Spotlight on SAGA: Fellowship and Advocacy for Widener’s LGBTQIA+ Community
SAGA, the Sexuality and Gender Alliance, is an undergraduate student organization at Widener dedicated to promoting a safe, welcoming, and supportive community for LGBTQIA+ students and their allies.
Though its name has changed over time, the organization has existed on campus for years, hosting meetings and events for its members and the greater community.
But SAGA is more than just fellowship. The organization is playing another role – that of advocate. And its student leaders have embraced this dual function with a renewed sense of purpose.
“We want to serve as a place for recreation and friendship, but we need to be a driving force in educating the rest of the student body,” said Cloë Di Flumeri ’23, a SAGA leader, who also serves as a student representative on the LGBTQ Task Force, which promotes Widener’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, particularly on issues related to sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression.
SAGA recently created a new role, Advocacy Lead - held this year by Di Flumeri - to direct conversations with university staff about the needs and desires of the LGBTQIA+ community, and to keep moving the needle forward.
“We’re a club, but at the same time we have this advocacy piece and we’re trying to represent the community,” said SAGA student leader Autumn Weber ’23. “We’ve reevaluated our goals. We want to work together as a team and community. There’s a lot we can do and I’m still very hopeful in this community and its ability to learn and grow.”
There is always more work to do to make Widener a more welcoming and inclusive place for all, including the LGBTQIA+ community. And the university is taking proactive steps in this effort by listening to students, faculty, and staff; implementing new programs; making changes to facilities and policies; and other initiatives designed to bolster the university’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).
“Over many years, I have had the opportunity to interact with our students that have been involved with SAGA. I have always viewed this student organization as one of the most active in our family of recognized multicultural student organizations,” said Chief Diversity Officer Micki Davis. “I am pleased that as our students become more engaged in university committees such as the LGBTQ Task Force, they acquire the knowledge and skills to become advocates. Our students’ voices are important and we must consider them as a critical resource as we advance a culture of diversity and inclusion on our campuses.”
SAGA leaders are currently advocating for a dedicated physical space on campus to hold meetings and access resources. Students leaders would also like to see staff on campus specially trained to address issues impacting the LGBTQIA+ community.
French Professor Stephanie Schechner, one of SAGA’s faculty advisors, believes today’s students are in a unique position to help propel the university forward.
“We have students whose level of sophistication of DEI issues is, in some cases, outpacing administration, faculty, and staff. They have insight that we need to hear,” said Schechner. “We still have places to grow and learn and I do think some key players on campus are listening and listening carefully. The institution has a real opportunity and we need to find the resources to make it happen.”
Beyond advocacy and education in the traditional sense, SAGA is also committed to continuing to offer fun and engaging programming and events.
Being virtual was a mixed blessing for SAGA in 2020-21. On one hand, it provided the organization with the opportunity to network, regroup, and reorganize, and to host some special virtual events with big names, who might otherwise have not made it to campus.
In the spring, Drag Bingo, presented in partnership with Pride Activities Council, featured Alyssa Edwards, a star of RuPaul’s Drag Race show. And SAGA co-sponsored a virtual meet up with Pennsylvania State Rep. Brian Sims, the first openly gay member elected to the state’s legislative assembly.
“Just having these events centered around queer people, and showing queer people being successful, generally helps make people feel comfortable on campus,” said Di Flumeri.
But being virtual had its downsides, too.
“The LGBTQ community does best with face-to-face interaction. It’s really easy to feel alone,” said Weber, noting how excited SAGA is to get its in-person meetings back on track in the fall. “Being able to meet in person reinforces the fact that we’re all here. We’re looking forward to seeing everyone and to re-knitting what makes the community so strong.”
SAGA leaders are also in the process of launching a student-run online magazine called The Q&A Queer Zine. Based at Widener and produced, in part, through the Summer Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities program, the zine will feature writings, artwork, and other forms of creative expression from people across the country.
“People in the queer community a lot of times are isolated. This is a way to reach out to those people, by reading or seeing other people’s work,” said Di Flumeri.
SAGA leaders extend an open invitation to members of the Widener community, including allies, to join them.
“Stop by. Get to know us. Check out the community,” said Weber.