BY AVOLIN SEN / STAFF WRITER
Augustana Students at the recent AQUA Tie-Dye event on November 18th. Photos submitted.
The Augustana Queers and Allies club (AQUA) was formed to provide a welcoming and positive atmosphere for all students, with particular attention paid to those who belong to gender and sexual minority groups. I was quite impressed by this group’s existence and the events they have come up with over the years. I wanted to know what led to the development of the club and the achievements they’ve amassed. I was fortunate to speak with the AQUA club president, Janiel Dillon.
My first question was about the club’s main objectives and manifesto.
“Well, like any other manifesto, ours is there to help guide our actions and ensure that they align with the values that we have at AQUA. With every event, social media post, and everyday interaction with our team, we want to ensure that those who are a part of any sexual or gender minorities are respected.,” Janiel replied.
Janiel emphasized the fact that the club essentially aims for everyone, not just minority members, to feel wanted in a community. “When has there ever been a place where non-LGBTQIAS2+ people are unwelcome? This is why clubs like AQUA are created in the first place, not to be a space where only people in the community are included but so that everyone can be equally accounted for.”
I wanted to know if the club had received any negativity or backlash due to ignorance or lack of knowledge about the club. “I cannot say that I have received any backlash per se. Usually people seemed pleasantly surprised that the club has survived another year and make reference to the events that we have hosted in the past (especially So You Think You Can Drag). However, there have been some times when it feels that the air has been taken out of the room when I mention that I am the president of AQUA (typically from people who don’t already know the club and seem a bit put off when I explain what the club does and what it stands for).”
“With every event, social media post, and everyday interaction with our team, we want to ensure that those who are a part of any sexual or gender minorities are respected.”Janiel Dillon. President, AQUA.
Moving on to club events, AQUA recently held their first event of the year: Tie-Dye with AQUA. Accordingly, we discussed certain hardships they faced when planning the event. “So far we have only had one event. Our team is mostly built out of new members except for one other member who is graduating this term and myself. Therefore, it has taken a lot of trial and error to get to this point.” Personally, I thought that the event was a significant success for all the students involved, and would never have guessed that it was planned by a junior majority executive!
AQUA is notorious for its over-the-top and next-level events, so naturally, I was intrigued about the upcoming events my budding first-year self has yet to experience.
“When it comes to events, we have a couple that we are planning on bringing back in the same way or others that we plan on putting our own spin on.” Janiel happily offered. “Right now, we have a couple of things on the drawing board that may end up being unfeasible, but we are willing to try everything and to learn from any mistakes along the way. Right now in terms of pride week, the definite things we have in mind are So You Think You can Drag, a showing of Moonlight (in collaboration with the Afri-Youth Club), another tie-dye event, a luncheon with Pastor Craig about queer topics in the bible, and a jeopardy night about Rupaul’s Drag Race.”
As an international student coming from the UAE (a place where belonging to the LGBTQ2+ community is banned), the openness, freedom, and diversity in sexuality and gender in Canada was quite a culture shock for me when I first arrived. I felt an immediate sense of familiarity, but I wondered how AQUA has been acclimatizing students like myself to feel more welcome and accepted.
Needless to say, I gave Janiel quite a bit to think about in terms of future events. “While we are not doing anything specifically to welcome international students into the community, we do try to create events that everyone can feel welcome to attend and participate in (which is why most of our events are free to attend and on campus). Coming from someone who is also an international student from a country that is not so welcoming to those in the community, I have always thought of AQUA as a club that embodies acceptance. Perhaps I was a bit misguided to think that everyone just thought the same way, but I know that whenever anyone participates in our events, we here at AQUA always do our best to make it a fun and accepting space for them. We listen to our community, therefore, if anyone of you who are reading this interview has any ideas about how we can be more accommodating to our international community, or you just have any general suggestions, feel free to message us at our email firstname.lastname@example.org or our Instagram account @augustana_aqua.”
All in all, I had a great time discussing the latest events we have to look forward to from AQUA with Janiel. I am grateful for the excellent opportunity to get to know the community as well through the club. Make sure to pay attention to the AQUA club’s social media for more information about Pride Week and other upcoming events in the new year!