Vic Spencer, Director of The Q Center
While growing up in rural Kentucky, the kid known as Victoria Spencer instinctively knew they didn’t fit in, though it would take a few years to fully understand why.
Society’s definitions took a while to catch up with their own exploration of self, including the eventual transition to introducing Vic Spencer who uses they and them as their pronouns and identifies as non-binary and gender queer.
“The climate of where I grew up was very much people just didn’t know,” Spencer said. “A lot of them, it was simply the information was not available. It was not talked about in our health classes, among people in the area, and there were very few, if any, openly gay adults.
“The sort of backward way this gets back to me is I find a lot more patience and empathy for people who are trying to learn.”
Spencer started at Purdue University Fort Wayne in 2014 as an advisor to the student government association. Three years ago, they became director of The Q Center, which opened in 2007 to provide support, community, advocacy, and a safe space for LGBTQIA+ students, faculty, and staff at PFW and IU Fort Wayne. It’s the only such center in northeast Indiana, including colleges and communities, according to Spencer. That’s one reason why they love taking part annually in Fort Wayne’s Pride Fest.
“For us, it’s a nice way to connect with young people in the community and show them we are here, and we are a resource for you so come to Purdue Fort Wayne,” Spencer said.
Essentially, Spencer’s position is to provide a resource and a calm during what can already be a trying environment of study, transitioning to adulthood, independence, and various other factors. They are someone to talk to who’s been there who can guide and mentor and give a different perspective and provide a safe space away from whatever else may be challenging someone. The Q Center is inclusive, non-judging, accessible, and affirming — essentially, it’s a haven.
As an example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the center introduced a Discord server that provided a messaging platform allowing anyone to communicate and keep in touch when being isolated was already a challenge.
Based on new intake survey information collected over the past four or five years, Spencer said LGBTQIA+ students are estimated to comprise between 15% to 20% of the PFW student population. Those numbers are growing, in part, because students are more confident and comfortable understanding and sharing their designations.
“We’ve always been here, but so many young people did not have access to the language to describe their experiences, did not have the role models to show that it was okay and safe to live their authentic lives,” Spencer said. “We are finally getting to a place where it is much safer and accepting for people to be their true, authentic selves.”
Spencer attended the University of Louisville, studying humanities as an undergrad before earning a master’s degree in educational counseling. Since taking over The Q Center in summer 2019, they’ve seen it move to Room 215 in Walb Union, providing more space for more resources and also more staffing, adding a full-time program assistant position. It’s allowed the center to accrue a fascinating collection of reading material that can provide insight and answer almost any question.
“You are welcome here,” Spencer said. “This is a place for everybody, this space is a resource for people who are part of the community and for people who are not part of the community. We are here for allies and for people in every stage of their experience. We are an educational resource. We create a safe space and empower.”
There’s also been opportunity to reach into the community, providing SafeZone Certification program instruction for teachers in training and students at other campuses. At least locally, there’s nowhere else to receive it or anyone else to teach it, Spencer explains.
All of those duties and responsibilities are incredibly important to Spencer, who remembers growing up without anyone or any similar resource to help. Each person who walks through The Q Center door has to set the pace for their own journey, Spencer said, but there’s a benefit of having staff members who can use their own experiences to relate and maybe share the benefit of the challenges they’ve already faced.
“I have the best job in the world,” Spencer said. “It can often be very draining, very emotionally draining, often very mentally draining, but I am able to come in every day and do something that is impactful and has real value and meaning for young people. I am providing an example of you can be different and live a fulfilling, happy life and be successful and lead a department and do all of these things. There is a future. It does get better.”