Estancia Cota ’11 became the College’s third recipient of the John Plummer Memorial Scholarship for Promoting a Welcoming Campus for LGBT People last Sunday. The scholarship, which is awarded annually on or near National Coming Out Day, which is Oct. 11 each year, is granted to a student who has helped to create a more welcoming atmosphere on campus for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer people. It honors John Plummer, a 1964 graduate of the College who was an advocate for LGBT rights and who served as a source of support and advice for LGBT students throughout his 40 years in the College’s finance office.
Cota’s efforts towards a more welcoming campus have mainly focused on greater racial and ethnic inclusion for students. As President of Proyecto Latino, she tries to create events that promote Latino/a cultures and presence in the United States. One of the group’s current projects is a Day of the Dead celebration during Family Weekend which will include a themed dance party at the Underground, an altar in Lowry Center and presentations from Professors Pam Frese of Anthropology and Heath Anderson of Archeology. Since Cota has assumed the presidency, the group’s membership has grown vastly from 54 members on the listserv to 94, and she has seen an improvement in member participation as well.
Cota is also in her second semester as the Secretary of Cultural Affairs and Diversity for the Student Government Association. One of Cota’s main efforts as Secretary has been to try to increase communication and collaboration between the different religious and ethnic groups on campus. As a result of her efforts, the Black Student Association, CaribConnect, Proyecto Latino, Women of Images and NAACP hope to work together this year in some way, possibly putting together a Martin Luther King Jr. event in collaboration with the Center for Diversity and Global Engagement. Also, Cota is interested in having a forum with students of color to discuss the atmosphere on campus, including incidents of racism they have encountered on campus or in the community, how they feel they “fit” on campus, and how they can help first-year students adjust.
Since her first year on campus, Cota has participated in the GLCA Students of Color Leadership Conference, an event which is open to all students regardless of race. At her first conference in 2008, Cota presented a paper on race, and she has been a participant every year since. Last year, it was hosted at Oberlin College, and she has stayed in touch with some Oberlin students. They hope to be able to attend each other’s events and to work together to promote awareness, especially about issues such as the Dream Act and immigration reform.
During her first year, Cota also made presentations to Campus Council advocating for a more inclusive group. Only certain groups have permanent seats on Campus Council, including BSA, but she thinks that it is a mistake to assume that one group can represent the interests of all students of color on campus. She feels that a greater diversity of student groups should be represented, including Allies and Queers, to ensure that everyone has a voice. “I think that the College’s idea of diversity is still in this very black and white paradigmÖthey’re inadvertently ignoring or not recognizing the rights of other cultural groups or ethnic groups on campus,” said Cota.
An anthropology major and history minor, Cota’s Independent Study investigates identity politics between students of color on campus and the College of Wooster. She will examine how students identify themselves ethnically versus how the College identifies them. She will then explore what services are available to these students and see if the services are effective.
After her project is complete, she hopes to be able to make recommendations to the College that can start a dialogue about these issues.
After learning she would receive the award, Cota said, “It gets really exhausting at times trying to advocate for change, especially racially or ethnically on campusÖ Sometimes you feel like there’s no hope, but things like this come up and you’re recognized for what you’re trying to do on campus, it just makes it feel well worth it. And I love this campus. It’s sad to be leaving it.”