People are like snowflakes – no two are the same. So in this world pressing overpopulation, do we have room for hatred based on our differences?
What’s the point, and where does it spawn?
“Out Now” came to campus with a presentation to help grapple with those difficult questions.
It was eye opening. It was powerful. It was rife with profanity and derogatory slurs, but on Feb. 20 and 26, students were shown how to make a difference.
“Out Now” is a Springfield-based group which, for the last 19 years, has offered empowerment and education to area youth with regards to the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) community and allies. Their presentation format is extraordinary.
It starts with the group’s members acting out scenarios of antagonizing situations at familiar places: the Wellness Center, Cheney, a dorm room. Then they direct attention towards the audience, with a prompt to pinpoint what type of oppression occurred in the skit.
Then it all shifts to isolating where a change can be made, and spectators become “spectactors.” Audience members have the choice to replace bystanders in the skit for the chance to practice strategies of advocating.
Standing up for someone as an ally can be tough, and it can be downright uncomfortable, but as Springfield College senior Katie Patrick can attest, more often than not the risk is worth the reward.
“I saw that uncomfortableness,” said Patrick, “but I also saw people embrace it and try to do something about [what was happening]. I also saw people get really, really passionate about it and upset, but that facilitates change.”
Katie Patrick is the co-founder of Pride Alliance, a student-organized club where anyone can come to talk freely and openly about issues on campus with their peers. She is also involved with the Gay-Straight Alliance club comprised of students and faculty members.
Having learned of “Out Now” at the LGBT Western Coalition of Massachusetts’ GSA Day and following a discomforting incident in December at Cheney that involved the harassment of transgender campus guests, Patrick knew it was time for some coaching in compassion.
“I think it’s really important to have seen the powerful stuff that’s out there, so when the time comes, we know how to react,” Patrick said.
Springfield College Dean of Students, Dr. David Braverman was also in attendance and thought the presentation was very applicable to our institution of service-learning.
“The mission of the college is to educate the whole person – spirit, mind and body – in different services to humanity. To serve humanity, you’ve got to know what humanity needs and wants, and you’ve got to care about humanity to really serve effectively,” Braverman said.
And that’s exactly what the presentations did. They jam-packed two-hour sessions with educating attendees on misogyny (the oppression of women), homophobia (fear and oppression of homosexuals), fatphobia (fear and oppression of overweight individuals), racism, and among various other topics, transphobia (fear and oppression of complex gender identities).
The emergence of transgenderism has been a large factor in why there needs to be outlets like “Out Now.” Gender is no longer a dual-spliced thing.
“[Gender identity] is on a spectrum now; it’s not pigeonholed anymore. Sexual identity has developed over the past two years into a very fluid kind of a thing,” Patrick added.
So from now on, it’s all about acceptance – acceptance in public settings, work environments, within our own families and beyond.
In the Springfield College lens, we’ve always been a little ahead of the curve on diversity, though it might not be outwardly apparent when you walk around campus.
In 1906, the first recipient of a Springfield College degree was a black man. In 1964, Martin Luther King Jr. gave the commencement address. Several factors limit racial diversity on campus these days, as Braverman notes but alleges: “President [Mary-Beth] Cooper has identified diversity as a focus area with the Board of Trustees. We’re committed to try and increase our diversity.”
As for gender and sexual orientation awareness, the college appears to be taking the right steps.
“It’s important for people to know that we will support everybody. We do have support in place for students. We try to make that plain and obvious for students when they come in. We want to make that exciting for them,” Braverman said.
He also noted that we’re fairly well represented on the faculty side of things, though it’s not something that is asked in interviews or advertised in the job description.
“When hiring faculty and staff, we don’t ask about sexual orientation,” Braverman said. “But I think the relevance is to demonstrate normalcy. If you have a professor who is gay or lesbian or transgender, and you learn from them, then you’re more likely to not assess someone by face value the next time, because you’ve already had an experience.”
Wherever we land as the snowflakes that we are, there’s bound to be an indescribable amount of variety all around us. Life is short, so let’s make it as enjoyable as possible – for everyone. Promote happiness. If you see someone doing the opposite and discriminately hurting someone, say something. You’ll be happy you did.
The GSA meets Tuesday at 12 p.m. in the Social Sciences conference room, and the Pride Alliance club meets Thursdays at 7 p.m. in Judd. To get in contact with the “Out Now” organization for event information or meeting times, call 413-736-4610 or visit them at 1695 Main St. (second floor) in downtown Springfield. Find more information at OutNowYouth.org.