Illustration by Owen Thomas
Illustration by Owen Thomas

For UC Santa Cruz students Addie Salcedo and Geneva DeBlasi, a card game was all it took to spark a conversation that would eventually blossom into romance. This moment took place at an undergraduate mixer one year ago.

“I always went to [the mixers to] meet somebody, and that’s where I met Geneva,” Salcedo said. “It was surprising that we met each other and now a year later, we’re together.”

At UCSC’s Cantú Queer Center, mixers are more than places to hang out. These events are grounds for networking, increasing LGBTQIA+ visibility on campus, making friends and even finding a partner.

“The mixers kind of dovetail what students want to see,” said former interim director of the Cantú Queer Center Tam Welch, who has worked there since 2001. “For instance, this year talking about visibility and voice was one of the conversations.”

Welch said three things occur at the first mixer of the year: current students want to reconnect, new students want to find people like themselves in the community, and students committed to diversity and inclusion want to welcome frosh and transfer students to the resources available at UCSC. The first mixer through the Cantú Queer Center was held during the 2000-01 school year.

Welch said there was standing room only at last fall’s mixer, which drew over 500 attendees.

“There was a vision to grow out of our house, so we moved the more social part [out of the Cantú Queer Center] into the Merrill Cultural Center,” Welch said.

The event featured an hour-long resource fair for student organizations to conduct outreach and communicate resources to students. Mixers typically involve dancing, food, music and an area for community resources.

Welch said that as the LGBTQIA+ spectrum expands, a wider variety of needs and interests come up for students.

“A lot of students come to [mixers] to meet with the community and engage. Sometimes it’s around leadership, sometimes it’s around friendship and sometimes it’s about a friendship that goes deeper,” Welch said. They said the space should also promote visibility for asexual individuals.

Addie Salcedo was in the “gaymes” section of the mixer when Geneva DeBlasi walked through the door.

“The attraction [toward DeBlasi] wasn’t [initially] physical or lustful. She just caught my attention, and it felt like I needed to know her,” Salcedo said.

They sat next to each other, and the two of them talked throughout the night.

“I [feel] more in my element in the game room because when you’re playing games, you’re more open and friendly … and you slowly break the ice,” Salcedo said.

DeBlasi said the first mixer she attended was a little intimidating because most attendees had either already known someone there, or they had come to the event with someone. Nonetheless, the mixers constituted a supportive environment for diversity.

“It’s an all-inclusive space,” DeBlasi said. “You’re already working with a group that’s normally kind of discriminated against.” Salcedo said going into mixers with an open mind is important, as is being mindful of people’s gender pronouns.

If a student is unsure about whether they want to attend a Cantú mixer, DeBlasi said, “Don’t be stressed about meeting someone. Meet as many people as you can, form friendships and they could turn into relationships.”

Travis Becker, the new director of the Cantú Queer Center, said the winter mixer that was co-sponsored by Queer Student Union (QSU) provided a comfortable and fun environment for students.

“[It was] my second day on the job, and I was impressed to see [QSU] come in and really build a cool space and it was a great opportunity to say, ‘Hey, there’s a mixer!’” Becker said.

Third-year Nathan Thompson has been a volunteer with the Cantú Queer Center since his first year, and he recently joined the mixer-planning committee in charge of catering for the mixers.

Thompson said the mixers are crucial for communicating inclusivity to marginalized communities, namely because they foster a supportive community for students.

Tam Welch said there is a new committee reaching out to student artists to incorporate more performances and fine art related to LGBTQIA+ into future mixers. This idea stemmed from Transgender Remembrance Day on Nov. 20, when UCSC held an event focusing on the vibrance of the transgender community rather than focusing on the deaths of the individuals. Posters from a campaign by national initiative Strong Families were featured at Cantú mixers, showcasing voices of the transgender community.

“Talking about some of the issues for queer students of color or queer students in general, being able to make space for people to connect, talk and engage, be it friendship or deeper,” Welch said. “That’s what the mixer does.”