Pride shines at Ursinus

Paige Szmodis

paszmodis@ursinus.edu

     Walking through Lower Wismer in the past week, members of the Ursinus community may have noticed the new walls and red lounge chairs added as part of the final touches to the new center for the Institute for Inclusion and Equity (IIE). The new location of the IIE will be opening in a few weeks, just in time to hold one of its first events, a program hosted by the Rainbow Resource Center (RRC): Stories of Pride.

     Stories of Pride, organized by the RRC and supported by the Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA), will allow faculty and staff to share their stories about coming out and coming into their LGBTQ+ identities. The faculty and staff who will be participating in this event include theater professors Domenick Scudera and Dr. Meghan Brodie as well as Residence Life assistant directors Jordan Toy and EJ Madarasz.

     Robin Gow, the student director of the RRC and president of GSA, explained that the event is intended to encourage “strength in the LGBT community in a political climate that has made many individuals feel unsafe because of their identities.”

According to Gow, the event will focus on faculty presenting their stories, but there may also be time for a Q&A session at the end.

     Gow recalled the time a similar event was held in Fall 2014 when Scudera, Toy, and Toy’s husband, Alex Frederick-Toy, shared their coming-out experiences at an informal GSA meeting.

     Gow said that the GSA wanted to host another similar event this semester because “our board reflected and remembered feeling a sense of community and acceptance to hear faculty and staff talk about their experiences.”

     In addition to the meeting held three years ago, Scudera reflected on a similar panel held 12 or 15 years ago in which stories were shared concerning the experience of being a member of the LGBTQ+ community. He said, “I was the faculty representative and . . . there was a staff representative, an alumnus, and a student. At the time, there were not many ‘out’ LGBTQ people at Ursinus, so the panel provided an opportunity for sharing and for asking questions.”

     Scudera, who has been at Ursinus for 20 years, also commented on how LGBTQ+ visibility has changed on campus. He said, “When I first started working at Ursinus, there was very little LGBTQ representation on campus.  Today, there are more ‘out’ faculty, staff, and students.  With more representation, there is more acceptance.”

     Although Brodie only recently joined the Ursinus College theater department faculty two years ago, she was previously an undergraduate student in the Ursinus College class of 2000.

     When asked about her time as a student, she said, “I don’t think there were any events focused on coming-out stories . . . And there were definitely no events that brought LGBTQ+ faculty, staff, and students together in conversation. When I was a student, Professor Domenick Scudera was the only ‘out’ LGBTQ+ faculty member. Oddly enough, when I interviewed for my position at Ursinus, I realized I would be only the second ‘out’ LGBTQ+ faculty member even though nearly two decades had passed since my first year as an undergraduate at Ursinus.”

     “I have no doubt that Domenick paved the way for other out LGBTQ+ faculty and staff at Ursinus, myself included,” added Brodie.

     Brodie said that she wanted to participate in the event “to pay forward the support and love [she has] received over the years as an out and proud queer woman.”

She continued, “It is a great opportunity for LGBTQ+ students to see the faces of LGBTQ+ faculty and staff and recognize that there is a broader queer community at Ursinus. It is important to me that these students don’t feel alone and that they realize all of the resources available to them at Ursinus.”

     Brodie also commented on the value of representing multiple coming-out stories. She said, “I also believe that there is value in learning and appreciating all of the ways in which people come out to themselves and others.  For some, the experience of coming out is joyful; and for others, it can be a struggle because of how they anticipate those closest to them will receive this information.”

     Scudera encouraged LGBTQ+ students and allies to attend the event because “one of the panelists might share something meaningful to open up new ways of thinking.”

     As an example of this, Scudera shared, “I recently ran into an alumnus at an event in Philadelphia. He told me that it had meant a lot to him when I had shared information about my life and my marriage.  When he heard my story, he realized that there were more options opened to him as a gay man.  It opened his mind to the possibility that marriage could be part of his future. And, in this past year, he got married!”

     Scudera continued, “Visibility is important. Therefore, it is vital that we share our experiences to gain more acceptance and appreciation on campus. Although the campus climate has improved from when I first started working at Ursinus, we still have a ways to go before the LGBTQ community feels completely included and welcome[d] on campus.”

     Brodie similarly concluded that “Ursinus is definitely a more welcoming place for LGBTQ+ people, but we still have work to do to help LGBTQ+ students feel safe and respected.”

     Stories of Pride will be held on Nov. 30 at 8 p.m. as part of the  RRC and IIE’s efforts to make Ursinus’ campus a more inclusive space for the LGBTQ+ community.