Friday, March 31, 2023

VCU Establishes Queer Research and Advocacy Center

Later this summer, Virginia Commonwealth University will establish the Queer Research and Advocacy Center, that will be called the Q Collective, and will serve as the creative and intellectual hub in support of LGBTQ artistic and scholarly activities among faculty, staff, students and the Greater Richmond.

The Q Collective, which will be operated through VCU’s Division for Inclusive Excellence, is an effort to merge research, scholarship and advocacy raise awareness of issues impacting LGBTQ communities in Greater Richmond.

“With the establishment of the Q Collective, VCU is creating a much-needed center to support LGBTQIA+ research, scholarship and advocacy,” said VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D. “The center holds great potential to inform and serve the community. Work done by the Q Collective at VCU will extend beyond the university as it serves and promotes the human condition.”

Aashir Nasim, Ph.D., vice president for inclusive excellence, recently told VCU News that the Q Collective will make VCU a leader in this field of study and collaboration.

“This center will demonstrate to the world that VCU is the place for LGBTQ research, scholarship, creativity and advocacy,” he said. “We have scholars doing groundbreaking research in this area and students who are engaging in exciting scholarship and creative work. We also have amazing support from our community partners. The Q Collective will provide them with the resources and opportunities that they deserve.”

Dae Newman is the current co-chair of Equality VCU, and told VCU News that “the Q Collective represents the realization of a long-held dream by individuals committed to VCU’s values of diversity and inclusion.”

“Equality VCU would like to thank President Rao and the university leadership for their continued support of the LGBTQ+ community, and especially this focus on scholarship and advocacy,” Newman said. “We would also like to applaud the considerable efforts of Dr. Aashir Nasim to identify and secure the resources necessary to launch this effort. We look forward to working closely with President Rao, Dr. Nasim and other university leaders to see the Q Collective launch effectively in the upcoming academic year.”

Archana Pathak, Ph.D., senior faculty specialist in the Division for Inclusive Excellence and an assistant professor in the Department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies, said the Q Collective’s emphasis on research and advocacy aligns with the way researchers in the LGBTQIA+ approach their work.

“For so many people who do research in this area, it’s ultimately about making the community better,” Pathak said. “It’s about creating more inclusive spaces and creating a more just world. It’s about that relationship between what we do and the purpose of what we do. This center will position us to be a part of this conversation in a very meaningful way, and it’s going to put us in the forefront on these topics. This combination of doing the work and understanding the integrated relationship between communities, scholarship and efficacy isn’t something you will find in many other places.”

A core mission of the Q Collective will be helping develop conversations and collaborations among faculty, staff and students throughout the university, Newman said. 

“There are many people in the VCU community who are doing excellent LGBTQ+ research and advocacy work on campus and in the larger community, but at a university as large as VCU, even those of us who are involved in this work don’t always see what is being done in other departments and units,” Newman said. “We’re excited about the potential for the Q Collective to facilitate collaboration and advocacy, raise awareness about resources, and bring greater visibility to some of the excellent scholarship and work that is being done at VCU.”

Nasim said the development and implementation of an LGBTQIA+ center was a priority he set during his first year as vice president, but the work toward creating improved resources for the LGBTQIA+ population has been ongoing for decades.

Critically, members of the VCU and Richmond-area communities have been integral to the planning and development process, Nasim said.

“There are so many organizations and people who have been involved in pushing this forward and helping it become a reality,” Nasim said.

Pathak said she feels particular appreciation for those who have been serving as advocates in the VCU community for years without an infrastructure in place to support them.

“I feel so much gratitude for the people who have been doing this work and being strong advocates in this area for decades, unrecognized and unnamed,” Pathak said. “This is the fruition of so much work by so many people, and they really deserve credit for this.”

Kathleen Ingram, Ph.D., associate professor and chair of the Department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies, noted that momentum has gathered in recent years at VCU to increase the university’s investment in LGBTQIA+ studies. In fall 2018, the College of Humanities and Sciences hired three new tenure-track faculty focused on LGBTQIA+ topics through its Big Ideas initiative. Also, iCubed, the university’s center that invests in transdisciplinary academic and research programs, this year began to recruit faculty to fill transdisciplinary core research in LGBTQIA+ intersectionality. VCU also will introduce a new interdisciplinary minor in LGBT+ and queer studies in the fall.

Ingram said the center represents a crucial next step.

“The Q Collective will continue to elevate VCU to a position of national prominence in this important area of work,” Ingram said. “Through its multi-pronged focus on research and creative expression, education, advocacy and community engagement, the Q Collective will create numerous opportunities for collaboration. It is incredibly exciting to begin to envision the possibilities.”

Nasim and Pathak emphasized that the Q Collective will not be an isolated institution. The center will form natural partnerships with academic and nonacademic units and provide opportunities for the entire VCU community.

“This will be an integrated part of VCU,” Pathak said. “It’s important to understand that these experiences are not anomalous. This is a vibrant, rich way of being in the world, and there’s so much to learn about it.”

Nasim said the Greater Richmond community will play an essential role in the Q Collective. Newman said engaging the broader LGBTQIA+ community on campus and in the Richmond community will be central to the center’s success.

“There is so much positive energy to be tapped. We just need an organizing force to bring this energy together to celebrate the wonderful efforts that are already underway and facilitate additional collaborations, especially with new faculty that are coming on board,” Newman said. “Another key will be to find the necessary resources to support the collaborations and continue to build the critical mass of scholars and teachers who are focused on LGBTQ+ advocacy and inclusion. This is a “Make it real” opportunity for VCU to enhance our national prominence in an area of developing scholarship.”

In the coming weeks, the Division for Inclusive Excellence will announce an interim center director and provide an update on plans for the center’s physical presence on campus.  

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