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The Office of LGBTQIA Education and Engagement's theme for the 2021 Big 12 LGBTQIA and Allies Summit is refraction. 

The Texas Tech Office of LGBTQIA Education and Engagement will host its 4th annual Big 12 LGBTQIA and Allies Summit on Feb. 26-27. The summit will bring people from across the country together to strengthen the collegiate LGBTQIA communities.

Started by Tech in 2017, this summit "brings together participants to network with other leaders and community organizers, engage with social justice advocates through educational programming and learn from trailblazing professionals for LGBTQIA equality on the national stage," according to the Office of LGBTQIA Education & Engagement’s website.

“The summit was created as an opportunity to dive deeper into academic and practice-space topics related to LGBTQIA issues, gender, sexuality and allyship, but also to bring together folks from across the state and across the region,” Stephen Chao, administrator of Tech’s Office of LGBTQIA Education & Engagement and a member of the summit’s planning committee, said.

This year’s summit will be completely virtual for the first time due to COVID-19.

“As challenging as navigating the virtual space has been, we’ve found that it has created a lot of interesting opportunities. We have such a wide range of attendees (this year) because they can join us online,” Chao said.

Though the summit is called the Big 12 LGBTQIA and Allies Summit, participation is open to everyone and is not limited to schools in the Big 12, Chao said. Participants this year include people from California, Michigan and Iowa.

"We get to interact and engage with people who may not be from West Texas and that’s a big shift that I think is necessary to being aware of what other schools are doing (for the LGBTQIA community) and different issues in different states,” Patricia Earl, senior academic advisor and business assistant for the Tech School of Art, said.

The theme for this year’s summit is “Refraction,” according to the Office of LGBTQIA Education and Engagement’s website.

“We came up with the theme of refraction given the way that we’ve all had to change direction and accommodate for a challenging year. When you think of light hitting a prism and the way the light has to bend and change direction (to make a rainbow), we thought it was an apt metaphor for the way that we’ve had to pivot and change with everything going on,” Chao said.

With this theme, some of the topics that will be discussed during the summit are racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia, which have been prevalent in the past year. There will also be discussion on how COVID-19 has impacted the LGBTQIA community.

The summit consists of educational sessions, affinity group gatherings, social and networking opportunities and presentations from keynote speakers. The summit will also host a poetry slam and book discussion series, according to the Office of LGBTQIA Education & Engagement website.

“The summit provides a space to come together and collaborate,” Earl said. “It’s a compliment to show that the work being done by the LGBTQIA community and their allies is making headway and a difference.”

The summit also provides an opportunity for educators and administrators of different schools to share ideas and practices from their campuses to inspire and help better support and empower their LGBTQIA students and community, Kirsten Cook, an associate professor of accounting at Tech, said.

“It’s all about bringing together diverse perspectives, and the summit is a great opportunity to have a conversation about different takes and angles on practices that may help us be better on our own campuses,” Cook said.

Overall, the goal of the summit is to engage with and foster support for collegiate LGBTQIA students and allies.

“It’s been really inspiring to see the way that students have been able to learn from folks out there making change and then being inspired to make change on campus,” Chao said.

Through programs such as the Big 12 LGBTQIA and Allies Summit, the Office of LGBTQIA Education & Engagement has taken Tech from a two-star rating on the campus equality scale to a five-star rating, Cook said.

“The sense of community and collaboration has always been on campus,” Earl said. “Something the summit has done is bring a focus and a spotlight to the work that’s been done but also enabled the community to come together and do more.”

Late registration for the Big 12 LGBTQIA and Allies Summit opened Feb. 15 and costs $35 to register. The summit will begin Feb. 26 and go through Feb. 27.

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