Sam Ascencio (He/They/Zir/Hir)

Blog Posts by CUNY Peer Leaders

A Leader Worth Noting

Posted by Sam Ascencio (He/They/Zir/Hir) on

My mentee Foluke has always been a team player and a hidden gem behind the scenes in the LGBTQ+ community at John Jay and in my program Q’onnections. I like to showcase Foluke a little bit with my post because I believe fully in his work and I want nothing more than for the world to see this gem at work.

Foluke started as chief of staff within spectra (The John Jay lgbtq+ club), and while he is still in that role, he has currently gone on to work with John Jay productions. In addition, he co-founded a non-for-profit called Revolution Mental that combines mental health advocacy, education, and a safe space for students and planning to start a mentoring program plus other mental health advocacy projects.

Foluke was also part of the first-ever cohort of Q’onnections, spectra’s queer mentoring program. Now Foluke is returning as a mentor for the second official cohort under John Jay’s Center For Student Involvement.

I decided to sit down with Foluke and get more information about his journey here at John Jay; here is what he had to say.

My journey at John Jay has been an interesting one. Transferring to John Jay last fall amid the pandemic to endure another year of online learning was something I was not looking forward to. Unfortunately, like many, 2020 was probably one of the worst years I’ve lived through and experienced despite the immense darkness, bleakness, and lost hope. Yet, there were a few glimmers of light that somehow kept me going. One was joining spectra. After reluctantly attending the involvement fair that year and honestly not wanting to be there, Looking back, I’m happy I did. During the fair, Sams’ energy and vibe ultimately drew me into a loving community that feels like a home full of excellent and various walks of life and experiences. I have made unique connections and relationships through spectra, and I wouldn’t change for the world. Through the involvement fair, I was also drawn to another club, JJ Productions, since I create music but wanted to learn the ins and outs of music production Shoutout to Artem for his intriguing presentation and background that day. As well as to Artem and Daniel for teaching me everything they know. I appreciate both of you.

Through Sam and spectra, I became involved in Q’onnections as a mentee, a common theme of hesitancy and reluctancy begins. I joined about a month into the program’s beginning. Although late to the party, being a part of Q’onncetions honestly couldn’t have come at a better time. My mentee experience occurred during my first semester here at John Jay. During this time, I was heavily defeated due to COVID, watching the world burn, and being involved in frequent turmoil. In addition to feeling very lost in life and struggling to figure out and truly accept who I am. Which I still struggle with from time to time, but thanks to Q’onncetions, that picture is slowly coming along and becoming transparent. So thank you, Sam. I truly appreciate you!

Returning to Q’onncetions as a mentor this semester is something I’m very excited about. Returning to and giving back to a program that has done and provided a lot for me, plus being able to help students like myself, is tremendous. To my mentees, you all are amazing, and I can’t wait to begin/continue our journey together. Although I’m very excited to return to Q’onnections. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t scared. Honestly, that sentiment can be applied to everything I’ve done here at John Jay. I never thought I would be in any of these positions, let alone starting a non-profit organization. After Q’onnections, I became an executive and served as the treasurer for JJ Productions. Once again, becoming a treasurer was met with immense hesitation and took a lot of convincing by those around me to do it. I was very reluctant because I am a huge perfectionist and very fearful of messing anything up. But as their treasurer for about two years now, it has been an interesting ride, to say the least.

To speak on my project a little, Revolution Mental began as a project within my Social Entrepreneurship 101 class during the 2021 Spring semester. The course was structured in which we, the students, select a social issue we are passionate about and want to reform. So my four other partners and I decided on Mental Health as our realm of focus. This in itself, albeit stressful, was a wonderful adventure to embark on, from conducting interviews with a multitude of experts within the field to deciding what products and services to provide, conducting and compiling research, website design, and more. Revolution Mental aims to provide mental health education and incorporate advocacy, awareness, support, and safe spaces for students. The plan is now to develop this further and spread this as far as I can. Built by students for students, feel free to check it out if you would like.

