By Yazmeen Nuñez
I think I’ll start by telling you that any social change spurred by a single person will always fail. Every time. Without exception. I get that it sounds harsh. It’s a realization that I’m still coming to terms with through my own work in activism and social movement building. It’s what you do together in the spirit of solidarity with others that will enact the most justice-oriented change, speak to the greatest breadth of diverse human experiences, and benefit the greatest number of people.
But that’s a hard sell, I know. Our schools, economies, media, even friends and family tell us that being an independent individual is the greatest possible incarnation one can aspire to achieve. We must compete and we must be better than our neighbors or we will fall into an obsolete existence.
And it really seems like that is how the world works. I sometimes wonder how I would have gotten through the college application process with a ticket to the University of Richmond without fighting tooth and nail to stand out against my peers. When I got here, I imagined that there were still plenty of good reasons to compete with my fellow students, and I worked hard to be that shining star that stood in contrast with my Spider community.
But I crashed soon and hard. I learned that all Spiders were smart, plucky, and dedicated. If no one can be the best, I learned, I would have to readjust my understanding of who exactly are the catalysts for change in society.
It was only in my sophomore year when I first joined a brand new living-learning community for LGBTQ-identified students and their allies that I understood that my education at Richmond would not be complete without learning how to live in community with others to achieve common goals. That community was the very first of its kind, and between 2011 and 2013 we have worked to concentrate the appeal of creating socially just, safe, and empowering communities into a new living-learning format with a classroom component. I’ve lived in living-learning communities for three of my four years at the University, and today I reside happily with 10 other passionate students as the RA for the Q-Community.
The worth of living spaces specified for minorities is often contested, and there are real concerns about isolating communities that ideally would interact seamlessly with the rest of society. But in a world where somebody’s identities — their race, nationality, sexuality, gender expression or identity, class status, and more — are systematically marginalized, some people can spend much of their time and energy just trying to swim against the current. It is so critical that a part of any education experience includes accessible spaces where the spirit of community and people share their stories and take care of themselves in a community that celebrates their strength.
And so for me the appeal was simple. I wanted to live in a space where not only would I feel like my experiences, feelings, and ideas were holistically valuable to my neighbors, but where we all could learn and practice tools for engaging in dialogue in ways that are not naturally a part of traditional residence hall living. We learn how to communicate our expectations earnestly, make fair group decisions through finding consensus, and lift up our neighbors as we empower ourselves in impactful and sustainable ways. In the classroom we learn about queer social movements in recent American history and what a movement might look like when it prioritizes building anti-racist, feminist, queer, pluralist spaces. We live, learn, listen, share, and laugh together, and all the while we build skills that will serve us further as we go forward and seek to nurture homes, families, and movements outside the campus threshold.
Whether it’s being there for friends in the lounge as they work through math homework, coming together to make posters for a rally on a common political cause, or taking part in the laughter that flows out of the classroom and into the residence halls as we finish our school day, these small moments that we share as Q-Community culminate into a greater knowledge of how to sustain a healthy political movement. In this safe living space, we have built a community that breathes life back into itself constantly as we facilitate heavy conversations about social justice, political movements, and systematic oppression, and that kind of intentional community-building is hard to do without a little practice with our friends. We bring these lessons to our classrooms, jobs, and organizations, all in hopes that by learning how to build solidarity with each other we can do more to create lasting, inclusive social change in this unkempt world we all call home.