Arden Song knows how valuable established spaces for 2SLGBTQIA+ students can be. As a first-year student in the Faculty of Engineering, Song joined EngiQueers, a group that provides an environment of mutual support for 2SLGBTQIA+ engineering students, to help define and defend safe spaces.

EngiQueers was a vital resource for Song during a time when she was beginning to question her sexuality and gender. “This was a space where I was finding myself,” she says. “I think it allowed me to realize that there are others, and they’re doing great.”

Song’s experience with EngiQueers gave her a deep understanding of the value of community. As a result, when the pandemic threatened to put a halt to the group, she was uniquely placed to ensure its survival.

A place to find community

Song started her journey at the University of Waterloo as an undergraduate student in the Management Engineering program. For Song, the beginning of university coincided with profound realizations around her gender identity. “I’m trans. When I came to Waterloo, I thought I was a straight cis guy, and that very quickly fell apart,” she says. Navigating this change in the new context of post-secondary education was immensely challenging. Although the wider engineering community was broadly welcoming, Song needed a place to connect with other 2SLGBTQIA+ students.

EngiQueers is a nationwide network of queer engineering students and allies. At Waterloo the group is focused on providing opportunities for students to socialize and feel at home. Informal meetings are held weekly, where the group organizes educational sessions and special events, periodically. “For us, it’s a space where you can show up and do homework or just chat or relax,” says Song. Through attending regular meetings, she was able to find community and a very important support network. That’s why Song decided to take on a leadership role in the organization, eventually becoming a two-term president.

Reviving and reenergizing

Pandemic restrictions forced EngiQueers to move their activities online which greatly reduced the cohesion and effectiveness of the group. Faced with declining participation, Song did her best to keep the group active. “It was very difficult to get engagement during that time,” she says. “There is definitely a world where EngiQueers just died in 2022. I would show up in the Discord group and be the only person there.”

When restrictions began to ease, Song was eager for the opportunity to reenergize EngiQueers. “At that time, I was one of the few people who had been there before COVID-19,” she says. “I was the only one who remembered what it was like before.” Song reestablished weekly in-person meetings offering pizza and sharing the traditions of EngiQueers with a new group of students. She also supported Waterloo Engineering Society’s (EngSoc) participation in the Toronto Pride Parade. “I felt like it was my responsibility as president to keep this together,” she says. “I wanted this space to exist for everyone who comes after me.”

Continued support

Song’s efforts, along with the enthusiasm of a new cohort of 2SLGBTQIA+ students, has revitalized EngiQueers. Weekly meetings are well attended, and the organization is looking to expand their activities. Although no longer in a leadership role, Song still supports the group’s outreach efforts, promoting EngiQueers to new students and high schoolers thinking of attending Waterloo.

Now a master’s student in the Department of Management Science and Engineering, Song has become a mentor within the group. “I try to be the person I would have wanted to meet in first year,” she says. “I’m not president anymore, I just turn up and have fun. It’s lovely to see all these younger people working together and keeping everything running.”