On Wednesday, April 15th, Alliance and Safe Haus collaborated to host the annual LGBTQIA discussion panel in Mary Lyon. This year’s panel was called ‘Sh!t People Say’ and had faculty, staff and students answering questions and sharing experiences as part of the LGBTQIA community.
President of the Alliance, Deanna Biddy ’17, said that this panel allowed members of the Wheaton community to hear different perspectives on identity- whether that is sexual orientation or gender. Students who may not yet feel comfortable with their identity could relate to stories of other individuals and understand that there are people on campus to talk to.
This year saw six panelists who represented diversity in nationalities, racial or ethnic backgrounds, and life experiences in the LGBTQIA community. They included Professor of English Claire Buck, Professor of Psychology Bianca Murphy, Associate Professor of Music and Choral Director Tim Harbold, Alfonso Francois ’15, Khadim Niang ’15 and Sarah Langer ’17.
Professor Buck said, “It was the first time I’ve been on a panel for LGBTQIA in quite a while and first time with a combined event organized by Safe Space. It is important for students, however they identify, to hear from a professor who is out in her professional and personal life. And personally, I get a great deal out of an event like this where personal stories are shared by students and faculty.”
Buck went on to add, “We assume that it is very easy for a student to be gay, lesbian or transgender at Wheaton because the college advocates for an actively inclusive campus, but I also hear about the difficulties students face. Some students confront harassment in the dorms, while others just find it hard in a small community to find friends and partners.”
Biddy stated that one of the common anonymous questions asked of the panelists requested advice for when a person comes out to their families. She said, “(We had) Professors who were so comfortable talking about this. They were really funny and every person was interesting and had a lot to provide about their own lives.”
“I was struck by how affirming everyone’s story was, whether they had met acceptance or not. We talked about whether Wheaton was a good place to work if you identify as lesbian or gay. All three faculty were extremely positive about the environment.” Buck said, “Personally I was struck by how the questions we were asked haven’t really changed over the years, but that there is at the same time so much more awareness of the differences culture makes to your experience.”
Biddy added that the approximately 20 people in attendance were very excited about the panel and expressed positive comments and remarks. This was encouragement to continue having this panel in the future. She also stated that there were plans with alumni relations to do a similar event in the fall, along with a series of panels as a big event in the spring.
These big panels would be for five days on different topics relating to the LGBT community. Biddy also mentioned events like the lecture on Islam and Sexuality by the first openly gay Imam Daayiee Abdullah and the Lavender Celebration of graduating seniors for their work or being part of the LGBTQ community in Wheaton.
Buck concluded by saying, “Wheaton is a good environment to learn about yourself. The more we have public discussion about what students are experiencing, and what they need, the better place Wheaton will be for LGBTQIA people. When I’m on a panel like this, I want students to know that I am a successful professional, a parent, and happy in my life. It isn’t all struggle.”