Mica Barrett ’23 Turns the Spotlight on LA’s Queer Black Ballroom Scene

By Emily Glory Peters

Mica Barrett '23 scripps college racial justice and equity fellow
Mica Barrett ’23 is one of Scripps’ 2022–23 Racial Justice and Equity Fellows

As a first-year student, Mica Barrett ’23 (they/them) was drawn to Scripps by the promise of a diverse array of interdisciplinary majors in an intimate liberal arts setting. Now, the rising senior is living proof of that promise—and is putting their double major in history and digital media studies to work as one of Scripps’ newest Racial Justice and Equity Fellows.

Funded by a generous gift from Scripps parent and Trustee Gale Picker P’14, P’19, the fellowship awards grants to students and faculty conducting scholarship on racial justice, equity, criminal justice reform, and other fields. Earlier this year, the College named Barrett, Molly Yeselson ’23, and Lizbeth Valdivia-Jauregui ’22 as members of the fellowship’s second cohort. Barrett names the experiences in their history classes and community-based media projects as the inspiration for applying.

“In these courses, we interrogated the sociocultural and racial position of academia in relation to the communities it claims to serve. Through my experience as a student of the discipline, having a lack of historical resources from members of cultural communities limits further specificity in study,” they explain. “I applied for the Racial Justice and Equity fellowship to support my development of a digital cultural archive that will preserve and amplify the history of our local queer and predominantly Black community.”

Barrett has narrowed the project’s focus on Los Angeles’s annual Ovahness Ball, a nonprofit-sponsored competition and performing arts event. Founded by the Legendary Sean/Milan™ Garcon, a leader in the West Coast ballroom scene, the Ovahness Ball is an iconic affair and supportive space for queer and trans dancers who compete in a wide array of categories ranging from runway to vogue. Working together with Pitzer College Professor of Media Studies Gina Lamb, Barrett will review and organize more than 15 years of photos, videos, and oral histories captured from the ball.

“[We’ll] be creating an open-access archive to record the LA ballroom community’s history,” they say. “I hope it will uplift the experiences of queer people of color in a space accessible for students, researchers, community members, and other interested individuals.”

Barrett says the archive will also affirm the cultural and academic value of preserving the histories of marginalized communities—a practice they view is lacking in higher education. But projects like Barrett’s fellowship are helping to change that.

“Coming to The Claremont Colleges made me realize how rarely successful equity efforts are. As scholars and future professionals, students’ engagement in antiracism can set a precedent for the actions of others in our communities, starting with our college campuses, so we can build the future our peers and successors deserve,” says Barrett. “I’m more motivated than ever to do my part.”

Scripps’ Racial Justice and Equity Fellowships help students and faculty advance antiracist work on campus and in the community. To make a gift, please click here.