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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

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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 https://vimeo.com/331483480


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

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: https://lgbtq.ink/jjqsite

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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