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New Sexuality and Gender Alliance focuses on social change

For decades, St. Olaf College has had a student organization devoted to providing resources and events for LGBTQIA+ students. This fall, student leaders have changed the organization’s name and mission to better reflect the diverse identities on campus.

The Sexuality and Gender Alliance (SAGA) is a student organization representing the intersection of diverse identities at St. Olaf College with advocacy for LGBTQIA+ rights on campus and beyond. It evolved from the previous student organization GLOW (Gay, Lesbian, or Whatever!), which existed for several decades. The student organization’s new name represents a change in structure and goals, specifically a shift toward social change while remaining a safe space for all students.

 The new student leaders, Annika Werner ’21 and Ronan Murray ’21, see SAGA as an intersectional organization, focusing on all areas that impact sexuality and gender.

“I think our goal this year is to really start incorporating the idea that the personal is political, and the political is personal,” says Murray. For example, SAGA is already working in partnership with local representatives and advocacy groups to lobby the Minnesota Legislature in support of a proposal to ban conversion therapy.

While SAGA is situating itself on the front lines of change on a state level, its members are still strong in their commitment to Oles. “We want to be able to provide a space for LGBTQ students, but we also want to be able to empower other LGBTQ students to be able to create change on and off campus,” says Murray.

SAGA leaders Ronan Murray ’21 (left) and Annika Werner ’21 table at the student organization fair.

Werner says with the name change comes a renewed commitment to openness and acceptance. She emphasized that SAGA is working to welcome students on their own terms from across the gender and sexuality spectrums and specifically hopes to include more allies. Both also expressed that while St. Olaf is a safe place in general for LGBTQIA+ individuals, there exists a need for spaces reserved for students who are in the sexual and gender minority, and they have made it part of their mission to create those spaces through community and events.

Ronan Murray ’21We want to be able to provide a space for LGBTQ students, but we also want to be able to empower other LGBTQ students to be able to create change on and off campus.

Werner and Murray credit Jon Mergens, the assistant director for gender and sexuality in the St. Olaf Taylor Center for Equity and Inclusion, with helping them navigate the early stages of developing SAGA and encouraging cooperation with student organizations with related missions.

SAGA is also an organization devoted to partnership. “We’re all under the same umbrella,” says Werner of other campus organizations involved with gender and sexuality equality.

Both Werner and Murray are focused on delivering a message of hope and enthusiasm while acknowledging the inequality around them, and it is this combination that has positioned SAGA to inspire change on and beyond the Hill.

“For myself,” says Murray, “I find that having other LGBTQ friends on campus is very critical for me to be able to express some of my concerns, so we want to keep that component. We want to be able to make sure that people understand that they still have these spaces of love.” 

October is LGBTQIA+ history month. The Taylor Center and the Office of Alumni and Parent Relations will host a celebration of LGBTQIA+ history at St. Olaf the afternoon of Saturday, October 26, in addition to the events that student organizations such as SAGA and REPRESENT. are hosting throughout the month. St. Olaf also celebrated National Coming Out Day on October 11 and International Pronouns Day on October 16, and commemorated the 10th anniversary of LGBTQIA+ clergy in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.