What is it like to be out as a staff member on campus?
I have had essentially all positive experiences. I came out in a newsletter to all of my residents and I have been out with all of my colleagues from day one. I know my colleagues are allies and I have felt very supported. I also know I may have helped someone on the road to become an ally and that is cool too. My residents have been appreciative and supportive of me being open and honest with them. Once I came out, they started asking questions like “How long have you been with your partner?” and “How did you know?” I think they just want to learn more about it and I have enjoyed being able to educate them and share my experiences. Seeing me be supported and comfortable being out has helped some of my other residents come out themselves, so that has been great. While UNH may not be the most diverse campus, there is a lot of self-awareness around LGBTQA+ community members and helping allies learn to become better allies, which I think says a lot about our community.
Is there anything you have seen or experienced on campus that was a really pleasant surprise?
One time I was really pleasantly surprised actually happened after an unfortunate event. I was walking back to my apartment on campus and someone decided to yell a derogatory term at me as they drove by. Amidst my frustration, I took to social media to express how I was feeling and how while things are getting better it is still extremely important to have allies and we must do better. After that post, over 100 individuals from the UNH community either responded to the post or reached out to me about the situation to inquire if I was okay and what they could do to support me. Although this instance started with a hateful comment, it reminded me just how many people are here and willing to stand up for the LGBTQA+ community. They are committed to ending these types of scenarios and building an environment where everyone is welcomed and affirmed.
As far as colleagues in the department, they all genuinely want to create an inclusive community in their buildings too. They have asked “I don’t want to tokenize you, but if you would be willing to do this training for my staff so they can learn more about having these types of conversations with residents?” RHDs are actively learning and working to educate their staff members so they can create inclusive communities in all of our halls. Our department had a panel of students who identified as trans*, or gender non-conforming in order to hear about their experiences in the halls and on campus, which I think says a lot. We talk about sexual orientation quite a bit, and we understand that a little bit, but gender identity is definitely an area where a lot of us need growth, including myself. That we go into those trainings with open minds and open hearts says something positive about our department and how we support and educate ourselves.
Are there any resources that you have used for yourself that you would recommend for another out staff member?
I have worked closely with Ellen Semran, the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs (OMSA) LGBTQ programs coordinator quite a lot. Ellen is more like a friend and mentor who has helped me understand the culture at UNH a little bit better as Ellen has worked at UNH for almost ten years. It has helped me better provide resources to my students and fellow staff members. I have also worked with Ellen on providing Safe Zones programs in classrooms and residence halls all year. I’m always a student, always a learner and I’ve learned a lot attending the OMSA events that are put on throughout the year.
Is there any sort of thing you would want someone to know about making a decision to be out on campus (as a student or professional staff member)?
As someone who was an undergrad here, UNH was the first time I actually came out. Within the first couple of months, almost every one of my college friends knew and they supported me and I didn’t have negative experiences coming out with them. Anytime I have confronted a negative comment or micro-aggression, the conversations have been really awesome and fruitful. I think the students have started to think a little bit more about how their actions affect their community members.
I encourage someone coming to college to be who they are. This is your chance to have your fresh start. You are an adult and you are able to let in the people who truly want to appreciate and support you, and if by chance you have a negative reaction, they are not someone you want in your life anyways. I can fully attest there are plenty of people here who are on your team and your side and willing to be your champion, ally and supporter whether you are a student or a staff member, so I urge you to be comfortable with who you are. It may take a little while to develop, but know that you have a support network here and I’m willing to be that person too!