Thursday, February 18, 2016

Experiencing the Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transexual Community by Samantha Brookes

author Samantha Brookes

The minute I got to Hofstra University I knew what club I needed to join. As a bisexual, I wanted a place I felt where I belonged, surrounded by people who enjoy what I enjoy and who deal with the same struggles as I do. The Pride Network is Hofstra’s only undergraduate lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transexual (LGBT) club. It's a club that not only acts as a support group for youths who come seeking help with everyday LGBT struggles, but educates those who don’t know what LGBT is and wish to learn more about the community. Jahmila Smith, the president of The Pride Network here at Hofstra, informed me that the Pride Network is a nationwide organization that began here at Hofstra in 2008. The club has set up multiple communities in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and is currently “working to set up chapters in Pennsylvania” (Smith). The Hofstra chapter takes an active role not just within the university, but within nearby communities, seeking to enlarge the conversation.

In high school, I was confronted with confusion and misunderstanding. Many could not bring themselves to understand or accept my sexuality. Once after having explained my bisexuality to a friend, she burst into laughter. “A river doesn’t flow both ways,” she told me. Forget that the remark is not even accurate for rivers (the Hudson flows both ways for great distances); human bodies have a lot more choices than do bodies of water. I sat through the rest of lunch watching as what I believed to be two, welcoming friends talk about how my sexuality couldn’t possibly exist and I should just choose a side already. On other occasions when I would express my sexual orientation, friends would ask, “Are you hitting on me?” What could I say? I was stunned into silence. Just because I like girls as well as guys, I automatically hit on every girl I saw? I know this lack of sensitivity and empathy for a non-mainstream identity is what many minorities face. However, with sexual bias, it often doesn’t stop at jokes. LGBT people are beat up, spit on, hurt, put down and hated. Perhaps the height of homophobia is most appallingly expressed in the denial of allowing LGBT people to be themselves. “One in three LGBT kids will go through some form of ‘conversion therapy’” (Sargent) in camps that offer therapies that no human---certainly no child---should ever have to endure. What starts with lies at these camps soon devolves into torture. In “5 Things I Learned at a ‘Pray Away the Gay’ Camp,” J.F. Sargent interviews Sam Brinton, who provides some clear insight into the torture: “My hands were tied down and ice was placed on them while I was shown pictures of men. Later sessions would include copper heating coils, needles in my fingers, and electric shocks” done “while Sam was shown gay porn. Then they'd take the coils away and show . . . men and women holding hands” (Sargent). In these camps, anything and everything is done to scare the gayness out of any one who entered. To think that some parents would put their own children through such indignity is unbelievable but true.

So it isn’t surprising that one of the biggest problems LGBT youths face is finding emotional support and becoming comfortable enough to be able to come out to the people they care about. “The period prior to coming out can be a time of significant stress” (Coming Out) and the Pride Network is Hofstra’s own support system for such stress. Jahmila told me, “Everyone is welcome to attend our GSA [Gay Straight Alliance] meetings at 8:30 p.m. on Thursdays in the Student Center Room 141” (Interview). Having only attended one GSA meeting in high school, I had understood that, if one went to such a meeting, one was automatically assumed to be gay, so it was a pleasure to see that this was not true at Hofstra’s GSA meetings. I am happy to see that the GSA is a place where all forms of sexuality are celebrated. Not only are Hofstra’s gay-straight meetings more welcoming, the LGBT club is much more active, too. They recently hosted a Drag Show on campus with a special guest from RuPaul’s Drag Race to celebrate drag queens, who stand beautifully at the peak of the LGBT community. Within Native American culture, transgender people are honored as being two-spirited, meaning that “they carry two spirits, that of male and female” (The Way) and are considered the parents of orphans and visionaries who help with relationships between male and females because they are said to understand both the spirit of the female and the male.

