To honor GLSEN’s Day of Silence and pay tribute to the LGBTQIA story, ACUI’s LGBTQ+ Community of Practice today (3 p.m. EST, Friday, April 23) will host “Telling Our Stories,” a live panel discussion to address the harmful effects of harassment and discrimination. Students and their supporters traditionally go through the school day without speaking and then end the day with a Breaking the Silence event. Panelists will “break their silence” by reflecting on their experiences and welcoming attendees to join in sharing stories.
To preview “Telling Our Stories,” The Bulletin connected with two of the panelists, Caleb Eubanks, the marketing and communications manager at Elliott Student Union, University of Central Missouri, and Kelsey Alexander, coordinator for prevention of gender-based violence at Albertus Magnus College, to learn more about their participation in “Telling Our Stories” and how their schools embrace the LGBTQIA community. There’s still time to register for the event at “Telling Our Stories.”
How do you plan to participate in the Telling Our Stories event?
CE: I plan on telling a brief story of my coming out while being in a family extremely active in the church and where sport is everything. I will touch on it all briefly—as there are mini stories in between—but it comes full circle at the end when I discuss my college experience and how I came to be me; visibly me at that.
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KA: I’ll be speaking on this year’s panel for “Telling Our Stories.” I’m going to share my own (multiple) coming-out stories to hopefully increase visibility of the queer community in higher ed.
How do you think events like “Telling Our Stories” help the LGBTQIA community in higher education?
CE: Events like these tell the stories of real people. We work in higher education, but we are more than our job. Having just finished graduate school in 2019, I see the disconnect LGBTQ+ students have with professionals in the field is still fresh. Could that be the geographical area I was in? Possibly.
It’s just hard to have verbal support but no action behind the words. I will always remember a one-to-one conversation with my university president in undergrad when she said, “They only know what they know,” in reference to people fighting against LGBTQ+ people. She’s right. People really do only know what they know, and we need to keep telling our stories to help them understand or at least give them a different way to think.
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KA: I think the more you know about people and understand their stories, the more easily you can empathize with them. For me, events like “Telling Our Stories” aren’t so much about me and my experience working in higher ed, but about how we can continue to improve queer students’ experiences in higher ed. Hopefully some of the folks who tune in will go back to their schools with renewed commitment to look into policies, practices, and anything else that might be preventing queer students from feeling safe or welcome on campus.
While many colleges and universities truly are inclusive spaces for queer students, there’s still so much to do, and it’s important to remember that the LGBTQ+ community is diverse in its experiences and needs. The ongoing attack on trans people in several states right now is a good reminder that we can’t get complacent. We have to keep asking, “Who is being left out of the conversation?” “Who still isn’t welcome?” “Who can’t be fully themselves?”
What is your current relationship and involvement with ACUI?
CE: I joined ACUI right before the pandemic. Atlanta was supposed to be my first conference experience. The LGBTQ+ Community of Practice—run by Clayton (Kolb) and Shane (Farmer)—decided to do weekly watch parties of RuPaul’s Drag Race while we were all working from home in the spring and summer. This got my feet wet, and I became a regular attendee for monthly meetups and a volunteer in building and presenting Safe Zone Ally courses.
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KA: I got involved with ACUI through SafeZone trainings during the last year. I have also been working with other members of the LGBTQ+ Community of Practice on some trainings specifically about supporting the trans community on our campuses. I love working with this group of people, and I’m excited to educate others on such an important topic.
How do your campuses welcome the LGBTQIA community?
CE: On a work level, I am educating my coworkers on how to be more inclusive and starting conversations to help the learning process. Elliot Student Union is home to the Lavender Lounge that opened Spring 2020 right before the pandemic sent us all home. We’re always open to extend a helping hand to the individuals and their groups when they hold events in the union. Our Women’s Summit that we sponsor has tackled topics on gender and coming out too, which has been fun to see and work with our Women & Gender Studies program on campus.
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KA: A lot of the queer students I work with at Albertus tell me they were surprised to learn that a Catholic school is so welcoming of the LQBTQ+ community. Our campus ministry office put out a supportive message for LGBTQ+ students on social media when the Vatican issued that really harmful statement a few weeks ago. I think a lot of staff and faculty are really invested in being as inclusive and equitable as possible for all of our students from marginalized groups.
There’s some momentum on campus right now for training, again specifically on supporting trans and non-binary students. We’re doing more celebratory events and working to elevate the voices of our queer students. We have an active Pride Club on campus and a handful of staff and faculty who are out as members of the community.
What does the Day of Silence mean to you?
CE: Day of Silence makes me reflect on all the times I was quiet growing up and times I still am quiet. It makes me think of times I’ve been shut down and felt like I’m an abomination. It makes me think of the bullies from middle school. It reminds me of how far I’ve come as an individual. I’m out. I’m proud. I do not hide who I am, for the most part. April 28, 2013, is the day I came out to my parents without saying \, “It’s just a phase, I’ll grow out of it.” My family is still a work in progress. Unless specifically asked about my sexuality, I do not bring up anything LGBTQ+ related with them because I know it’s me against everyone else. My master’s graduation cap is rainbow and bedazzled with the words, “Visible for those who can’t be!” It was my silent stand to all the naysayers that I can be me, be successful and be loved.
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KA: It’s been a few years since I’ve really participated in Day of Silence. I think the last time I did was [when I was] in college. I love that we have creative events like this to demonstrate how important the queer community is. I think because I work in higher ed, my mind jumps to amplifying student voices rather than being silent. But I do understand the significance.
For so long (and still in some parts of the US and in other countries), LGBTQ+ people have had to stay silent about their true identities and the most important parts of their lives for legitimate fear for their own safety, concerns about employment, housing, or other types of discrimination. And that’s such a loss for the queer community, but also for the straight community because LGBTQ+ folks have so much to offer.