“The problem is what inspires me to keep going,” Nawrocki said.
On Saturday, June 17, Nawrocki was honored with the first Student Leader Award at the Siegel Awards — an annual celebration where Cornell Pride, the official association for all LGBTQIA+ identifying alumni of Cornell University, honors exemplary members of their community.
While at Cornell, Nawrocki facilitated two sub-organizations, ACE and TANGO, of Haven — Cornell’s LGBTQ+ Student Union, which serves as an umbrella organization for most undergraduate LGBTQ+ student organizations at Cornell.
ACE is a student-run social support group for asexual and aromantic individuals, as well as for individuals questioning their identities. The organization also works to increase the visibility and availability of information surrounding the ace and aro community.
TANGO is a space for transgender, agender, nonbinary, genderqueer and other non-cisgender individuals, as well as those who are questioning their identity, to gain support and foster community.
According to Kim Gillece ’04, president of Cornell Pride, Nawrocki received the distinction due to their continuous work to empower the queer community throughout their time at the University.
“We were honored to award [Nawrocki] the inaugural Student Leadership Siegel award based on their leadership with ACE and TANGO, two Haven sub-organizations for the Cornell asexual and trans communities,” Gillece said. “As we look to broaden representation and inclusion within the LGBTQ+ community, we find [Nawrocki’s] work to be particularly groundbreaking and meaningful at this time.”
Angela Lu ’13, a board member of Cornell Pride, echoed Cornell Pride’s excitement in recognizing Nawrocki’s work with the first Student Leader Award.
“[Nawrocki] has created an environment where trans and asexual students can openly discuss identity, forge friendships and feel at home at Cornell,” Lu said. “In addition to consistently maintaining these safe spaces, [Nawrocki] has also, like any true leader, trained and mentored others to continue supporting the communities they have built.”
Nawrocki refers to their work as community building rather than activism, due to their focus on creating safe spaces for people to embrace their identities and connect with others. Nawrocki said they wanted to continue sustaining these sub-organizations after reflecting on their own valuable experiences with the groups.
“In my first few years at Cornell, I realized that [these sub-organizations] were really important to me. It was very helpful to meet other people with similar identities,” Nawrocki said. “And I wanted other people to have that too.”
Nawrocki explained that ACE and TANGO benefit members in a variety of ways and that members come in with different expectations.
“I think some people want to make friends and meet other people and some people want to talk about particular experiences and get validation for them,” Nawrocki said. “And then sometimes other people might want direction on finding [their] identity and [to hear] some more perspectives [to give] them a sense of all [the] things that you can be.”
Nawrocki noted that they are specifically proud to have created a Discord server for ACE throughout the pandemic, because it has become a permanent way for members of the organization and alums to stay connected.
“I think that there are probably a lot of people that feel hesitation into coming into a space like [physical ACE meetings],” Nawrocki said. “And so I was glad that we could be more accessible [by establishing a digital space].”
As for physical meetings, Nawrocki values bringing food to meetings and developing unique activities that boost members’ mental well-being and interest.
Over the past two years, Nawrocki particularly enjoyed “chalking” with fellow ACE members for Asexual Awareness Week — an annual event that occurs at the end of October to celebrate the progress of the community and to fight for the acceptance of asexual and asexual-spectrum identities.
In this tradition, the group writes chalk messages in visible areas around campus which provide encouraging dialogues to the asexual community.
Still, Nawrocki described that it is especially difficult to gain and retain members — particularly for TANGO — while the transgender community is faced with substantial legislative challenges.
“In this political climate, a lot of trans folks are devoting energy to maintaining our access to gender-affirming care, making and executing escape plans from hostile environments and generally just pushing back against anti-trans legislation,” Nawrocki stated in a follow-up email to The Sun. “It can be hard to find time for community building and joy along with all that, even if it helps indirectly.”
However, for Nawrocki, these political challenges against the transgender community reaffirm their understanding of the need for groups like TANGO.
“Community building helps build the structure for activism,” Nawrocki said. “When you have more connections with each other, you’re more equipped to [work together to pursue change].”