In addition, the Pride Network also coordinates, corresponds with and sponsors many of the other clubs that host events on campus. For example, during HIV/AIDS Awareness Week, the Pride Network teams up with the Student Advocates for Safe Sex (SASS) to host events to promote greater understanding of HIV/AIDS. Much to my surprise, they also co-host events with intercultural and religious clubs in order to help integrate the LGBT community into different religions and cultures and ensuring understanding and acceptance in all intercultural and religious clubs on campus. Like my mother, I was raised a Unitarian, a form of Christianity that accepts all forms of religion and people, bringing then together in the “search for truth and meaning” (Unitarian). As soon as it was legal, my mother’s church performed a wedding for two elderly women who had loved each other for many years. So I never understood how certain religions and cultures could preach against love and understanding. I know that not every religion and culture is as welcoming to the LGBT community as my own family’s. Due to the shaming of homosexuality in many religions, those raised in such environments find themselves tucking away the gay parts of themselves “from the eyes of the world with an inherent fear of judgment and disdain from those who opposed who” they are (Picciano). As Kelsey Picciano (see “Forging a Whitmanic, Post-traditional, Bisexual Identity” at Taking Giant Steps, January 28, 2016) wrote, “How can an openly bisexual female sit through the service of a religion that proclaims her sexuality to be an abomination” (Picciano).
The Pride Network recognizes how disorienting this contradiction can be for LGBT people to face and wisely works with other clubs to ensure that LGBT students can feel welcomed within every space on campus. Perhaps the clearest indication of how serious and skillful the Pride Network can be is that fact that they are in constant communication with Hofstra’s administration. Whenever the campus wishes to hold an event that has anything to do with the LGBT community, the administrators go directly to the Pride Network which acts as the face of the LGBT community. When professors are dealing with issues involving lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transexual people, they know that the LGBT club is open to them for any questions or help they may need. The Pride Network also works directly with the Saltzman Center and Public Safety when confronted with a student who may need help beyond what the LBGT club can provide. The Saltzman Center is the place students go when they are struggling with stress and need someone to talk to and help push them through. So when a student is no longer able to deal with the stress and exhibits depression or suicidal thoughts, the LGBT club isn’t afraid to go to the Saltzman Center counselors to get the student the help they need. Sometimes, these depression/suicidal signs appear due to harassment some LGBT students may face. In such cases, the Pride Network is willing to be the spokesperson for the student and to go to Public Safety to get the student the protection (s)he may need. Hence, the LGBT club offers not just one service but multiple services, making sure that students are never alone no matter what they may be going through.

Although they do so much already on campus, the LGBT club spreads even further off campus. They are a part of many events throughout New York City. Just in the past month, they have gathered donations for the Trinity Place, a center in Manhattan that has made it their mission to “help homeless lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer (LGBTQ) youth and young adults in New York City to safely transition out of the shelter system and grow into independent, positive, and productive adults” (Trinity Place Shelter). Sometimes, when an LGBT youth comes out to their families it isn’t seen as an event of joyous discovery but rather an event of devastation. Not everyone is so accepting. In some families, being LGBT is considered sinful, disgraceful and evil, so some youths find themselves on the streets simply for being who they are. The Trinity Place provides a safe haven for youths when these situations arise. Even more recently, the LGBT club has participated in the Out of the Darkness Walk against Suicide to help raise money “for AFSP’s [American Foundation for Suicide Prevention] vital research and education programs to prevent suicide and save lives. The walks raise awareness about depression and suicide, and provide comfort and assistance to those who have lost someone to suicide” (AFSP). It turns out that suicide is a growing epidemic among teenagers, especially among LGBT youth. The rates have “increased and by 2013 stood at 12.6 deaths per 100,000” (Facts) in America. For teenagers the rate is 10.9 and “LGB[T] youth are 4 times more likely” (Facts About Suicide) to commit suicide due to the pressure they are placed under. However, suicide isn’t exclusive to the LGBT community. The issue of suicide is a problem that is being faced everywhere and deserves the full support of everyone, not just those within the LGBT community. The Pride Network makes it an issue to include anyone on campus who wishes to participate, not just people within the club.

