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Wednesday, September 27, 2023

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San Diego State University graduate student Lily Hopkins will be supervising The Pride Center’s Pride House peer mentorship program. San Diego State University graduate student Lily Hopkins will be supervising The Pride Center’s Pride House peer mentorship program.

Celebrating PRIDE: SDSU’s Pride House Program

"Safe Space" aren't just buzzwords for SDSU grad school student Lily Hopkins, a Pride House mentor. Creating safe spaces has been a big part of her life for seven years.
By Aaron Burgin

“Safe space” is not merely a buzzword for San Diego State University graduate student Lily Hopkins, who’s spent the better part of the past seven years creating them.

Hopkins, who worked last year in The Pride Center’s Pride House peer mentorship program, will return in the fall as the graduate assistant supervising and training all of the Pride House mentors. 

Before coming to SDSU in 2018 for their undergraduate degree, Hopkins helped found the LGBTQ club at Cosumnes Oaks High School in Elk Grove, near Sacramento, and served as its president during their senior year. 

“Working as a mentor at The Pride Center has been fantastic,” Hopkins said. “It has given me a chance to connect with the queer community and SDSU in general. As a mentor, you meet a lot of queer high school students who may not have been as fortunate as me to have a safe space on their high school campus to express themselves, and I get to provide that space.”

Hopkins, who majored in interdisciplinary studies with the psychology, graphic design, and history Departments, said they originally chose SDSU for its marching band program — they played the clarinet since middle school. 

And while the Marching Aztecs provided a place to make new friends when they arrived on campus, Hopkins said the campus LGBTQIA+ community proved to be invaluable. 

“The SDSU LGBTQIA+ community has been infinitely helpful to me in making connections and friends with other queer people, providing me a space to safely and more fully explore my identity, and given me a sense of purpose that will continue to motivate me and my career goals likely for the rest of my life,” Hopkins said. 

As a mentor, Hopkins said their job not only helped students with their self-discovery and provided them with resources, they also helped them return from COVID-19’s virtual realm to campus life. 

“A lot of my work was helping them to establish some normalcy,” Hopkins said. “We are back at school, and I want to help you figure things out and try not to stress, while simultaneously being there as a resource and a role model as an LGBTQIA+ student – letting them know ‘Hey, I’m queer, and I’ve gotten to this point. So can you.’”

Mentors and mentees connecting on both academics and college life is why peer mentoring is considered a practice that helps students stay in school, earn higher grades and pursue academic achievement, said Caryl Montero-Adams, assistant dean of students for Student Life in the Division of Student Affairs and Campus Diversity.

“Students are often more confident and comfortable going to peers who share similar experiences,” she said, “and this provides the opportunity to receive enhanced support, which ultimately leads to student success and a more well-rounded experience.”

Hopkins said they felt grateful this past year to be a sounding board for their mentees at a time when some states are banning LGBTQIA+ discussions in schools. 

“As a mentor, I don’t shy away from mentioning something that is going on in the world. I ask ‘Would you like to talk about it or talk about how you feel?’” Hopkins said. “Some have taken me up on it, and they’ve expressed their fears and worries. I know that living in California, we’re relatively safe here, but the fear is still real.”

One of the most gratifying parts of the job has been seeing how the mentees are inspired to give back in a similar way. 

“Even now, I have prior mentees who applied to work at The Pride Center in the fall,” Hopkins said. “I love it, the next generation. Getting to work alongside them is going to be really exciting.”

One of those former mentees-turned-mentors is Milo Jared, a sophomore psychology major who wants to be a resource for incoming first-year students what Hopkins was for him.

“I think the biggest thing was just knowing that I had someone to talk to about anything I was struggling with,” Jared said. “It really helped a lot of my anxieties about starting college. They were always super-friendly and helpful during our meetings, and it made me feel a lot less alone.”

“I want to be that safe person for other people, because I know how scary it is to start college in a place that's unfamiliar. Especially as a queer person, you're not sure how accepting people will be or what resources you might have.”

Beyond graduate school, where Hopkins is obtaining their masters in Education: Counseling, Hopkins said they want to continue “educating and providing safe spaces” on a larger scale, possibly as a high school counselor, college adviser or at a public resource center.