a performer for drag trivia and bingo.
On Sunday, Oct. 28, Lewandowski hosted his own panel called “Identity and You: Mental Awareness and Orientation.”
The presentation offered students a chance to understand and discuss mental health and what their mental health meant alongside their position within the LGBTQ+ community.
According to the MOCC website, the workshop was designed to help balance coping with mental health issues and societal pressure related to being part of the LGBTQ+ community, as well as offering attendees an outlet to being safe and proud.
“I think it’s really rewarding as someone who’s trying to be an advocate for others to be able to have this, to get my voice out there and to empower everybody else with what I want people to be happy and secure about,” Lewandowski said.
Lewandowski discussed various healthy coping strategies to use when people are struggling and presented a self-help binder filled with encouraging letters, photos and healing materials.
To end the workshop, attendees were asked to decorate a sheet of paper with personal identifiers and resources to utilize in times of need.
One last keynote address, featuring the Red River Rainbow Seniors, concluded the conference on Sunday afternoon. As Lewandowski and the other student volunteers prepared to clean up after the conference, attendees posed with friends against a wall of flags representing the LGBTQ+ community.
Lewandowski said he worked hard and learned a lot, adding even more skills to his list as a student leader.
“It was busy, it was a lot of work doing the planning, introducing people, hosting and doing my own workshop,” he said. “I did just about everything this weekend. So it was fun, it was a new experience for me and it was really rewarding to be a part of.”