PV Spectrum provides a refuge for LGBT students on campus.
By Terrance Turner
During the spring 2016 semester, Prairie View A&M University—founded over a century ago, in 1876—experienced a notable first. PV Spectrum, a student-formed organization seeking LGBT equality on campus and in the community, became the first LGBT group to be registered with the Student Activities Board. According to PV Spectrum’s staff advisor, Monique Carroll, it was founded mainly as a “safe space” for students to voice their concerns and ideas. This is especially necessary given the growing number of transgender students on campus.
At PV Spectrum’s first meeting, students were asked, “What does it feel like to be LGBT on campus?” To Carroll’s surprise, students reported having generally positive experiences. The group has already sponsored an “Out on the Hill” week on campus that Phuctritam Nguyen, PV Spectrum’s president, describes: “A few months ago, we worked along with other organizations on campus, including Panthers Promoting Healthy Decisions, to have a weeklong event on campus. We gave out brochures, fact sheets, and safe-sex protection. We had a guest speaker to talk about HIV/AIDS. We marked the ending of the successful week with a drag show on campus.”
The events also included “Panther Ally” Safe Zone training. (According to the website thesafezoneproject.com, these training sessions are opportunities to learn about gender, sexual identity, and LGBT issues in order to create safe, welcoming environments.) The trainings will likely be held again throughout the fall semester, Carroll says.
There has been no noticeable pushback from faculty or students about the organization, she reports. Instead, people on campus have been supportive. President Nguyen also speaks positively about the group’s reception. “PV Spectrum has had support from many faculty, staff, and students,” she says. “We have not encountered pushback from anyone, and I think that is why, so far, PV Spectrum is the first successful LGBTQ organization on campus.”
She elaborates further about PV Spectrum’s objectives: “Our goals are not only to create a safe space for our LGBTQ community on campus, but also to help educate everyone that we are just the same as everyone else. We have meetings about topics ranging from self-development to health education. We want to break every stereotype that people might have about the LGBTQ community.”
Nguyen emphasizes the collaborative nature of the group as a key to its success. “We all work together to reach the same goals,” she says. “Within the organization, we respect each other because we understand what it is like to be the ‘odd ones out.’ We finally have a place where everyone can be themselves without any prejudice.”
The nationwide threat of anti-LGBT violence has caused many gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender students (particularly those in the American South) to remain silent about their sexual orientation. This is also true at Prairie View, Nguyen says. “We have a lot of students who are still ‘in the closet’ for many reasons. I think it is people’s choice to be openly ‘out’ or not. Many people choose not to be ‘out’ simply because they think it is [nobody’s] business. I think we need to help people feel that it is safe here—that we have significant support from many people.”
At a time when LGBT students throughout the country are feeling less safe—at home, at church, at school, and especially at clubs and bars—Prairie View’s PV Spectrum provides a refuge. It’s a place that works to make sure everyone feels comfortable being who they are.