The House of Lewan reflects on legacy, resilience and the future of drag at Dartmouth

Dartmouth’s first and only recognized drag club shares stories of artistry, resistance and the influential members of the Class of 2023 who blazed a trail for the drag house.

by Ramsey Ash | 6/11/23 2:10am

by Caroline Kramer / The Dartmouth

This article is featured in the 2023 Commencement & Reunions special issue.

House of Lewan, founded in spring 2022, is Dartmouth’s first recognized drag club. The club’s mission is to spread inclusivity, artistry and expression on Dartmouth’s campus according to members, and it hosts multiple drag shows and performances throughout each year. 

The recent graduation of many influential members of the Class of 2023 in the House has led its members to reflect on the legacy the 23s will leave behind, along with the future of the organization. These reflections came with many stories of the resilience of the House’s members in the past year, citing recent national anti-trans and anti-drag legislation as well as local push-back to their mission. 

The largest of the House’s performances is their annual Transform show that takes place during Dartmouth Pride celebrations, according to House executives Regan Harnois ’23 and Jaime Aranzabal ’24. The event is entirely coordinated by the House of Lewan, and it remains an integral part of Dartmouth’s Pride celebration and a unifying event for Dartmouth’s LGBTQ+ community, said Aranzabal — Mother of the House of Lewan. The House Mother takes on many of the highest executive, organizational and leadership duties. He explained the impact of putting on such an influential event, which has drawn notable support from Dartmouth’s LGBTQ+ community.

“I’ve been involved in a lot of queer programming on campus, and I can tell that the [queer] community shows up for an event like Transform,” Aranzabal said. “For me, that’s very powerful: to be on this large stage, with music you can hear from the Green. It’s really exciting to know that it’s an event for us and has been a great time where we can all come together.”

Harnois, social media and communications chair, who has been with the House since its inception, shared that the House will often host professional drag queens from nearby cities such as Boston, Massachusetts and Burlington, Vermont. The club hosts these professional drag queens on campus to support the House’s performances each term by performing with the members of the House of Lewan as well as mentoring and interacting with the members. Harnois appreciated how amazing it is for the group to learn from professional artists and see them “thriving in this art form,” inspiring the members of the House of Lewan. 

According to student performer Rosario Rosales ’25, the House aims to promote student artistry and to be inclusive of all people interested in drag. Rosales said she has found the House to be a supportive and inclusive space for performers of all experience levels and backgrounds, speaking to her personal experience joining the House this past fall.

One of the founding members of the House, who performs under the drag name Lulu Baijiu, shared that a central mission of the House is to encourage membership of  “anyone with an interest in the art of drag,” and he hopes to emphasize that drag is for people from of all sexualities, identities and backgrounds. 

This was further emphasized by Justin Selkow ’24, another performer who shared that the House has been successful in showing the Dartmouth community that drag is “an artform and an avenue for expression, just like other art forms” at the College.

The House’s central missions of inclusivity, representation and expression were pioneered by leaders in the club’s one-year history, including Aranzabal and Baijiu. An important piece of the accessibility of drag to Dartmouth students is related to the financial barriers to drag, which the club has successfully mitigated through gaining COSO recognition and utilizing institutional funding to support student performers, according to Baijiu. 

Many performers and leaders also reflected on recent anti-trans and anti-drag legislation, as well as accounts of Dartmouth campus pushback to their artistry and mission on campus. Aranzabal explained the House’s reactions to these unsettling events, sharing that the House is “very grateful to be a part of the Dartmouth community, which has generally been very accepting and supportive.” Yet, he also highlighted that “many performers as individuals and a collective have had our run-ins with anti-trans and anti-drag sentiments, and this can be very unsettling.”Aranzabal pointed out that it can be upsetting and, at times frustrating, to see the performers — who express their truest selves through drag —  receive pushback and hate. 

Many members of the House expressed that  anti-trans actions and legislation has influenced their artistry. Baijiu said the performers and organizers curated the 2023 Transform in direct opposition to recent events. The show began with news clips from reports on anti-trans and anti-drag legislation and ended with signs stating “Drag is Not a Crime.” 

Student performer Mayari De La Mer shared that many performers have experienced both positive and negative impacts of recent pushpack to drag as an art form. According to De La Mer, these negative impacts have included “the challenges of knowing that people oppose the art you do and are trying to paint you in a bad light when you’re not doing anything wrong.” 

However, De La Mer stated that the pushback has also served as inspiration for many performers to incorporate more explicit call-outs against this negativity in their performances, including the aforementioned incorporation of this rhetoric in this spring’s Transform show. 

Harnois emphasized that for some performers at the House of Lewan, motivation to speak out at shows has been a direct result of recent events.

“We definitely are aware of all the things going on — we've had articles coming out against us related to some of our past performances and what we stand for being twisted — so, I think we’re aware of that, but it drives us to push ourselves more, to keep going and to do our part to keep drag accessible in our community in the face of such backlash,” Harnois said. “We can't be scared to continue to express ourselves and perform and put on these shows for the community."

All of the members interviewed emphasized that in a time when visibility is resistance, it is important that the House’s legacy carry on into the coming years to support its mission of artistry and expression. 

As members of the Class of 2023 prepare to pass the leadership of the House onto the next generation of members, they reflected on their hopes for the House.

“I am extremely hopeful for the continued success of the House of Lewan to provide both a safe space and institutional support for drag on Dartmouth’s campus,” Baijiu said. “I would love to return in some years and see an organization like the House of Lewan to continue supporting students in drag at Dartmouth.”