With the spring semester cut short due to the unknowns of COVID-19 in 2019, many individuals were not anticipating the prolonged period that would consist of isolation, confusion and questioning the future.
It was during this time that first-year graduate student Emily Kraft realized that her responsibilities as the new director of UNO’s student agency Queer and Trans Services (QTS) would be entirely changed.
The student director of QTS acts as a representative for the agency, works closely with student board members to plan social events and educational opportunities and networks with local organizations to provide support for the LGBTQ+ community in Omaha.
Kraft was given the director title before the university made the announcement that they would be entering the fall 2020 semester remotely for the safety and health of students and faculty members. With summer and an entire year ahead of her, Kraft quickly realized the obstacles she would have to face.
“Our work is largely based on creating spaces for people to thrive in and where anonymity can be protected. People can be themselves where they might not be able to in the community or at home,” Kraft said. “With everything being remote, it was difficult to reach out to people even virtually.”
One of the main areas QTS provides for UNO is their weekly various support groups, like Melanated Queerations, TRANScend, and Lez-Bi-Real-Queer. These groups usually meet in person and give individuals the safe space to delve into conflicts or cultivate friendships. Kraft had to search for a way to continue providing these spaces while combating the issue of confidentiality and difficult home spaces.
“I know a lot of people weren’t able to come to our support groups because when you are at home, you may not be able to hop on a call and talk about those sorts of things,” Kraft said.
Despite these prevalent issues, Kraft was able to adapt and seek out compromises that would not only benefit the agency as a whole, but also the individuals who utilize their services. The most important outlet that saved QTS was social media.
“We used social media a lot to have interactions with people or to encourage people to take care of their mental health. We would have online or giveaway events so students could still feel supported or seen in some way,” Kraft said.
Throughout the remote school year, QTS was able to hold a drag show, movie nights, a tarot reading event and even a makeup tutorial event, all through a screen.
Fortunately, with the increase of available vaccines and the decreasing cases of COVID-19, QTS was able to partake in one of the most valuable events for the LGBTQ+ community.
“Once people were vaccinated and we reached appropriate safety measures, we were able to have an in-person pride which I think was a good way for people to come back together,” Kraft said.
Now with the promise of an upcoming semester in-person, Kraft has been able to reflect on her past experiences of being a director completely remote and look forward to what is to come for the student agency.
“It definitely helped me get comfortable with virtual spaces and problem solving in those aspects,” Kraft said. “It was eye-opening to realize the different issues and how necessary these spaces are when you don’t have them.”