As we welcome our LGBTQIA and ally students, faculty and staff back to campus, we must also take time to reflect upon the national conversations surrounding LGBTQIA events, tragedies and victories. In the aftermath of the creation of HB2, we saw the U.S. Department of Justice sue North Carolina over illegal and unconstitutional discrimination that violates three federal civil rights laws. Then our hearts sank as we all laid witness to the deadliest mass shooting in the United States by a single gunman, where 49 people — mostly LGBTQIA and Latinx — were slain in Orlando. A few weeks following the tragic and terrifying attack in Orlando, the Pentagon announced the inclusion of transgender individuals to join as active members of the military, ending a decades-long ban.

For students interested in engaging in conversations around these events and topics, please feel free to seek out campus resources including Spectrum (Queer-Straight Student Alliance), EFFECT (Elon Feminists), the Gender and LGBTQIA Center and our faculty within the Women’s, Gender and Sexualities Studies Program.

On campus this summer, we saw an outpouring of responses related to the Pulse shooting, including vigils and a packed gathering in the Gender and LGBTQIA Center (Moseley 211) with more than 80 attendees across students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members. The strength and perseverance exemplified at the gathering will certainly propel us all forward into this year as we join together in creating safer spaces for LGBTQIA-identifying people and change. Additionally, a new Trans Inclusion Squad was formed by students, faculty and staff to create recommendations for increased inclusion and celebration of trans and non-binary students.

Within the Gender and LGBTQIA Center, we hired Camilla Brewer, who will serve as our full-year graduate assistant. A former LGBTQIA conference co-coordinator, Camilla is very excited to meet and greet students and help empower them to make change in their lives and across campus. The GLC has been inundated with training requests because student leaders want more education around LGBTQIA and trans identities. The 10 trainings in August include fraternities and sororities, Resident Assistants, Orientation Leaders, Odyssey students and Elon 101 Instructors, among others.

To start off the year, we invite everyone to our annual LGBTQIA and Ally New Student Welcome, held 5-6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 1, in Lakeside 212. Incoming first-year students will get a chance to connect with returning students as well as possible faculty and staff mentors. President Lambert will speak, and we always have food and prizes. Despite recent tragedies, it is important now more than ever that we help make our LGBTQIA students feel validated, valued and victorious at Elon.