Ai Nakamura and Abdullah Deen discovered SJSU’s PRIDE Center in their first days at SJSU, Nakamura during Admitted Spartan Day and Deen during freshman orientation. They both were interested in connecting with the LGBTQI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex) community at SJSU and in connecting with a mentor.
“I had no support system on campus – no family or friends,” said Deen, who identifies as gender queer and bisexual. “I wanted to create that by being part of the queer community.”
Deen was partnered with a mentor through the Peers in Pride program. Now a junior general business major, Deen is mentoring four new Spartans. Nakamura, a third-year computer science student who identifies as queer, also has four mentees. Nakamura stressed that the Peers in Pride program is a way to create a community for LGBTQI students while also drawing campus members to the PRIDE Center.
This fall, 13 mentors are working with 40 mentees. The Peers in Pride mentors undergo training with counselors from SJSU’s Counseling and Psychological Services to help them work with students who may be questioning their sexual orientation or gender, or who are dealing with personal challenges, such as lack of family support. They are trained about campus resources – both personal and academic – that they can refer students to when they need additional support. The mentors work with mentees during the fall semester, planning group activities at the PRIDE Center and also engaging one-on-one. Activities include barbecues, game nights and other monthly events.
“It’s nice to be able to pay it forward,” said Nakamura. “All throughout high school when I started questioning I had so many mentors, including counselors and an LGBTQ coordinator…It’s my turn to say it will be okay.”
Deen, who has not come out to family members, and Nakamura, who has told select relatives, understand the pressures other students may face. Nakamura described one student who came out right before college whose family cut them off financially. The student was concerned about how they would be able to afford college.
“Some students who haven’t come out yet aren’t sure their friends are going to accept them,” Nakamura said. “They are worried teachers will treat them differently, or they won’t have the same access to resources.”
Deen said another struggle is that students who are not out with their families can’t share some of their achievements such as participating in the Peers in Pride program. Nakamura and Deen both agreed that a big part of the program is helping other students connect to the LGBTQI community. In addition to involvement in Peers in Pride, Deen is active in the student organization Queer and Asian. With the Pride Center, the group is planning a Queer Prom in the spring on March 24.
““Every new mentee is a different story,” Nakamura said. “We get this beautiful opportunity to learn about them. Their story is not the same as your story, but we work to find an optimal solution. The big point is to connect to the community that is already here. We hear similar stories.”