Student engagement pro helps students across the country connect, laugh via virtual drag shows
As assistant director of student involvement, Brandon Shamoun wears many hats when it comes to providing programming and events. With most programming pivoting to a virtual format, Shamoun — like so many Warriors — has had to reimagine elements of his job.
One such element was the production of Wayne State’s popular Drag Queen Bingo events, held routinely as part of the Campus Activities Team programming. The events, which bring local and national drag queens to campus for an evening of comedy and bingo, are among Shamoun’s favorite to plan. In the virtual format, Shamoun took on the role of virtual stage manager — helping to coordinate behind the scenes on Zoom to ensure things ran smoothly. His success in that role caught the attention of the production company Reel Management, and he was invited to help support virtual Drag Queen Bingo events at colleges and universities across the country. He’s helped with more than 100 shows since the pandemic started, connecting countless students.
“I love being able to play a role in helping Wayne State students connect and have fun, so being able to do that for other college students is a lot of fun,” said Shamoun. “Plus, I love these events so much, and they’re a great way to support the LGBTQ community, and the arts.”
Spend 5 minutes with Brandon:
What might surprise someone who has never been to a Drag Queen Bingo event, virtually or otherwise?
I’m always impressed by the diversity among the crowd. I think that students are often surprised by the level of interaction with the performers — they each bring a different energy and personality, but all of them make it a point to connect directly with participants, virtual or not.
What does Drag Queen Bingo include?
The events are blend of comedy, performance and, of course, a bingo game.
Who are some of the performers you’ve worked with?
We’ve welcomed quite a few from RuPaul’s Drag Race, including Alyssa Edwards, Brook Lynn Hytes, Eureka O’Hara, Jaida Essence Hall, Monique Heart, Morgan McMichaels, Nina West, Pandora Boxx, Shea Couleé, Shuga Cain and Silky Nutmeg Ganache. During the summer, we were able to welcome some local Detroit performers to campus, including Crystal Harding, Jadein Black and Mia Cole, and before the pandemic we welcomed Sabin and Emma Sapphire.
Obviously, the virtual format presents some unique challenges — what are some of the benefits?
Working virtually means that the whole event team can be anywhere. I’m in Detroit, but I’ve got colleagues who are in L.A., Nashville — they’re all over the place. And we’re able to reach more students because of the ease of technology.
Why is it important for you to be involved in programming like this?
As a member of both the Middle Eastern and the LGBTQ community, I think it’s important to break out of cultural boundaries and just be myself. I’m currently working on my dissertation around Middle Eastern college students and the coming out process — there’s not a lot of research on the topic. I think that putting myself out there in a visible way is another way to add my own unique voice to the space. Most importantly, I hope that students will see me — a first-generation college student, a Middle Eastern man and a member of the LGBTQ community — and that I’m comfortable in my own skin and know that they can reach out to me as a resource and an ally as they find themselves.
So, you’ve worked with students across the country … the Warriors are the best, right?
Absolutely! Part of the reason I love working at Wayne State is that our student population is one that so many different kinds of people can see themselves in. College is a life-changing experience, in many ways. Of course you grow academically, but it can also be a crucial time for students to get to know themselves and become comfortable with themselves — and I feel like Wayne State supports that growth in really meaningful, compassionate ways.