It truly surprises me from an introverted, quiet, and reserved kid to a still introverted but more outspoken individual. Honestly, everything I’ve done here up to this point has been an enormous surprise; frankly, I never saw myself becoming that kind of person or doing the things I am doing, but look at where we are today. But, of course, I couldn’t do it without many’s guidance, support, and love.

With this being my final semester, what is next for me? I’m not 100 percent sure. But I plan to attend grad school for either clinical or forensic mental health counseling. When will that happen? I have no clue, but hopefully, it will occur sooner than later. Additionally, I plan to get my other mental health advocacy projects off the ground while furthering Revolution Mental.

All in all, my two-year journey here has been life-altering, and I wouldn’t change anything. Thank you to everyone who aided and supported me along the way. You are all amazing. Thank you, to my spectra family, for all their support throughout everything, plus giving me this opportunity, and thank you all for reading.

Blog Posts by CUNY Peer Leaders

Stepping Off the Curb: Transformative Justice and Community Change in the little things

Posted by Sam Ascencio (He/They/Zir/Hir) on

What moves us to engagement is often less a reasoned evaluation of all possible options that bring us to a rational decsion and more a felt response: It just seems the right thing to do given what we see, hear, and experince…We need to do activsm in a way that acknowledges the power of the sensual and the emotional…the goal of actvism is action to generate an effect.

Duncombe, Stephen. Art of Activism. OR Books, 2021.

Until recently I hadn’t known how many ways I have made changes for my community so here are all the ways I learned to support mine.

Thanks to the book “Draw the Line”, “The Art of Activism”, and “We wear kicks to work” which helped me discover myself in this process. Learn more here: & &

Signing Petitions

Signing petitions might not feel like much but it has always been a crucial way to show representatives that your voice matters and can spark movement, action, and much more when you can see how many people stand by you.


Becoming a living billboard lets your personal become not only political but loud enough for others to feel safe enough to see, and know there is allyship to be found! Fight the power that is by becoming visual, political, creative, and spread your message to everyone!!

Shopping local

Being Kind to Others

Blog Posts by CUNY Peer Leaders

My Digital Friday Recap: Asserting your Identity in Higher Education

Posted by Sam Ascencio (He/They/Zir/Hir) on

What does it truly mean to advocate as a peer and assert your identity in higher education landscape that feels so restrictive?

On Friday November 5, 2021, more than 30 attendees came together to explore “Asserting your Identity in Higher Education: Reimaging Peer Advocacy.” In this special Digital Friday session, I discuss how to truly reimagine Peer Advocacy to create long-standing positive change. In this Squid Game themed presentation fellow attendees and I explore what it feels like to be a student in higher education. Time after time, we see educators who refuse to include the thought processes and experiences of their students within their curriculum or programming. And that can feel like a never-ending game of debt and stress. One that requires us to come up with “creative solutions” under extreme time constraints. Which usually that forces us into these fixed boxes. Eventually locking us into an endless cycle of I wish I did, I wish I was, and regret.

I examine Gestalt psychologist, Karl Duncker concept of functional fixedness or the tendency to overlook four types of features possessed by a problem object (parts, material, shape, and size) because of the functions closely associated with the objects. So that leaves us with the question of overcoming function fixedness and how we can use these experiences to become advocates. And if you were to ask me the best possible way to overcome personal fixedness, I’ll remind you that not embracing innovation will always serve as imprisonment of excellence! I also include aspects of abolitionism, a transformative justice which conceptualizes what it means to bridge social movements against racial, sexual, and gender violence at the individual and institution levels. When we let our fellow peers have creative freedom, we often find we’ll create counter spaces for protection, out of love, care, and resilience. If we were to take this further, we find that peers with guidance, mentorship, and resources can create the positive movements that are essential to foundation of abolition.

