United teaches tolerance and provides safe places
By Devon Aragona
There is no denying that Findlay, though striving for diversity, sometimes has a hard time breaking free of its traditional and rather conservative viewpoints. But a growing club on campus is striving to help change those view points by providing opportunities to be educated on diversity and tolerance and have a secure place to ask questions.
United: The University of Findlay’s gay-straight alliance was formed in 2010. Upon its inception, it faced some negative backlash from more conservative members of the staff and community. Over time, the club has hosted social and educational events that have changed the minds of skeptics and has also become one of the largest on campus with over 100 members.
United was established as a safe place for anyone to come and become educated and ask questions about the topics of gender and sexual diversity, amongst other things.
“We want this to be a safe place for everyone to learn, and ask questions,” said Sydney LeVan, senior social work major and president of United. “Meetings usually start with an icebreaker, then we talk about what we are doing during the semester, and then we always end with a discussion topic that has some sort of educational piece to it. We always ask that no one asks what someone else’s sexual orientation or identity is.”
The organization wants students to feel comfortable around people of all genders, sexual orientations, or sexual identities, no matter their own preferences.
“My mom raised me to believe ‘I don’t care what you do if you are two consenting adults,’ and that is something that I still live by,” said Will Adeboyejo, junior digital media major and LGBT United ally. “This organization supports that belief and is a good way to learn new things. It is also a good way to help yourself become more politically correct when going into the workforce.”
United aims to help educate and prepare students for a workforce and a world where times and lifestyles are changing and are often diverse.
“This is a big social issue in America and it is changing. Gaining knowledge on social issues that affect our elected officials is something that everyone should be aware of,” said Adeboyejo. “Since we elect officials, having a knowledge base about what these officials will have to deal with is important. They will eventually have to vote on this issue.”
Findlay students who have become a part of the group appreciate such a place.
“When I came to Findlay, I didn’t think that anything like this existed on campus, a resource center that was a safe space,” said Cat Brown, a nursing major junior and United members.
United members want to invite people from all viewpoints to come and learn, no matter religious affiliations, orientations, and other personal classifications.
“A misconception is that this is just for gay people or transgenders, but that is something we want to address. This is for everyone,” said SchauDon Herd, junior environmental science and occupational safety, and United treasurer. “We want to diversify the campus.”
United is working to increase education not just for students, but for faculty as well.
An upcoming event that is United is sponsoring is safe space training for faculty and staff. On March 20, faculty and staff can come and learn about how to handle LGBT matters that may arise with students, how to be more aware of the topic, and to ask questions.
“Staff is encouraged to come and ask questions, and learn how to handle discrimination and be aware of the topic,” said Lex Renner, senior English major and vice president of United. “At the end we will give participants stickers that they can put out to let students know that that professor projects a safe space in the learning environment.”
United will also be offering panels of students that can come to classes and speak to students in order to answer any questions that they may have about LGBT.
The largest educational tool that has been added by the club is the LGBT resource center in the social work house on Morey Street. The office is home to books that have been donated by supporters and brochures collected by the club, as well as human resources.
“The United resource center is just another opportunity to help students who have questions, who want to talk about any personal experiences or issues that they may be dealing with, and so on. United officers staff the office for two hours a day, five days a week,” said Renner.
LeVan encourages UF students to not only come for advice or questions, but to hang out and socialize.
“We want this to be a place where anyone can go and feel safe. They can come do homework, ask us questions, a safe place to talk to someone else about something, really anything” LeVan says.
Along with staffing the resource center and holding meetings, the club also likes to have a little fun with their events.
The largest event that the club holds, the drag queen show, will have its third consecutive appearance on March 25 in the Alumni Memorial Union from 7 to 10 p.m. This year, the show will include both drag queens and kings.
“Half of the proceeds go to the club and the other half go to the AIDS resource center in Toledo,” said Renner.
United meets every other Tuesday in the Gardner Fine Arts Pavillion at 9 p.m. in the Malcolm dining room.
If students have any questions, they are encouraged to email Sydney LeVan at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out the office hours on their Facebook page, facebook.com/UnitedUF