For anyone whose sexual identity has been met with ignorance, fear, and a lack of empathy, the LGBT club is a welcomed haven. Joining this group has been the smartest decision I have made in my life. They deliver more than an escape from the misunderstood world in which we LGBT students live; they manifest the future we hope for in which all forms of ourselves---lesbian, gay, bisexual, transexual, or straight--- are accepted, appreciated and celebrated.
Samantha Brookes and Elexis Gibson

Works Cited

"About." The Pride Network. The Pride Network, n.d. Web. 17 Oct. 2015.
"Coming Out :" Coming Out : LGBT Helpline, n.d. Web. 27 Oct. 2015.
"Facts About Suicide." Facts About Suicide. The Trevor Project, n.d. Web. 08 Dec. 2015.
"Facts and Figures." American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Dec. 2015.
Picciano, Kelsey. “Forging a Whitmanic, Post-traditional, Bisexual Identity," Taking Giant Steps, Web, January 28, 2016.
"Out of the Darkness Walks." American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 2015. Web. 27 Oct. 2015.
Sargent, J.F., and Sam Brinton. "5 Things I Learned At A 'Pray Away The Gay' Camp." Cracked. N.p., 1 June 2015. Web. 21 Nov. 2015.
Smith, Jahmila. Personal interview.
Smith, Jahmila. "Interview for Comp." Message to Samantha Brookes. 14 Oct. 2015. E-mail.
"The Way of the Two Spirited People." Dancing to Eagle Spirit Society. Dancing to Eagle Spirit Society, 2008. Web. 08 Dec. 2015.
"Trinity Place Shelter." Trinity Place Shelter. Trinity Place Shelter, n.d. Web. 27 Oct. 2015.
"Unitarian Universalists Have Diverse and Inclusive Beliefs." UUA Top Stories. N.p., 09 Feb. 2015. Web. 21 Nov. 2015.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Public Safety Saves Lives: The Essential University Service by Jade Chu

author Jade Chu with Mrs. Tracy Chu, Supervisor of Public Safety

Working hard and partying harder is almost every student’s motto in college. We came to Hofstra University to be serious about our goals, but to also have the time of our lives. With students having a drive to ace that midterm and then go out and get drunk, you could only imagine the kinds of stories that follow. Who has to deal with these crazy kids? That’s none other than Hofstra University’s Department of Public Safety. Almost all of Hofstra’s students have seen many of the public safety officers patrolling campus at one point or another. We know them as the intimidating officers in uniform with the big-brimmed hats, but there is no reason to be afraid of these officers as they are professionals and the best in their field. Their number one priority is to make sure that all students, faculty, and staff are safe and protected at all times. I personally know all about public safety’s latest scoops, because my mom happens to be the supervisor of the department.

Of the stories that I know from public safety, there is always a lesson to be learned. The department is a safe haven, not a place of terror or interrogation. Since my mom has worked for public safety at Hofstra for a number of years, she has seen it all. She is the type of woman who would take her shirt off her back for a stranger, making her the most selfless person I know. As a student here at Hofstra, I happen to know some of the kids that she has come across. One of my very good friends happens to be among them. He came home from a frat party extremely intoxicated one night. When he got back to his dorm he fell and cut his head. His roommates somehow managed to drag him down to the lobby where he then collapsed in the vestibule. When public safety arrived on the job, my mom explained it as if were a murder scene: there was blood everywhere, splattered on the walls and floor. Public safety gave him the help he needed as he continuously vomited everywhere. It was ironic that my mom happened to be one of the officers on the scene, which I found out weeks later. In cases like this where kids are extremely drunk, public safety does everything they can to help, including bringing them to the hospital. Even though we have a strict rule with no alcohol on campus, public safety will never get you in trouble for something like this, or tell your parents. Their job is to make sure that you get the help you need.

