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Front row, from left, Nina Merritt ’17, Dirk Correia ’19, Declan Nolan ’19 and Dr. Sumi Colligan visit an AIDS hospice in San Francisco. Back row, from left, Colligan’s partner Gail Bobin, Jade Schnauber ’19, Matty Blair ’17, Kenny Rivera ’19, Dee Davis ’19 and Rachel Terlizzi ’19.

Students Explore Queer History in San Francisco


On sabbatical in her childhood home of San Francisco, Calif., in fall 2015, anthropology professor Dr. Sumi Colligan began to work on a travel course never before offered at MCLA as she explored the city with the idea of bringing students to experience its unique past.

“I grew up in San Francisco and was aware that it had a rich LGBT history,” Colligan said, “In many ways, it continues to model social justice for LGBT communities across the United States, and to some extent, internationally.”

This past spring, Colligan’s “Queer San Francisco” course came full circle as she and her students headed to the Golden State, where they embarked on an inspirational journey that rekindled their sense of hope.

More than just site seeing, the group met a number of people whose lives exemplified the possibilities of shaping the contours of social change and creating alternatives to oppressive social systems and social actors, Colligan said.

“The history of queer people is often erased and ignored. San Francisco is a place where some very important historic moments in the queer community have been preserved,” said Dirk Correia ’19 of Bourne, Mass.

“As an activist, it is important to realize where we’ve come from, so we know how important it is that we continue to push on,” Correia continued. “San Francisco historically was a hub for activism, and seeing the streets and places where iconic photos were taken and important events happened really helped hit home just how important it is to fight for your rights.”

Matty Blair ’17 of Hoosick Falls, N.Y., particularly enjoyed meeting with a LGBTQIA+ youth group in Berkeley.

“Coming from a small farm town, we did not really have any groups or services available to people who identified as queer. It was really great to see a place that offers not only a huge array of services to queer youth, but also provides them with a safe place where they can be themselves without fear, and with a community they can rely on,” Blair said.

“As a sociology major who critically analyzes the worlds issues day in and day out, it can become really easy to become discouraged that things are never going to change,” Blair added. “This trip revitalized my spirit and showed me just how great an impact one person with the motivation, drive, and passion for change can have.”

The students also visited a center for LGBTQIA+ seniors.

“I had a really good time just talking and connecting with them,” said Rachel Terlizzi ’19 (pictured above, with a senior from that center) of North Andover, Mass.

“This trip served as a cohesive, interdisciplinary, and participatory learning experience. I spent every minute engaged in discussion or reflecting on what I was learning and seeing. Traveling to San Francisco provided us with knowledge and experience that we never would have received just being in a classroom,” she said.

“In a literal and figurative sense, this trip was an exploratory learning experience. Participant observation is the heart of anthropological research, and this trip was exactly that.”