Academic Movers Q&A: Steven Frost Slays It for the City and the Kids

Steven Frost, associate chair of undergraduate studies for the Department of Media Studies at the University of Colorado–Boulder, was named a 2023 Library JournalMover & Shaker for their work collaborating with Boulder Public Library on its makerspace and Slay the Runway event. LJ recently spoke with Steven to learn more about these projects and what they’ve been up to since.

Steven FrostSteven Frost, associate chair of undergraduate studies for the Department of Media Studies at the University of Colorado–Boulder, was named a 2023 Library JournalMover & Shaker for their work collaborating with Boulder Public Library on its makerspace and Slay the Runway event. We recently spoke with Steven to learn more about these projects and what they’ve been up to since.

LJ: Besides your work with the makerspace and Slay the Runway, what else have you been up to?

Steven Frost: A while ago, the people in the public library said they wanted me to run for the Library Commission. It coincided with a moment in our town where we were trying to pass a move from a sales-tax-based funding model for our library to a property tax–based funding model, creating a library district, as opposed to our city model, which we had before. During COVID, the sales-tax-based model caused the library to have to cut over 100 jobs and over 20 percent of the budget in one day. It was rough. So I was really happy that I was on the Library Commission at the moment. Last fall, the district passed, and now the library is transitioning. Part of my motivation to join the commission was because we were on the edge of opening a new library for the first time in 40+ years in Boulder. That library happens to be in my neighborhood. [November 2023] is the last month of my five-year term as a commissioner. As I’m finishing, the new library building is under construction. It’s going to open this spring. It has walls and floors—it’s really happening! Roads are being changed, parking lots are being made. It’s pretty cool to see where that has moved in just a few years.

Is Slay the Runway happening again?

We did Slay the Runway again this summer. But instead of doing the performance at the school, we did it in the [Boulder Public] library auditorium, which has more room. It was filled to the brim, every seat. And we didn’t have any protesters. We had ballroom drag performers [who were] the students, the kids were all in drag and performing and using their preferred pronouns and names. It was super affirming. Their families were there cheering for them, crying. I anticipated the worst, and it didn’t happen. And our security team was all queer—it’s a queer-owned security team.

Next year it’s going to be publicized as part of the city’s Pride Festival during Pride Week in Boulder. It was featured on Colorado Public Radio as well as Morning Edition. We’re going into our fourth year, and it just keeps growing. We’re hopefully expanding it to Denver within the next year or two. When it was on NPR, I got all these emails from people who weren’t mad. They were touched and excited to hear about it. I heard from a friend in West Virginia who heard the story. In that way it’s like the good work that we’re doing here in Boulder and our library is expanding into the world. Good things can spread just as much as Moms for Liberty spreads. So does love, compassion, care for all our community.

Does that help the LGBTQIA+ students in your community feel supported?

It makes me happy to be so lucky to live in a community that really supports our LGBTQ youth. You’d imagine, here in a progressive western city, their high school experiences wouldn’t be the same as other high school students across the country, but they are. It’s still really hard to be a trans kid in high school, no matter where you are. It’s hard to be struggling with your identity, even in a contemporary world where there are now role models. Our LGBTQ community center partnered with our library for an LGBTQ youth book club. The Library Foundation donated copies of all the books they’re going to read. [The students] get to take them home, and then they come back and speak and present with [each other]. These students still struggle with identity, with acceptance, like any teen does, but more pronounced because the world is telling them there’s something messed up with them. But we’re here to turn that around. The Atlas Institute at the University of Colorado supports the workshops, and the library supports the performances. I’m incredibly grateful for that.

Your five-year term on the commission is nearly over and you’re not running again. What will you do with that free time?

When I started this journey, I was motivated by Donald Trump. When he became president, I was terrified. I decided I had to get involved with local politics. There have to be other people involved in the system. When the city council appointed me to the commission, I was an instructor at that point. But while serving as commissioner, I became a full-time tenure-track professor. I was working on that while working on the Library Commission. Once I step down, I’m not doing more public roles while I work on tenure. But I’m so grateful for those people. They’re literally building an entire government system, and they’re volunteers.

Slay the Runway will happen again in June 2024. We’re working to get funding to expand it to other cities, where other people would host it, but would use the same model. The other big thing is that I’m going to do research and visit libraries in Australia and New Zealand this spring. I’m going to try to go to makerspaces and see other models. My husband’s on sabbatical, so I’m following him there and making it into my own research trip as well. It’ll be summer there, so I’m pretty excited.

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