Remembering forgotten history

Students launch website documenting LGBTQIA+ history at SPU

Audrey Oscarson, News Editor

Isabel Bartosh, Lou Bridges, Rebecca Cavanaugh and Marisa Silva present in upper Gwinn at Seattle Pacific University on March 1, 2023. (Rio Giancarlo)

On March 1, a group of students presented a two-year research project, funded by the Seattle Pacific University SERVE grant, that documented LGBTQIA+ history at SPU since 1990. The project was turned into a website that provides timelines, interviews and art depicting what LGBTQIA+ history and activism on campus has looked like.

The project received the grant in spring 2021, and by the end of the project, six students had contributed: Isabel Bartosh, Lou Bridges, Rebecca Cavanaugh, Marisa Silva, Cambria Judd-Babbitt and Megan Nixon.

Originally, the project was only supposed to be for the summer, but quickly, the students realized this was a much bigger endeavor. Research included interviews with alumni and professors and dives into Falcon archives, as well as other archival resources. Cavanaugh, a history, philosophy and honors major, explained during the welcoming speech that although extensive, this research was not able to cover everything that happened at SPU. Rather, it is to be a starting point for SPU to look at its own history.

“This is not a comprehensive history of everything that happened during this period,” Cavanaugh said. “[LGBTQIA+ students’] presence has been ignored and rejected for too many years in our institutional past, and we hope that this project has helped to foster recognition for their stories and experiences.”

The presentation itself was well attended and gave a brief overview of three periods of SPU history: 1990-2007, 2007-2013 and 2013-2019. Each section was covered by one of the students on the team, who provided key points from each time period. 

Becky Hughes, the chair of the history department, sees this project as filling a hole in SPU history.

“The purpose of this was to really understand queer student presence and activism here at SPU and to bring out the stories because we really didn’t know people’s stories or SPU history,” Hughes said. “We realized this was a gaping hole in our understanding.”

The team conducted research through a gathering of oral history, archival research and public history. Many of the materials and interviews are available on the website for students to read and listen to themselves.

As SPU has been dealing with issues surrounding the LGBTQIA+ community, this project helped students like Patricia Fong, an honors, studio art and English fourth year student, to realize their own part in SPU’s history.

“I felt like the history of queer activism and the way the administration resisted Haven and the history of sexuality class provided good context for current events,” Fong said. “It made me feel like part of a repeating pattern from history and reminded me that I’m part of something bigger.”

Senior psychology and honors student Julia Austin believes this event shows how students have always been working to make SPU more inclusive.

“This event is a testament to the hardworking students involved in making SPU more inclusive and remembering the past. Queer presence at SPU has and will always been here. It is important for the university to remember that,” Austin said.

Cavanaugh hopes that this presentation will help the SPU community learn from their past and create change in the future.

“Actually getting to host this presentation has been two years in the making, and what we shared tonight only scratches the surface of everything we’ve learned. Our website is incredibly well researched and absolutely necessary for SPU right now. Our institutional past is not going to change, but what we do with it can,” Cavanaugh said. “I hope that our presentation and our website provide our community an opportunity to learn more about this past and what to do with it.”