In 2014, I was told that I was considered the bottom rank this extremely elite academic high school. The verdict was clear that based on these ridged standards I had no future, no impact, no identity.  But I went on, applied and was accepted to college. I struggled hard and in 2015 due to extreme circumstances, I gave up on the school system. I decided being trans in college was hard, impossible and I could never do it. I dropped out–determined to never come back. As you can see, I am a liar and I am proud of that! It was peers around me who encouraged me to look beyond a degree and look for what was calling me and what I wanted.  I’m blessed to have randomly told myself that I should apply for everything that comes my way and had the opportunity to be a part of the CUNY Peer Leaders because it was there, I was able to reimagine my own experiences in education as something beyond the classroom. I used a basic portfolio program and resume tool to springboard into a movement. That’s the story of Q’onnections. That’s me, the founder and director of an amazing program that now pays students to educate each other on queer issues, and the college experience and a program that has a history of foster peers to advocate. To date, all peers who’ve taken part of this LGBTQ+ Center at John Jay College are now student leaders or pursuing PhDs. One graduating mentee made his goal to finish his career at John Jay as a queer mentor. More recently, I had the pleasure of seeing two peers speak about student leadership in their first conference at CCNY. 

Presentation Slide: Detractors of Dopeness

A presentation slide from my Digital Friday: Don’t be a detractor of dopeness. The early days of an idea matter because this is the time when they either grow or wilt. Students are silenced on campuses all across the board because they look different, have out of the box thinking and create colorful remixes to the archaic structures of our academic world. We are culture culminating curators or the lived experiences of the now and it will always be the peers who elevate advocate in a way that’s never been seen before.

Let’s use the tools we have to take a leap into the messy world of education and learning and create grassroots advocacy right from our laptops, phones and tablets. The most difficult and urgent challenge today is that of creatively exploring new terrains of justice where our old ideals no longer serves as our major anchor but that shouldn’t stop us from trying. It’s important to remember despite the role or position peers and students alike will always recognize authenticity.

Blog Posts by CUNY Peer Leaders

La Protagonizade Traumatizada: Tracing Intersectional Queer Truama For Future Heros

Posted by Sam Ascencio (He/They/Zir/Hir) on

La Protagonizade Traumatizada: Tracing Intersectional Queer Truama For Future Heros

Click here to play it in another tab

What’s something you think you’re an expert on?

This is a question I’ve been thinking about for a while now. You know, my topics always tend to be queer-centered. I think many of my topics tend to be queer-centered because when we talk about the queer experience when we talk about LGBTQ+ pedagogy and theories and such but I feel like there’s much more that encapsulates what we are actually looking to talk about. recently started learning about feminism and the ways that feminism can be radical and stratified and broken and intersectional and the concepts of slow violence cultural violence and direct violence and how this really relates to our ideas. And I’ve kind of been really reflecting on, you know the things that I think that I know.

I’ve been blessed to just be in the space with scholars and educators and advocates and activists, you know, an active learners, I’ve, I think that I’ve been an advocate, but it took me a really long time to claim the term advocate for myself. I think a lot of people tell me that I have a legacy. I’ve left a legacy but it’s hard to look back and say that I have a legacy when I think that I see all the smaller parts that come together. I think that’s important to recognize. I don’t think that I know very much about the queer experience you know if you had to ask me and if I was being honest I would tell you that I’m, I’m an ally first. I’m trans. Second, I’m queer second I’m gay. Second, I am an ally.And I think that the term ally is a lot of people say it’s a verb, I don’t I don’t think that it’s a verb. I think that it’s an experience. It’s a goal. It’s something you need to achieve, and it’s something you have to recognize and it’s something you have to be educated in.

A side profile of a woman in a russet-colored turtleneck and white bag. She looks up with her eyes closed.

“We are all experts in the trauma that our bodies tell us from the generations of people that we come from. We are experts in that trauma.”

