Nayah Mullings ’17 (left) and Saren Deardorff ’17 (right) in graduation robes prior to the 2017 Commencement ceremony on May 21.
Nayah Mullings ’17 (left) and Saren Deardorff ’17 (right) in graduation robes prior to the 2017 Commencement ceremony on May 21.

Since their first year at Amherst, Saren Deardorff ’17 and Nayah Mullings ’17 have served and supported the LGBTQ community on campus, from helping to establish the Queer Resource Center (QRC) to educating the wider Amherst community about diversity and inclusion.

“They are the only two students who have dedicated their entire four years at Amherst to diversity and inclusion work in this particular capacity,” says Angie Tissi-Gassoway, director of the QRC and associate dean for diversity and inclusion. “They have been instrumental in how the QRC has grown and changed since its inception.”

When the two students first arrived on campus in 2013, resources for the LGBTQ community were more limited. A resource center called The Rainbow Room provided a safe space and some programming. But it was located in the basement of a residence hall, which faculty and staff could not access, and its budget was too small to do much.

During their first semester, Deardorff, Mullings and three other students met with President Biddy Martin and successfully advocated for an institutionally supported center that would provide educational resources and extensive programming for queer and transgender people on campus. They also requested changing the name to the Queer Resource Center. A larger budget allowed for student hires. Two years later, the QRC moved into a central and accessible location in Keefe Campus Center. 

Students gathered in the QRC
Students gathered in the QRC, located on the second floor of the Keefe Campus Center.

Deardorff and Mullings were among the first students hired at the QRC, says Tissi-Gassoway. They’ve had a hand in guiding the center’s efforts every step of the way. They helped draft the center’s mission to affirm, celebrate and support Amherst’s queer and transgender community, for example. They created and implemented training sessions aimed at educating students, faculty and staff on creating a friendly and supportive environment for LGBTQ people on campus. They spearheaded an initiative to create campus-wide gender inclusive bathrooms, the second phase of which will be implemented this summer. And they created countless educational and social community-building programs.

One such program is TransActive, a Five College transgender support and social group that Deardorff began in fall 2014. “The group shaped my experience,” Deardorff says. “I was able to build community with other trans people, and connect over our various struggles and experiences.” In addition to Five College students, faculty and staff, members from the wider Pioneer Valley community often attend the group’s meetings.

Deardorff and Mullings also worked with Registrar Kathleen Kilventon to create new policies in support of LGBTQ students, faculty, staff and alumni. As a result of these efforts, students can now have their chosen names and pronouns listed on their college IDs and in their class rosters. And alumni who’ve changed their names can now contact the registrar and request new diplomas listing their chosen name. 

Angie Tissi-Gassoway, Nayah Mullings and Saren Deardorff pose in front of a rainbow flag and don black Tshirts that read "Advocate, Support, Love"
Angie Tissi-Gassoway, Nayah Mullings '17 and Saren Deardorff '17 celebrating Pride Week in April 2017.

For both Deardorff and Mullings, this extracurricular interest in diversity, inclusion and social justice directly parallels their academic interests. Deardorff graduated with a major in sexuality, women’s and gender studies and black studies, and will soon begin a master’s program in social justice education at UMass Amherst. Mullings majored in sociology, completed a Five College certificate in African studies and will soon begin a master’s program at the Smith College School for Social Work.

“Thanks to their work, current and prospective LGBTQ students, faculty and staff can and will continue to see people like themselves living and thriving on this campus,” says Tissi-Gassoway.

The QRC is now working on a project about the queer history of Amherst College. It will soon release a documentary, Invisible No More: A Queer and Trans History at Amherst College, directed by Deardorff. “It was a two-year project,” he says, “and something I am incredibly proud of.” The film includes interviews with students, faculty, staff and alumni and highlights the historical and current narratives of queer and trans experiences on campus. In the meantime, a timeline of Queer History at Amherst is available on the QRC website.