LGBTQIA+ students interested in attending Duke might have no idea what the community is like at the University—a few Duke students are looking to change that.

During the first weekend of Blue Devil Days 2019, Duke will host its first official LGBTQIA+ and allies invitational weekend for potential first-years. Spearheaded by juniors Maryam Asenuga and Ivan Robles, the program will offer interested students the opportunity to interact with both the Duke and Durham LGBTQIA+ communities. Students are not required to identify as LGBTQIA+ to participate in the program, which is also open to allies.

“In a nutshell, this program aims to offer a space for LGBTQIA+ and allied students to visit Duke and experience the campus and the community in a way that is catered to an LGBTQIA+ perspective," Robles said. "We want prospective students to know that there is a community and a space for them here at Duke, and that the Duke family as a whole wants to invite them into these spaces.” 

This past spring, Asenuga and Robles worked with the Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity, the Office of Undergraduate Admissions and Blue Devils United to create a pilot of this program, which was held during Blue Devil Days 2018. The pilot was a success, so it will be expanded into a day and a half of programming April 17-18. 

During the invitational weekend, students will participate in a range of activities, allowing them to interact with current students, faculty and members of the Durham community. Events will include an ice cream social, karaoke night and a panel comprising faculty, staff and students. 

The organizers are also striving to ensure that there are opportunities for students to express concerns and questions they may have regarding life at Duke and receive honest answers. Asenuga said there'd be an "Honesty Hour" for prospective students to ask "brutally honest" questions about Duke. 

“We want to encourage students to come to Duke and highlight the many wonderful aspects of the LGBTQIA+ community here, while also being candid about some of the struggles that we have had,” Robles said.

Asenuga added that they want to connect students with LGBTQIA+ alumni and Durham organizations, so they can have a better understanding of what life is like after graduating.

“We would love to incorporate alumni involvement into this invitational so that prospective students can ask people who are queer and have left Duke about life after Duke, asking them questions such as ‘What has it been like finding employment, excelling and having a job as a LGBTQIA+ person?’" she said.

Those working on this program have taken several steps to ensure the safety of students attending. These steps include partnering with the admissions office to thoroughly vet those who apply to host students during this invitational. 

In addition, organizers are taking precautions to protect the privacy of students who may wish to attend the invitational but do not wish to come out to their families. For example, participants will be able to opt out of having their picture taken during the event, and information concerning the program will be sent to all students, rather than exclusively to those who identify as LGBTQIA+ on their admissions form. 

Asenuga explained how she would like to see the program grow in the future.  

“Moving forward, we would like to create programming which would help alleviate concerns of parents who may worry about their students’ safety within and acceptance into the Duke community," she said. "One thing I also want to ensure is that a diverse group of individuals, not only sexually, but racially and ethnically, feel comfortable participating in this program and that programming is incorporated to reach out to those in these disparate communities.” 

Robles said he has seen genuine excitement from students about the program. 

"I’m hoping as this program continues to grow, develop, and better itself, that it will one day become a program students can look at and say ‘I’m going to apply to Duke, and I know that I will be accepted there. I know that I will be safe there,’” Robles said.