What started out as weekly hangouts between friends led to the formation of a new group on campus — The Queer People of Color (QPOC), a group striving to strengthen ties of a specific community at UC Santa Cruz. The QPOC conference, where queer people of color from campuses all over California gather for a weekend, inspired UCSC students to bring that unity to campus last spring.

This quarter, the group plans to take on a more active role through planning events and networking with other groups, said QPOC facilitator Maria Krisha Veniegas. “I want students to be able to go to a space and be completely themselves,” Veniegas said. “We do have other resource centers. Students have a place to be themselves when it comes to their sexuality and a place when it comes to cultural identity, but I wanted to make a place for students to be able to intersect the two.”

The group holds weekly meetings on Tuesdays at the Cantú Queer Center where they plan events, have discussions and socialize. While they do have group facilitators and an advisor, all participants can have as much input or leadership as they desire. Group advisor Tam Welch, the Cantú Queer Center’s Gender Sexuality specialist, said groups like the QPOC are crucial for the formation of identity.

“I think the group is a well needed organization for the campus,” Welch said. “Queer people of color visibility is really important for intersecting identities. Students often feel isolated, and a student organization often legitimizes the community that is already there. It gives them a space to socialize, organize, promote and advocate.”
With the help of the Education Opportunity Program, Oakes College, the Women’s Center, and the Ethnic Resource Center, QPOC held its first event, Coloring the Woods, on Nov. 12.

The members of QPOC worked to transform the outdoor portion of the ARCenter using rainbow streamers, lights, a buffet, music and a dancefloor. They also offered a variety of activities, such as a photo booth, a raffle and the opportunity to meet new students, staff and faculty. Attendees of the mixer included undergraduate and graduate students, directors from all of the ethnic resource centers, faculty, staff and UCSC police Chief Nader Oweis.

Group facilitator Maria Krisha Veniegas hoped the event would promote unity among the Santa Cruz community. “Our main goal for this mixer [was] visibility of the community and networking, by which we mean both fellow student networking as well as faculty and staff,” Veniegas said. “We aimed to have not just our group but the whole community visible. We had a good turn out with faculty and staff, which is really going to be a catalyst for students to know who they can go to. “

Attendees mingled in the main room where booths, set up by other supporting groups on campus, offered safety pamphlets, information on meetings and contacts, and facts and tips for queer people of color. A timeline of obstacles and triumphs in the history of queer people of color lined the wall above the buffet and ended with a whiteboard of photos and contact information of faculty and staff who offer support for students. A map highlighting all of the resource centers available for students on campus was also featured.

“The main focus was to get people to know there are so many spaces aside from the Cantú Queer Center where they can get support,” said group member Josue Ayala. “The main part was to get faculty and staff to show they are an open space for students. Students are also networking with each other by talking and eating, and that’s how they get to know each other.”

After a successful first event, the QPOC will continue holding meetings and events and will further the group’s networking.

“We want to have more outreach to the community,” Veniegas said. “I’m working to be involved with the other communities, like Theta Pi Sigma, FamiliaX and Queer Student Union. One of the biggest things we are going to do is go over highlights from other people to see what they want to have next. We are not going to stop, we are going to keep moving forward.”

Santos De La Paz, the decoration committee leader for QPOC, expressed what QPOC means to him personally.
“It’s not something you can explain, it’s just something you feel [while] being around others like you who can share experiences,” De La Paz said. “We can get together and feel safe.”