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July 26, 2021

Student view: Creating spaces that honor differences

Elizabeth C.A. Brooks is a junior in the Residential College in the Arts and Humanities, focusing on community engagement with a minor in dance. She is a member of Orchesis dance team and is the president and founder of HOUS MSU. Brooks works as a peer education coach for MSU’s TRIO program.

Tell us a bit about yourself and the new student group you started.

When I started as a freshman at MSU, I was not out as a trans person. I had come out as a gay male when I was 13, but didn’t come out as trans until the spring of 2020. I never participated in the LGBT groups on campus because, as a queer person of color, I didn’t see myself in those groups.

The hurdles queer people of color face are multifaceted. There is this extra layer of identity that presents struggles that white queer people don’t face, and it was for that reason that I wanted to create a group like HOUS that feels more inclusive to intersectional identities, particularly for queer people of color. Our executive board is pretty evenly split between people of color and people who are white.  

We officially started in the fall of 2020. For the first few months, we were trying to figure out what we want to be and what we’d present to the school community. We didn’t have our first event until this past April 2021.

We did a class about makeup over Zoom. We didn’t have a ton of participation, which is understandable because of COVID and Zoom fatigue, but it still felt like a little win because the people who did show up enjoyed themselves and were able to share their experiences in a space that felt comfortable.

What is HOUS and what does it stand for?

HOUS is a student organization that celebrates queer identities. It stands for honesty, opulence, uniqueness and strength. I knew MSU needed a group like HOUS because, as a queer person of color, I needed a space that could recognize the intersectionality that queer people of color experience.

Being gay I could move through the world without much consequence. Being trans is a much more public experience. People will see me and have some thoughts about my identity, and having a group where I can be myself and feel seen and supported helps.

You have been living on campus this past year during the pandemic. What has that been like?

Living on campus this past year has been both a challenge and a gift. I had a dance lab that met in-person so, for that and other reasons, I have been living here. I have become more independent, which has been very liberating. Also, I have had opportunities to be quite vocal about issues that I believe in and am tied to, particularly this past month with the Rock continuously being painted over during Pride Month.

The situation with the Rock didn’t surprise me, unfortunately. When there are groups that exist who view me as a threat or offense, these actions will occur, especially because these groups have probably felt their ideas and beliefs have been challenged over the last year or so with the protests that occurred last summer after George Floyd’s death and the momentum of Black Lives Matter.

There are people who think they have the right to say whatever they want no matter who it upsets. There’s been a lack of empathy for many years now.

What do you want people to understand?

We need to honor differences. Celebrate it. Stop talking about how we are all the same. We aren’t. We have different stories, different histories. Instead of being afraid of that. Let’s celebrate it.

Having experiences that push you to learn about people who have had experiences unlike your own will help us see some of the problems that exist and the struggles people have had.

What do your future plans include?

Two big things I want to do during my time at MSU include building HOUS so that it will continue once I have graduated. The other thing I want to do is create a space for drag and ballroom culture on campus. It’s not a thing we really have here, and I want to foster that environment here where it will continue in my absence.

Post-MSU, I have known I want a career working for and creating spaces for marginalized groups. Non-profit work is where I want to be. Outside of law and government, I feel like it is the best way to help people.