When two-time Blugold alumnus Christopher Jorgenson reflects on his lengthy history with UW-Eau Claire, the Waupaca native recalls the prideful moment in Towers South, Room 530 to be exact, that changed his life forever.
“When I came out at 19 years old on campus, coming out for me was just another important aspect of who I was. It didn’t require explanation or begging for understanding. It simply was who I was,” Jorgenson says.
After leaving UW-Eau Claire at 23, without having graduated, Jorgenson moved to San Diego, and later Los Angeles, living there for nearly a decade before returning to his stomping grounds at UW-Eau Claire. On a mission to tie up loose ends, Jorgenson completed his bachelor's degree in 2010 and then his master's degree in 2012, both in English literature.
“It was interesting to have left and come back, even though it hadn’t been that long, and find that the institutional priorities had changed drastically,” Jorgenson says. “UW-Eau Claire was ready for change.”
During Jorgenson's tenure as director of UW-Eau Claire's Gender & Sexuality Resource Center, the university has come a long way in regard to LGBTQIA+ inclusivity, and it’s poised to go so much further, Jorgenson says, noting UW-Eau Claire’s No. 3 spot in the College Choice national rankings for the 50 best colleges for LGBTQ students in 2017, as well as being rated best in Wisconsin for LGBTQIA+ inclusivity in 2019 for the second consecutive year.
While Jorgenson is proud of these recognitions, he says there’s still work to do.
“I treat these rankings as potentially ephemeral. They are a semicolon. They are not a period. For us to really invest in the longevity of what those rankings mean, we have to do the work.”
Doing the work is what Jorgenson put into play beginning in 2011 when he curated what has become one of the biggest events on campus that celebrates people of all identities: The Fire Ball.
“There’s so much love in the room, and I love that. That to me is something that the queer community never takes for granted because, too often in our lives, we don’t feel loved. We feel discrimination. We feel judgment. We feel the opposite end of love. To be able to surround ourselves with community and celebrate who we are while celebrating the intersectional identities that comprise of our community is an incredible experience for me.”
The Fire Ball represents the exuberance and energy that Jorgenson has for his work, saying the event is a symbolic statement that moves the needle on campus culture and climate.
“People come to The Fire Ball embracing the tagline of the event, 'Come as you are. Come as you want to be.' We have so many people who come to the The Fire Ball who are in drag for the first time, or, who are playing around with gender expressions that reflect who they are and can do so in a supportive environment. And, for the very first time, it’s where they feel they can do that. It also affords attendees an opportunity to examine the roles they play in either perpetuating or interrogating systemic oppression, as we regularly highlight movements like #blacklivesmatter and #metoo throughout the evening. It performs a very important function on our campus and in the greater community.”
Jorgenson is proud to see Blugolds seek the support of The Bridge LGBTQIA+ Resource Center in Davies Center and in turn gain the knowledge and confidence to support their peers.
“It’s so invigorating to see students who come and go in your life, personally and professionally, to see them where they’re at when they get here, and how they’ve grown in what is ultimately a very short amount of time — the sense of confidence, the comfort in one’s own skin, the openness with which our students share their experiences, share their worries, anxieties and fears,” Jorgenson says.
“I tell my students every day that there will never be a shortage of people, who for whatever reason, hate you for who you are. But it’s so important to remember, that that says everything about them and nothing about you — that we get to define ourselves. We get to define what we value, and we get to decide what energy we expend on the people around us and in our lives.”