At Hofstra University, not only do we have a strict rule with no alcohol on campus, but we have also have a strict student ID and check in policy. Many of the students here do not understand this process, and think it is quite unfortunate. It may seem like a hassle having to constantly leave your ID with the RSR, but it is only for our protection. The Department of Public Safety has these rules to keep unwanted guests out of the dorms. At the beginning of the school year, students were inviting people that they didn’t know into the buildings. These kids went through the buildings, went in the rooms that were open, and stole valuables. This type of vandalism happens all too regularly, even with our strict ID policy. You must at all times keep your doors closed. Public safety does hall checks daily, and if they see your door is open, they will close it. Last year, there was a big case with students who were stealing from other students. Public safety was able to track down the people who were doing this through the ID check in process.The students got their property back, and the robbers got in huge trouble. This is why it is important for everyone to understand the way we do things here at Hofstra. You may not like it, but remember it may benefit you one day.

Have you ever gone to a “secret” place where you and your friends enjoy hanging out? At Hofstra the hot spot is the hidden hill behind the fitness center. As you could imagine, most kids who go there are probably doing things that they aren’t supposed to be doing. On one freezing cold night, while it was snowing, a bunch of kids decided to drink on the hill. A particular girl in the group had more than one too many, and was highly intoxicated. On that night, public safety was doing their nightly check on the hill, and an officer found the girl passed out cold in the snow. She was left there all by herself, found just in time before her body hit hypothermia, or even worse! Kids think it is annoying that they get chased out of the spot, but it’s actually for their own good. What if public safety wasn’t required to do nightly checks, and never found that poor girl passed out? It’s highly likely that the girl would have died. Public safety saved that girl’s life. It’s important to realize that something like this could happen to anyone. Maybe you have good friends who would never leave you alone to pass out, but then again, maybe not. Without public safety in this instance, the story would have ended tragically.

On campus, there are many students who have emotional and psychological problems.There are many cases when a student feels homesick, and they will go to public safety asking for advice. This is a normal feeling, and it’s nothing that you should be ashamed of. There are female officers on every shift, meant to be there for students who may need a sense of compassion. There have been many cases when people have gone to my mom for advice. One time a girl brought her 16-year-old sister to a Hofstra party. The girl ended up falling asleep at the party, and woke up with no shirt on realizing that she shouldn’t have been there. The girl was traumatized and needed help. My mom talked to her, calmed her down, then talked some sense into her. Things like this happen daily. Not only is public safety here for our protection, but they can also be viewed as a counselor to some effect. They are here for you and are willing to talk to you about anything, so never hesitate to go to the department if you have any problems or concerns.

You have probably seen Hofstra’s transportation shuttles at some point or another. The Department of Public Safety is responsible in the operations of the shuttles. There are four different forms of transportation, all responsible for different things. With the night shuttle being the newest form of transportation in the past two years, it has increased the safety of Hofstra’s students. This shuttle is responsible for picking up students off-campus at late hours. Before this shuttle was around, students ran into many problems on the turnpike with accidents, fights, stalking, and robberies. Many things can happen when there are a bunch of drunk kids wandering the streets. Thanks to public safety, these risks have decreased due to the useful source of the shuttle. You should never walk anywhere alone at night. It is very likely that something bad may happen, especially in this neighborhood. Give the shuttle a call, they are more than willing to give you and your friends a ride.