— Haunter/Sam Ascencio

See L020A Sylvia Rivera, “Y’all Better Quiet Down” Original Authorized Video by LoveTapesCollective, 1973 Gay Pride Rally NYC

If I’m looking back on, you know, my experiences are tied to theirs.

The video of Sylvia Rivera at that rally talking about STARS, being booed on stage that’s an experience that I don’t think many of us in this younger generation can say that we have. Why do I want to stop thinking of these individuals is because I don’t want us as minoritized genders and sexualities to be lost in a singular story.

How do we bring these larger experiences into our conversations you know? My experiences are tied to theirs. I think that they have the experience of fighting for their lives of feeling fear of actually putting their lives on the line of standing at a protest, not knowing if they’re going to come home and in many ways that makes them my family. They make me what I am today because they give me the strength to do so. They’re not necessarily speaking to the population they are looking to serve, and this is what I am referring to when I’m an ally. This is why I say that I’m disappointed that I only have so many individuals that I see as the experts on this opinion. These are the authorities to me. My knowledge is generational because of them. My knowledge is on base because of them

This subject is not regarded as in good taste. I would honestly tell you it’s not, it’s not good to be queer.Why because how many individuals do you know with a PhD, specifically in LGBT studies, that are not under, you know, a women’s center banner under gender studies? So, when I reflect on this prompt, what do I consider myself an expert on. I would tell you that I’m an expert only on myself. I used to tell myself, you know, the only person I can as my heroe is my future self because that’s the only person I’m ever going to be. And yes, I can embody the traits of the people that I love, but in no way Will I ever be whatever hero you identify as you are never going to be them. You only be yourself but that doesn’t mean you can’t embody the things you appreciate the most. You are an amalgamation of those that you love and respect. We are all experts in the trauma that our bodies tell us from the generations of people that we come from. We are experts in that trauma.

Blog Posts by CUNY Peer Leaders

The Future is Queerer

Posted by Sam Ascencio (He/They/Zir/Hir) on

Reflections & Q’onnections

Two years ago I sat in the bullpen of John Jay’s student council. I exhaustedly slaved over project after LGBTQ+ support project. I wanted so badly to change something. The Student council president Amber Rivero nodded and held my chicken scratch notes: “No these are good Sam, yea you can do this keep fighting you and others deserve a seat at the table here.” I felt vindicated in my work, I craved more I wanted more. “Yea man nothing is stopping you just do it start it up.” Said my cohort leader Jon Salamak. I want to thank Student Academic Success programs Jay Chopra for helping me come up with a training program for my mentees.

Developing the program wasn’t easy, oftentimes I felt frustrated trying to figure out the path that the program NEEDED to take rather than where I wanted it to go. A lot of LGBTQ+ folx face a lot of interpersonal violence, mental strain, or this feeling they have to overachieve to be competitive in higher education. These are the types of things they don’t talk about when developing LGBTQ+ programs and how varied your obstacles are going to be. I wanted to tear my hair out sometimes I felt like I couldn’t get my mentors to get things done but that’s not on them. About 2 of my mentors went homeless and 4 got hospitalized for different reasons. It was frustrating, I’d be waking up at 8 am on Sundays trying my best to figure out last-minute changes. Most of my Sunday was just rallying everyone together to be ready for the morning and afternoon sessions. It was good having two sessions it let you understand when things needed to change or sometimes the energy difference meant you had to change up your facilitation style.

In the end, it paid off. All of the mentees created these really great projects! I mean I couldn’t imagine anyone failing them or these projects not getting these huge spotlights. These were topics I myself didn’t even think of! It blew me away.

We had this great graduation ceremony in and everyone had a great time. We were huddled together and like a real community and the smiles and feels were so genuine through the screen. The mentors loved their mentees and even though I personally felt I wasn’t rallying them enough in the end I found that that personal connection was still happening. These mentors called and stood by their mentees sides 24/7 and when mentees stopped showing up they were disappointed and hurt. That’s a realness you don’t get just anywhere.

