At the seventh annual IvyQ conference held for the first time at Cornell this weekend, 380 students from around the country discussed gender, sexuality, racism and intersectionality.
The conference, which included workshops, keynotes, a career fair and social events, touched on different themes stemming from activism and public policy to gender identity and expression, according to Annie Fernandez ’17, co-chair of Cornell IvyQ 2015.
Fernandez said it was an honor for Cornell to be selected to host the IvyQ. Each year many schools compete to hold the conference, writing bids which all participating schools vote on to determine a winner.
The event started off as a queer alliance between the Ivy League schools but has since tried to become more inclusive, according to Fernandez.
Teri Tan, a senior at New York University who initially did not attend the conference because it seemed “very exclusive,” said she was pleased with the speakers and topics discussed.
According to Fernandez, this year’s IvyQ differed from that of previous years in that it offered financial aid and meal tickets to those not financially able to eat on campus.
The keynote speakers on Saturday were Brittany Ferrell and Alexis Templeton, founders of Millennial Activists United, an organization based in Ferguson, Missouri that serves as a safe haven and advocacy center for black youth, women and LGBT individuals.
Fernandez said after hearing Ferrell and Templeton speak last year at Creating Change — the biggest LGBT activist conference in the United States — she knew she had to bring them to Cornell.
“I’m not co-chairing IvyQ 2015 without them as my keynotes,” Fernandez said. “They encompassed everything I haven’t been able to articulate that I wanted to do with the conference.”
Ferrell, 24, and Templeton, 21, spoke passionately about topics including discrimination, racism, white supremacy, patriarchy and intersectionality.
“Intersectionality is about how a variety of oppressions connect,” Templeton said. “It is not a theoretical, abstract idea.”
As a gender non-conforming individual, Templeton said identity should not be constrained by race, gender or sexual orientation.
“I hear all the time, ‘you’re black first and then you’re gay,’” Templeton said. “No. You can’t put my race over my sexuality. You can’t put my race over my gender.”
Before opening the floor up for questions, Templeton asked the audience to join in a chant to “give power to our people.”
“It is our duty to fight for our people. It is our duty to win,” Templeton and the audience chanted. “We must love and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chance.”
Fernandez also stressed the importance of understanding and celebrating the complex nature of all human beings.
“At the end of the day, we aren’t just queer or black, we’re poets, we’re engineers, we’re students,” Fernandez said. “I wanted to be able to create a place where everyone’s identity was celebrated and not just tolerated.”
Fernandez called the conference an opportunity for young people to unite and address the many issues facing the LGBT community.
“This event has the potential to bring fresh young minds together and inspire them to not only fight for LGBT rights, but to delve into what’s at the root of all this and why we haven’t been able to tackle this issue in the past 250 years since the founding of our country,” she said.
Fernandez also praised Cornell’s administration, saying it offers strong support to LGBT students.
“Financially, the LGBT Student Union, Haven, is the third most endowed organization on campus, which is telling of where Cornell’s priorities are, but there is work that needs to be done with other issues that also affect the LGBT community, like the student health care fee and university divestment,” Fernandez said.
Fernandez said she has always personally felt safe at Cornell, but added that her experience is not necessarily representative of all others in the LGBT community.
“I’ve been lucky to have never walked across campus and felt personally unsafe,” Fernandez said. “Although not representative of the whole LGBT community here, I’ve kissed girls on this campus and I’ve never felt treated differently.”
Although Cornell has made strides toward becoming a safe and welcoming space, the University still needs to grow to be more accommodating of its LGBT community members, according to Fernandez.
“I think Cornell has its heart in the right place, but I think there’s definitely means for improvement,” Fernandez said.