There are all types of crazy stories of people here at Hofstra. The public safety officers are the lucky ones who get to deal with all problems that arise. It is satisfying to know that we have public safety looking out for us 24/7. Their whole job consists of protecting the well being of our campus. It is not a service to be threatened by, but to be thrilled because we have them. They are all professionals with mad skills, concern, and sympathy. It makes me laugh hearing stories that my mom dealt with, then later finding out that the people were my friends. She is constantly looking out for my friends with an extra eye, so it is good to know her. There are probably many more instances where she has come across people I know, that I’m not aware of. I always take the information from my mom’s experience and actually take it seriously. It is important to always have your guard up, because something may happen that you’d never imagine could.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Gettin' Queer for Dope: Learning How to Learn about LGBT Identity by Morgan Parker

When I met Sarah on August 28th, 2015, I saw a very shy and sheltered Mormon-raised girl. When I met Josh two weeks later, I saw a very bright and bubbling boundary-breaking guy. I’d never imagine that these two distinct identities and two distinct personalities came from one single person. My roommate is transgender, and while he was in the process of translating his entire identity, I was adjusting my mind to the prospect of not only meeting, but living with, a person entirely new. Despite any initial apprehension, I know that I am among the luckiest freshmen for having been blessed with this life-changing experience. I have been enlightened and I owe it all to a little club on campus and a new friend named Josh. This club, known as the Pride Network, epitomizes a true community that offers the unique opportunity for diversifying, involving, and inspiring our minds within a safe and supportive environment. Hofstra Universitywould surely be a different place if it did not exist.

In her September 11, 2015 Taking Giant Steps blogpost, “Leaping out of the Cave and into the Light,” Deanna Weber discusses her yearning for the diversity and experience that Hofstra University provides. She writes, “Not only did I long for students who did not look so much like me, but I also wanted to encounter people with more experience about different places and points of view” (Weber). However, just because so much diversity surrounds us at a place like Hofstra, that doesn’t mean that we are taking advantage of it. As college freshmen, we are especially in the dark when it comes to challenging and diversifying our minds. However, my roommate Josh Green and his friend Matt Sullivan are one step into the light ahead of everyone else. My interviewees were brave enough to be involved with something outside of their comfort zone and, in return, were met with great reward. This is because The Pride Network embodies a form of diversity that is entirely attainable. Matt says, “It’s all about learning, and it’s very comfortable. The purpose is that everyone is welcome” (Sullivan). This is a deliberate characteristic of the club whose main goal is to better the community through awareness. These are people who invariably know that the more differences you have from the person sitting next to you, the more opportunities you have to learn something new. These are people who know how to make every person they meet into an asset.

Moreover, the Pride Network concerns itself with learning outside of Hofstra University by organizing trips and other opportunities for students to attend. Recently Matt, along with other members of the club, ventured to Vermont to attend a “Translating Identity” conference that explored a number of topics regarding gender and transgender identities, expressions, and communities. The conference featured a keynote speaker prominent in the LGBTQ community and aimed not just to reach students and members of this community, but the entirety of the nation (“Translating Identity Conference”). Enlightening experiences, such as this conference, are available and accessible to all interested club members, and are widely encouraged! The goal is for students to see more and learn more outside of what they are comfortable with by breaking free of any means of restriction. Becoming a member of this club provides the first step in our own “leap out of the cave,” and gives us that first glimpse of light. The Pride Network’s overwhelming desire to educate and interact is what makes it crucial to the infrastructure of our “diversity university.”

Beyond the idea of education as a means of opening ourselves up to diversity, the Pride Network provides an experience for those seeking to “learn how to learn” through involvement. As products of the traditional learning pedagogy, we have been programmed to believe that true learning only exists by the guidance of a teacher within the four walls of a classroom. However, the Pride Network proves that belief is far from true. Opportunities for involvement in club meetings and social interactions offer a greater, more valuable kind of learning. Paulo Freire, author of “The Banking Concept of Education,” provides an explanation of this ideal form of learning in what he calls “problem-posing education.” He writes, “Education as the practice of freedom as opposed to education as the practice of domination denies that man is abstract, isolated, independent, and unattached to the world; it also denies that the world exists as a reality apart from people. Authentic reflection considers neither abstract man nor the world without people, but people in their relations with the world” (Freire 8). In other words, knowledge comes mostly from experience and from learning about the people in your world rather than learning about the world apart from them.

