When Jamie Cahill (C ’22) of Spokane, Washington and Shana Vaid (C ’21) of Patterson, California came to Penn, they both found smaller communities on campus that gave them a sense of belonging. For Jamie, it was her job as a barista at Williams Café and for Shana it was the Penn Band. Yet they both recognized a lack of community among queer women.
“There’s been a sad state of affairs for the lady-loving ladies community," Jamie explains.
This lack of a sense of community among queer women was echoed online by other women on Penn’s campus.
“There were all those Penn Crushes posts! There were just so many post of lesbians being like ‘Where are the queer women at?’”
Realizing that they weren’t alone in these feelings led Shana and Jamie to reboot Sappho, a social group for queer women, to build a stronger sense of community among women who love women on campus.
Shana notes that before they decided to reboot the organization there wasn’t an organization specifically for queer women.
“It’s hard to find other queer women. Because we don’t have a community, but now we do,” Shana adds.
“A lot of the spaces that are created for LGBT people tend to be kind of male–dominated still," Jamie explains further. "So it becomes a little bit difficult to create that kind of space for queer women.”
Jamie explained that when she first came to campus last year she had heard about Sappho, but missed the opportunity to get involved before it dissolved.
“Sappho existed before, when I was a freshman. I came in [to Penn] and it felt like it immediately disbanded. It was such a cool idea, I thought, why did this stop?”
Shana, who had more time on–campus to learn about the organization, remembers that, “There seemed to be no one willing to run it, because the people who had been running it were seniors and were very busy.”
Luckily for both Shana and Jamie, who were eager to revitalize this necessary organization, the process was not too difficult. Shana was able to contact the original women running the club to become administrators for the already existing Sappho Facebook group and then contacted Erin Cross, the LGBT Center’s Director, to get a new Listserv started and sent out on the Lambda Alliance, Penn's umbrella LGBT organization, newsletter.
“We were able to get it SAC–funded just by rebooting it. We were already Lambda–approved and we already had a Facebook page. We were already connected in those ways. It was all about just restarting it and getting people who are new to the school in there," Jamie says. "Getting the word out that it’s active again.”
Shana and Jamie successfully held the first GBM for Sappho on Jan. 30, and they noted they had a great turnout with women from all undergraduate years excited to meet new people. In addition to the chance to just hang out, talk, and get to know each other, this first meeting was an important opportunity for Shana and Jamie to get to know how other women wanted the direction of the group to go.
“Initially we were just kind of willing to do more GBMs and things like those. But we’ve seen some interest in tea times, getting coffee and just getting to know each other. Just having a community, which is something we sorely need," Jamie says.
They both hope that future events will be a mixture of bigger, more formal events and some “more casual hangouts.”
In the past, neither Shana nor Jamie had been very involved with the LGBT Center, although, both of them noted that they had always had a strong interest in getting more involved. Shana notes that in the past there weren’t many social opportunities specifically for undergraduate queer students.
“I think there’s been things for queer women who are graduate students. I remember seeing a Happy Hour or something, and I was like, 'oh I can’t go to that,'” Shana says.
Jamie adds, “There’s not much for undergraduate queer women as far as social, fun things.”
“I’ve had people text or talk to me about this, but they specifically came to Penn because they wanted a stronger LGBT community, and that’s what I want to do. I sort of felt that way to, I wanted to have my thing, my club, those people that I wanted to do fun things with and I needed this niche community for me. I hope the other people joining will feel that way," she continues.
Shana echoes a similar sentiment. “It should be more of a safe space for people to meet each other.”
Both women hope that Sappho will serve as a "happy place" for queer women no matter how they view their identity.
“We go out of our way to make sure that everything can be as anonymous as possible. Our Facebook group is a secret group so no one can see if you’re in it unless they’re also in it. The GroupMe is private. There’s no way for it to be completely anonymous, but we try to make it as welcoming as possible for people who are closeted or questioning or whatever to make sure they still have access to the information," Jamie explains.
Jamie and Shana can be reached by any women who are interested in getting more involved in Sappho to email firstname.lastname@example.org. In addition, they hope to have more queer women get involved as board members to help steer the group’s direction.
To Jamie, these events are "especially important when you’re queer to have people to relate to and talk to about your frustrations, or different things related to that identity. If you don’t have that it can start to feel really lonely. There’s a special kind of need for community in that sense."