When Mellissa Linton heard about the Queer and Ally Student Assembly (QuASA) during her freshman year at USC, she had no idea of the impact it would have on her life.
QuASA is one of eight assemblies comprising the student-run USC Program Board, an organization part of the Undergraduate Student Government that promotes diversity, education and entertainment through event programming.
It was during an organizational meeting that Linton discovered something about herself.
“A lot of people say they knew they were gay or lesbian when they were kids,” said Linton, a junior double majoring in English, and American studies and ethnicity. “I didn’t know until I was 19 when I came to USC and went to a QuASA meeting. Being queer wasn’t even on my radar because I went to Catholic school my whole life, so the environment just didn’t allow that to be a possibility for me.”
By her sophomore year, Linton held a position on the assembly’s executive board. She came out as bisexual but later felt queer was a more fitting identity.
“I started to realize I was in this closet that I never even knew existed, and I was just standing there without the light on,” she said. “QuASA really facilitated a lot of my discovery and journey in such a way where I could explore what I wanted to do and who I wanted to be without fearing that I wasn’t doing the right thing or being the right person.”
Wanting to give back to the organization, Linton decided to run for executive director. Once in office, she promptly began creating new programs, such as a monthly lecture series and an empowerment workshop series with guest speakers from several universities. She also continued the group’s tradition of hosting “No Gender November,” a series of programs aimed at educating students, faculty and staff about transgender issues.
Vincent Vigil, director of the LGBT Resource Center, said Linton’s programming revealed her passion for LGBTQ equality.
“Under her leadership, QuASA has created events to empower students, educate students about the LGBTQ intersection of identities, and facilitate academic dialogue between faculty and students,” he said.
Linton devotes about 20 hours each week to work on QuASA programs, facilitate meetings, oversee the 20-member executive board, and host events and workshops.
The Long Beach, Calif., native enjoys traveling and has gone to Nicaragua and Thailand with USC volunteer organizations. She also devotes her time to a research project about queer women in Los Angeles, for which she received a $1,500 grant from an undergraduate research fund.
“I hope that by the end of the year, I can look back and know that I’ve made sustainable change at USC, as in a shift in the campus climate,” Linton said. “I hope, looking back, I’ll feel very proud and happy about the work that I’ve done in creating a safe, educational, empowering, loving and healing community for LGBTQ students.”