Photo by Lisa Abitbol
AJ Guerrero, Wellesley’s coordinator for LGBTQ+ programs and services, had big plans for her new job when she arrived on campus in January 2020. She was imagining all sorts of events to support students and build community, like a pride prom. “All these things to really have students enjoy their time at Wellesley, and [help them feel] that they’re celebrated for their LGBTQ identity,” she says. And then—you’ve heard this story before—the pandemic hit, and her ideas were put on hold or reimagined.
These days, Guerrero connects with Wellesley students and colleagues from her home in Somerville, Mass., frequently while wearing a sling that holds her bow-tie-wearing cat, Butch. “He’s always dressed for work,” Guerrero says.
Working remotely wasn’t originally part of Guerrero’s plan, but one thing that has lived up to expectations is Wellesley students. Guerrero was drawn to the position at the College after hearing about its dedicated and passionate students from her friend Ayana McCoy, assistant director of the Science Center (see “The Science of Welcome”).
Guerrero came to Wellesley from Boston GLASS, where she worked as a therapist with primarily LGBTQ+ youth of color. But she also had experience working with college-aged students at Wheelock College during an internship, and she knew that she wanted to work in higher education again. “I just loved working with college students. You can really see their eyes shining whenever they learn something new about themselves,” she says.
One of the first things Guerrero learned about the LGBTQ+ community at Wellesley is how large it is. “It’s a normative experience for LGBTQ students to be at Wellesley. That’s wonderful. Some of them have told me that they don’t even think about it. You know, they just go to their Quidditch team and don’t even think about being gay, because a lot of the folks there are nonbinary or gay,” she says.
When the pandemic hit last March, Guerrero immediately thought about how students in the queer community would be affected. Many are out at Wellesley, but not at home. “That’s devastating to hear. They were out at Wellesley, they really found themselves, and then they have to hide themselves from their families,” Guerrero says. For some students, their homes simply aren’t safe because of their identities. “That’s one of the things I’m appreciative of Wellesley for. Even though half of our students are remote, there’s still that option to stay [on campus],” she says.
Guerrero’s goal is to cast as wide a net as possible with her office’s programming—reaching the students who are “out and proud” and those who are not, and students across their intersecting identities. “We want to make sure that our Black students feel like they’re being seen, and our Latinx queer students, and our Asian students, right? So it’s really just about a mix of different programs,” she says. Her student workers, called “Q connectors,” run their own smaller programs as well, both via Zoom and on campus in the Penthouse, the office’s community space on the fourth floor of Billings. Guerrero is also piloting a mentorship program where students are paired up with LGBTQ+ faculty or staff, to help them as they start thinking about their post-college lives, after they leave the Wellesley bubble.
While working at home means that Butch the cat can meet Wellesley students, Guerrero is eager to return to campus. “There’s something different [about] seeing students in person versus over Zoom. Their physical presence is almost glowing when you’re in [the same space] with them,” she says. Plus, she jokes, after a year of Zoom gatherings, she’s excited to see them in person “because they’ve only ever seen the top half of me.”