CHEL Learning Community Gives LGBTQIA+ Students Specialized Education, Dedicated Support

A Zoom class of Southwestern College's CHEL learning community.
A Zoom class of Southwestern College’s CHEL learning community.

For decades, Southwestern College’s learning communities have created unique and equity-focused education and opportunities for Southwestern College students. 

This fall semester, Southwestern College added one more student learning community to expand its mission to build community and advance equity inside and outside the classroom. CHEL is Southwestern College’s brand new learning community focused on serving LGBTQIA+ students and focusing on LGBTQIA+ issues and education.

CHEL is the first learning community of its kind at Southwestern College. Learning communities at Southwestern College, like Puente and UMOJA, create a cohort of students and create a specialized support community, including a dedicated counselor, staff and faculty.

“My hope is that our CHEL students gain the confidence in our classes to be open about who they are,” said Kimi Rodriguez-McSwain, counselor and CHEL program coordinator. “My hope is that we build a strong foundation for other LGBTQIA+ students on campus and that our students are seen and heard on campus.”

After a successful first semester, CHEL, which is a Mayan and Aztec word for rainbow, is now accepting applications for the spring 2021 semester. After consultation with Rodriguez-McSwain, students will enroll in two linked classes for the spring semester: Personal Development 114 and Reading 158, both general education transfer courses. 

Interested students can fill out a Google Form or email for more information about the program. 

“Our learning communities are beacons of equity and models of success at Southwestern College,” said Superintendent/President Dr. Kindred Murillo. “Through these programs, we learn more about our students, what services they need, how to close equity gaps and how to better serve our diverse communities.”

One of the first students in the CHEL cohort is Giana Alexa Vizcocho, a first-year Southwestern College student. Vizcocho enrolled in CHEL’s Personal Development 100 and Child Development 170 for the fall semester and said the two linked classes helped give her an immediate sense of community and belonging at Southwestern College. 

“Through CHEL and our discussions, we learned a lot about each other, ourselves, what it meant to be a part of the LGBTQIA+ community and also what it meant to be a person,” Vizcocho said. “In the Child Development class, we looked back on our experiences as children and thought about why we may be the way we are right now. In the Personal Development class, we learned what our strengths and weaknesses are. So CHEL really helps you realize who you are as a person.”

As a counselor, Rodriguez-McSwain incorporates a full counseling aspect into her Personal Development course and into the CHEL community. In addition to education planning, helping choose classes and career research, Rodriguez-McSwain developed the CHEL Personal Development class to give students a chance to talk about LGBTQIA+ issues, experiences and lifestyles.

“It’s important that we build community in the classroom,” Rodriguez-McSwain said. “It’s important that we understand who we are and we learn to understand each other.” 

While it may only be a semester in, Rodriguez-McSwain has big plans for CHEL, especially when the world opens back up again, including expanding the program to allow more students in. She plans to advocate for a dedicated space for CHEL and LGBTQIA+ students, plan university tours, attend LGBTQIA+ conferences and create a student club to serve more students like Vizcocho.

“Being a part of CHEL and being a part of this community really helped me gain a sense of belonging at Southwestern College,” Vizcocho said. “CHEL is very important to me and the well-being of my fellow students is very important to me.”