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Anastasia Veal, third-year sociology major and president of Black Quare, recalls her first year at UC Santa Barbara (UCSB) with a simple statement: “it was really, really hard.”
As someone who identifies as Black and queer, Veal’s transition from her diverse home of the Bay Area to Santa Barbara became a precarious balancing act between two identities.
“If you’re around people in your cultural group, you feel like you have to pick your culture and sometimes your queerness and transness isn’t supported … If I’m in a queer community, sometimes I feel like I have to put my Blackness on the back-burner,” Veal, who uses she/they pronouns, shares in an interview with The Bottom Line.
For Veal, Black Quare is a space where all facets of her identity are seen as valid. Founded in 2008, the student organization aims to “create safe spaces for Black queer students, faculty, staff, and community members” as well as raise awareness of the diverse Black LGBTQ experience. The club’s programming includes events and initiatives that range anywhere from social and cultural to political.
Veal shares her insights with me in Dwayne Mosbey’s office in the Resource Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity (RCSGD). Mosbey, RCSGD program coordinator and advisor of Black Quare, has a workspace that immediately captures your attention. The office is a sensory overload: the walls are painted bright red and carefully outfitted with a selection of posters from the 50+ events that Mosbey has organized during his time at the RCSGD.
The room is at once overwhelmingly loud, warm, and welcoming — and it’s here that Veal found one of her first safe spaces at UCSB.
“My own relationship with the center definitely influenced [Black Quare] a lot,” Veal tells me. “When I walked into the center on my first day, it was the only place on campus where I felt like I didn’t have to pick [between my Blackness and my queerness].”
It’s impossible to talk about Black Quare without mentioning the support of the RCSGD. Although founded nearly two decades ago, the club has experienced gaps in activity over the years due to obstacles like membership and funding. Mosbey, who was an undergraduate at UCSB and a former member of Black Quare, was instrumental in gathering students for the club’s resurgence during this academic year.
It wasn’t always smooth-sailing for the organization. Last year, Black Quare was placed on suspension due to incurred debts that had been credited to its Office of Student Life financial account without the consent of its staff. When the club was unable to pay its debt, it was stripped of its official club registration status.
An initiative started by the RCSGD staff this year generously contributed donation funds to settling club debts, which allowed previously suspended queer and trans organizations for people of color such as Black Quare and La Familia De Colores to become active again.
Now, the club is finally getting back on its feet. Veal says the club’s programming includes informal meetings and hangouts where members can connect to other members of the Black queer community, as well as larger events such as an upcoming ball co-organized with the UCSB Queer Commission.
Black Quare is already developing relationships with organizations and departments on campus despite its relatively new status — event collaborations with La Familia De Colores and the RCSGD are forthcoming.
“At first I just wanted to hold space. But Anastasia said, ‘Nah, we ain’t just holding space. We’re taking space,’” Mosbey says, speaking to the fact that the club’s reach and activity have expanded dramatically under Veal’s leadership.
Beyond organizing larger events centered around entertainment and community building for its members, Black Quare also has its hand in a number of advocacy-centered initiatives on campus.
“I’ve noticed that because we’re such a new org, there are some conversations concerning parts of our identities — whether it’s the Black part or the queer and trans part — that we’re left out of,” Veal says. “I really want to insert us into those conversations.”
Veal says there are plans to speak to UCSB’s Residential Housing Association as well as Associated Students about how best to serve the Black queer and trans community on campus.
Specifically, she aims to ask questions about intersectionality: for example, while there are Black Scholars halls in university housing, how do those spaces include and serve Black queer and trans students? The organization’s ultimate aim is to help those in the community feel supported and visible on campus, even if they aren’t part of Black Quare.
There’s a lot ahead for Black Quare. Although the club is still relatively young and small, Veal and Mosbey excitedly share their plans to send a delegation to a conference for queer and trans students of color, recruit more general members, and continue to carve out a space for Black queer and trans students at UCSB.
“If another Black queer person comes in their freshman year, I want them to know immediately that there’s someone here for you and that there’s a place for you,” Veal says. “There’s no other place on campus where you feel that camaraderie and have every part of your community represented.”
Keep up with Black Quare on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BlackQuare/