Furthering this idea, at a typical Pride Network meeting, members begin by sitting around a table and introducing themselves to everyone before beginning the discussion of that week. When Matt and Josh sat down at their first meeting, their minds were still forced shut by fear and anxiety. However, within the first five minutes, those feelings subsided and their minds were engaged. Matt noted, “When we got into a circle and introduced ourselves, everyone seemed more relatable” (Sullivan). Dissolving formality and opening up to discussion is one of many ways the Pride Network runs parallel with Freire’s ideal learning pedagogy. The club holds weekly discussions of current and pressing social issues that are “fun to talk about” (Sullivan). For instance, they recently ran a meeting for people who were interested in discussing the Democratic Party debate that had aired just a few days prior. Additionally, at most meetings they will break up into smaller discussion groups to consider more specific or personal issues. As Paulo Freire put it, “Here, no one teaches another, nor is anyone self-taught. People teach each other, mediated by the world, by the cognizable objects which in banking education are ‘owned’ by the teacher” (Freire 7). Seldom does one find the opportunity to involve oneself in something that, by nature, gives more than it takes. Simply being there is the greatest thing you can offer the Pride Network, but in return it gives you back something much greater.

One of the most intriguing things Josh ever said to me was that somehow Hofstra felt like a home to him before his own body did. As difficult as it was for me to comprehend such a statement, it was also oddly empowering. I didn’t really understand the true impact it had on me until I attended a meeting of the Pride Network for myself: If ever I could be a real fly on the wall, I certainly would have been at that meeting. My goal was to be an objective observer, so I could focus more on the big picture than on my own involvement. However, there is certainly something to be said about being the only person in the room who is somehow different from everyone else. I didn’t feel anxious or nervous, but I certainly felt out of place. After a few minutes of feeling that way I remembered Josh’s comment, and I started to understand what it really meant to me, as well as everyone else in the club. For those fifteen minutes of feeling outside of my comfort zone, any other person in the room could have spent fifteen years feeling the same way. For one reason or another, not everyone has a comfort zone they can depend on returning to and I realized I had been taking mine for granted. This was a place made for people to belong; a comfort zone for those who may not have their own.

Ultimately, it is the atmosphere at the Pride Network that breathes inspiration and positivity. Everywhere I looked I could see someone inhaling the Pride Network and exhaling with relief and confidence. This is a place where the only thing you might have in common with the person sitting next to you is that you are different. This is a place where everyone feels entirely content to be wholly and unapologetically themselves. Finally, this is a place where everyone can feel a part of something greater. Beyond everything I have written, to say that this club has changed people’s lives would still be an understatement. My roommate, Josh, may never have been confident enough to become himself had the Pride Network not been ready to catch him when his old life came crashing down. As Deanna Weber wrote, “I am big on self-love and self-happiness, and diversity is something that can contribute to both of these things” (Weber).

The Pride Network offered me the kind of enlightenment Deanna Weber spoke so much about. Although I may not yet have made my leap into the light, I feel confident that this experience has equipped me with the means by which to do so. I learned that I have the responsibility to not only observe, but immerse myself in, the diversity that surrounds me. I learned what it means to really learn. Most crucially, I learned that everything around me has something to offer me if I am willing to look hard enough.

Works Cited

Freire, Paulo. "The "Banking" Concept of Education." Plato (2007): n. pag. Web.

Green, Josh. Personal Interview. 14 Oct. 2015.

Sullivan, Matthew. Personal Interview. 14 Oct. 2015.

"The Internet Classics Archive | The Republic by Plato." The Internet Classics Archive | The Republic by Plato . N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Oct. 2015.

"University of Vermont." Translating Identity Conference. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Oct. 2015.

Weber, Deanna. “Leaping out of the Cave and into the Light,” Taking Giant Steps. N.p., 11 Sept. 2015. Web.