In the end, Q’onections caught everyone on campus eyes they loved that grassroots action we took. The Center for Student involvement and Leadership fought to fund our mentors. I handed off the program to my club coordinator Jon and now it’s his forever. It’s a mainstay in John Jay and fully funded by a stipend. It actually pays to be queer now. What a world.

I think my favorite thing to come out of Q’onnections is all the feedback from students. One mentee named Eashan told me constantly about how he told his friends to join and wanted loved the program. When he finished he said:

“Q’onections has given me a sense of community and belonging. The program has allowed me to expand my knowledge on what it means to be apart of the LGBTQ+ community. Being a part of something with people who have dealt with the same or similar situations has allowed me to feel more seen. To future mentees, if you want to be an advocate for the LGBTQ+ community this is the place to be. You’re understood and seen by folx just like yourself and its truly a beautiful experience.” – Eashan [Queer Mentee]

The future is bright for mentees

Q’onnections Morgan Q’onnections project was on athletics inclusive, she went on to present her project to President Mason and is now head of the Student Pride Network at John Jay.

Why do you feel it’s essential that John Jay have a queer mentorship program like Q’onnections?
Going to college is hard. Queer individuals in general face additional difficulties that are hard to understand for those who haven’t experienced it. Q’onnections goes above and beyond your typical mentorship program. The program creates a space where mentees can receive guidance and learn more about their unique identities. It goes beyond academics and specifically addresses issues faced by LGBTQ+ individuals. In our current virtual world, and with the current political environment, queer students are feeling emotionally exhausted. Q’onnections offers students a safe space where they can be their authentic self, be supported and can learn and grow without any fear. Q’onnections is about love, support, and acceptance.

“Q’onnections is about love, support, and acceptance.” —Morgan DeGlopper

For students who are considering booking a meeting with a mentor, what do you want them to know?
It’s not as scary as you think it is. I know before joining Q’onnections, I was afraid I wasn’t knowledgeable enough about LGBTQ+ issues to relate. I was scared that the mentors would look down on me, but that wasn’t the case at all. The mentors are great at meeting you where you are and making you feel comfortable. They have a wealth of knowledge and have been training hard to make sure they can help. Don’t hesitate to reach out.

After the success of Q’onnections and their mentees went on to advocate for an LGBTQ+ center and policy reforms.

Here we see the presentation our students made for an LGBTQ+ center and the other project proposed by the team. As of currently 2/27/2021 nearly 80% of these projects are nearing their completion.

The Future

Honestly, I don’t know where Q’onnections or the new LGBTQ+ center are going to end up. I suppose I have mixed feelings about writing a page in John Jay history, you know I get to say that now. I created a milestone, I am in the history books for that one in a way. I don’t know where those particular projects will end up, they are officially apart of the community, and where they end up depends on the dedication they have to the projects themselves. What matters is our voice is heard. This isn’t the end for my projects, I’ve taken up a chair seat on a committee in USS now, of course, I had to! Our projects are CUNY-wide pronouns, databases, and a how-to guide for students who want to bring an LGBTQ+ center to their campuses. That’s big you know! We all have a stake in that one. I want to thank Dr.McSpadden from Bronx Community College for taking me under their wing as a mentee this past month. We are working on a dissertation for the argument of an LGBTQ+ major at John Jay, we think the campus is primed for it. I also want to thank Mitch Draizin for creating the CUNY LGBTQ+ advocacy academy, with my current acceptance into the program, Draizin asked that I bring my experience with Q’onnections to the advocacy program itself and help define the curriculum. I will help in the first cohort of LGBTQ+ advocates for CUNY and the chance to develop with fellow peers is both a dream and anxiety-inducing. I am hoping these kinds of projects gain traction nationally and internationally, I hadn’t considered the international audience here, but if we’re talking about equity for education I want to see more. I’d like Q’onnections to help bolster a LGBTQ+ college pipeline for NYC and international students. I can’t say what future I am looking forward too with my project because I am not sure where it really lies anymore. I think in a way I am my own project now and I need to hone that.

