Emerson College in Boston is making history, and we are living for it. The 139-year-old private, well-heeled (and predominantly white) institution is now home to the first official collegiate vogue ballroom house in the U.S. The Haus of Emerson was established last fall by Christopher Henderson-West, “a poor, Black, bisexual, gender-fluid male from the Midwest” who struggled to find his community on campus.
In 2018, Henderson-West took over as president of the school’s student-run LGBTQ organization, EAGLE (Emerson’s Advancement Group for Love and Expression), established in 1991 with a goal of promoting the visibility and acceptance of queer culture throughout the Emerson campus and greater Boston area. And he quickly “narrowed the organization’s focus to the visibility of QTPOC [queer and trans people of color] at the predominantly white and wealthy institution.” In order to “help empower the voices I felt were lacking on our campus,” says Henderson-West, he reworked the organization’s annual student drag show into the first Haus of Emerson event this past October. Emerson is the first campus in the United States to develop and host a competing vogue ballroom house.
Haus of Emerson: Christopher Henderson-West brings the ballroom scene to Emerson College.
In April, members of the national ballroom scene traveled from far and wide to the Haus’s first Vogue Kiki Ball. At the “End of an Era” event (created in partnership with the international Kiki Ballroom house and New England’s House of Mulan), performers posed the house down, with the fiercest taking home over $3,000 in prizes. Proceeds from tickets sales benefited Emerson students who need short-term financial assistance, especially those cut off financially from family after coming out; and Boston GLASS, a local organization dedicated to providing resources for QTPOC, especially youth, and combating their higher rates of homelessness, poverty, and violence.
Henderson-West says that although events like the Kiki Ball are meant to be fun and entertaining, they also serve a greater purpose — preserving drag and ball culture is paramount to creating positive and safe environments for young queer and trans folks of color, who are statistically more at-risk.
“Since QTPOC culture has a history of being appropriated and whitewashed for more mainstream audiences and demographics,” says Henderson-West, “EAGLE has worked to educate and give homage to their history and struggles.”
Strike a Pose: Emerson College is the first university in America to have its own vogue ballroom house.