The Northwoods Queer Outreach originally began as a series of conversations between colleagues Dr. Kate Larson, associate professor of psychology and Dr. Kathryn Klement, assistant professor of psychology. Both instructors for human sexuality and co-advisors of the BSU student organization the Phoenix, which serves LGBTQIA2S+ students, Drs. Larson and Klement had noticed that there was a lack of space and support for queer and transgender folks on campus and in the larger Bemidji community. Thus, the seeds for the NQO were planted and through further discussions, the vision and goals were created.
Goals for the NQO
1) Expand support for queer and trans students, staff, and faculty at BSU.
Within the past few years, Bemidji State University established the Center for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. The CDEI provides a space for conversation, funding for training and a full-time staff member dedicated to carrying out the Center’s activities. One staff member working to support all facets of diversity, equity and inclusion limits the potential to serve students sufficiently. Given the positive momentum on campus, the NQO will expand the reach of the CDEI to more specifically serve queer students.
2) Expand training opportunities for the BSU campus and the greater Bemidji community.
We plan to increase training opportunities for students, faculty and staff and offer educational resources within the greater community. In previous years, members of the Phoenix student group were charged with organizing and providing educational trainings. The NQO will remove the burden of educating others from these students, and instead provide workshops by trained, prepared professionals. As a baseline, the training will include Safe Zone curriculum for on-campus and distance students as well as faculty and staff, while exploring interest within our local community. By creating safer spaces on campus, this effort will contribute to a greater sense of belonging and reduce the burden queer students carry in educating others. Additionally, community organizations will have the opportunity to connect to NQO to address training needs, build shared understanding, and contribute to the growth of inclusion within the community.
3) Expand connections between the BSU campus community and the greater Bemidji community.
Beyond offering education, the NQO will serve as a bridge between BSU and the greater community. Given the rural, rather isolated location of the university, the NQO will establish itself as a known resource in the area. When reviewing other queer resources across the state, the closest known center is to the south at St. Cloud State University (2.5 hours away) or to the east in Duluth (2.75 hours away). We will work to provide a known, north-centrally located resource within the state system. In order to address the needs of students at a distance, training opportunities and resources will be available online to reach students where they are and when they are ready. This will increase connection between communities for the purpose of supporting students who are frequently marginalized in a rural community. The NQO will grow shared understanding, respect, access and inclusion by working to reduce or remove obstacles to educational completion through increased resources, knowledge, belonging and connection to community.
More specifically, the NQO will partner with known community organizations (e.g., United Way, Harmony Co-op, Planned Parenthood, Respect Bemidji and Sanford Health) to grow agency for queer and trans individuals in the area. The NQO will work with community partners to create inclusive workspaces, increase employment or internship opportunities for students, and fundraise for needed scholarships. Strong community partners will be a valuable, visible component to the NQO’s success. To accomplish such goals, we also plan to host social events to share our mission with the community in order to better understand local rural needs and grow support for and connection with queer students.