Blog Posts by CUNY Peer Leaders

Learning to Assert your Identity with Q’onnections

Posted by Sam Ascencio (He/They/Zir/Hir) on
Learning to Assert your Identity with Q’onnections

What is Q’onnections?

The goal is to inform LGBTQ+ students and connect them

A program under LGBTQ+ and allies club that pairs up LGBTQ+ students with LGBTQ+ peers.

The program aims to accomplish a sense of belonging within the college in students’ time at John Jay fostering growth, Community building, Advocacy, Leadership, Identity (C.A.L.I).

Blog Posts by CUNY Peer Leaders

Then I dropped two classes..

Posted by Sam Ascencio (He/They/Zir/Hir) on

I have been aching to submit my post for some time but, time is fleeting, as life always is isn’t it? Why, am I so late I ask myself even as I write this…but I know why it is because I am recovering from trauma. Being LGBTQ+ is never easy, being trans is even harder. I considered transitioning for a while, I remember looking in the mirror gently rubbing my chin as if some magic wizard might make me the male I saw myself as. During my time as a college student I faced a lot, the first-day jitters are less about fitting in and more about hoping I’ll come home alive. Now I rub my chin because I can feel the fist that slammed into my face less than a year ago when another student caught me off guard and punched me in the face. “I don’t care about your sexuality.” he hissed as I fell backwards slowly toward the ground I saw a group of students ready to remind me why I shouldn’t get up right there on my campus, right were I thought I belonged. Now I know I belong because I came back, I swallowed my fear, I stopped shaking and stomped on toward the the door at least…not this time. This time I logged onto zoom, a whirl and a click I sat empty and dazed working hours to support students as a Peer Success Coach in the warm summer’s pandemic months. Life seemed to trudge on despite the chaos around it and I asked myself…why should I not the do the same?

My song for this month “There is a place where we don’t have to feel alone…everytime that you call out you’re a little less alone. From across the silence your voice is heard.”

In the months before the world met its pseudo-zombie-like state, a spark ran in me…a report card for all of CUNY a place for all students, a welcome home for all the LGBTQ+ folx. Do we not deserve a welcome more than anyone else? In fact we should welcome the NEW “us” the one person we choose to be, not the birthright so many claim we should. College is the first time most us get to be who we truly are at least that’s what we’re told but that simply isn’t the case. Most times LGBTQ+ students are regulated to a small club or corner and used as a minority token to advance some agenda. I was tired of that, I wanted to help my fellow students the way I helped students at my job. We don’t get the right health education or a how-to guide on standing up for ourselves. I’ve seen too many students run away while I spit venom back, the venom rightly deserved at the masses who tried to cage my people.

I searched four-plus years now for the unicorn field, the place were all the LGBTQ+ students were free to be who they were. Where the magic of our identities and experiences shined. On the first day of the semester I mounted an attack, one that would be not come softly but in roar of enthusiasm. I drafted up Q’onnections an LGBTQ+ mentoring program that would pair LGBTQ+ students with other like minded students and push them to be advocates, leaders and champions for themselves. I rallied my fellow club mates and spent countless hours coming up with programing, ideas, concepts, drawings and more. I was acting as a director and student. I was respected in one space as the man rallying the charge and in my classes I was deadnamed for asking why I got a 75 on an assignment I fighting for perfection with everything I had and told I was starting up “discourse”. “Well it’s feminine on all your documents what do you expect?” They told me. “I am trying but it’s soooo hard.” They whined. I had enough, the toughest part of this semmester was being trans, it always was but this semmester would be diffrent. I dropped two classes and walked on.

The charge is on full speed, tomorrow is the fist day I train my mentors for battle. I am ready. See more about my idea here:

Till I find the unicorns find me with my head in the clouds. Till then I’ll keep walking…

Sam Ascencio 9/23/2020
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