The first time Neil Ramirez, a second-year in mechanical engineering, attended a SHADES meeting, he said he found a place where he belonged.
“I started going and it was just a really good experience, something I couldn’t relate to anything else. It was very unique,” Ramirez said.
SHADES is a student organization for students of color who identify as part of the LGBTQ community.
SHADES was originally founded in 2005 at Ohio University, and in 2009, the SHADES Buckeye chapter was started at Ohio State, said Cynthia Tyson, a professor in the Department of Teaching and Learning and academic adviser for SHADES.
Since coming to OSU, SHADES has been attempting to create a place for LGBTQ students to deal with issues of race, Tyson said.
“The thing SHADES’ Buckeye chapter does is provide a safe place for students who also have to deal with race and ethnicity while also giving them a place to deal with issues that are around them being a part of the LGBTQ community,” Tyson said.
Tyson became the academic adviser for SHADES in 2012, and since then, she said her focus has been to create a space where students can be themselves and accept who they are all while also feeling a part of the university community.
“It helps to provide another safe place … and to be an LGBTQ student it sometimes puts a person in a place of not feeling safe but even more so if that student is dealing with racism,” she said.
Ramirez said having a safe environment to discuss difficult issues in the LGBTQ community is what SHADES is all about as an organization.
“As an organization, SHADES is really bent on providing a safe space and for people to have conversations that are most of the time very difficult for people to have normally, so it’s a place where people find refuge and are able to express themselves about things that they are frustrated with on a day-to-day basis just because of the way they identify themselves,” Ramirez said.
Dealing with roommates who don’t want to have a roommate who identifies as LGBTQ is one of the many difficult conversations Tyson said she often has to have with students.
“When a student comes to me and says, ‘My roommate doesn’t want to be my roommate because I’m gay,’ you know, we were dealing with that stuff 10 years ago,” she said. “The things that shock me are the things that are homophobic and transphobic, just things we hope we still wouldn’t be dealing with but we still are. It just makes me sad sometimes, like we still shouldn’t be dealing with some of these issues.”
Although SHADES provides a space for students to have difficult conversations, Tyson said meetings consist of a broad range of topics, from dealing with roommates to what to do as an LGBTQ person looking for a job post-graduation.
Even with most meetings being discussion-based, Ramirez said the members rarely ever run out of things to talk about.
As an organization, SHADES also tries to act as a support group for its members who feel alone, because Ramirez said it can get frustrating to feel like no one understands.
“SHADES does a really good job of letting people know that they are not alone, even though a lot of times they think that they are,” he said. “SHADES makes you feel like you are valid in your frustrations.”
While SHADES is an LGBTQ student organization, it is still open to all students, not just those in the LGBTQ community. Tyson said meetings are open to students who identify as straight, as well as allies of the LGBTQ community.
Ramirez said he likes being exposed to so many different opinions as a part of SHADES, because it allows him to learn new things.
“I just think it’s such a great opportunity to learn every time I attend something with them. I just come out with a different perspective and just a better outlook on life and I think that’s something really good,” he said.
Aside from creating a safe place for students, Tyson said the greatest accomplishment is seeing her students graduate. Although she said she hates to see her students leave, Tyson said she couldn’t be more proud of them, and said it’s a great feeling to know that she has done her job as their adviser.
“The most exciting time is when I go to graduation and they’re there getting their degree, because that means we’ve created a safe space, that means they’ve been able to be successful, and they can go out into the world and make a difference,” Tyson said.