Utica University Celebrates Coming Out Day
Utica University’s Strebel Lounge was filled with rainbow colors for a National Coming Out Day celebration on October 11th.
At one table, poster boards were covered with handprints made by participants. Ashley Tavarez, a third-year psychology major/theater minor, carefully painted her palm with pink, purple, and blue finger paint before pressing it to the paper. She picked the colors of the Bisexual Pride flag to celebrate almost six years of being out.
“I want to love who I want to love,” Tavarez said.
Utica Univeristy is a five-hour drive from her home, but being far from home is a sacrifice she is happy to make.
“I’m from a culture that is against LGBTQ people, so it’s so good to find acceptance in the place where I chose to study.”
Aileen Nealis and Cassandra Simmons are second-year graduate students in the university’s Doctorate of Physical Therapy program. They worked with the Provost, Stephanie Nesbitt, to organize the event.
“We wanted to celebrate the day,” Nealis said.
“There are a lot of people having fun and asking questions,” Simmons added. “We’re really happy with the turnout and how it all came together.”
Jaiden Benson, a junior who double majors in International Studies and Socioanthropology, staffed a table and gave information about how different minors at the university offered opportunities to study gender and sexuality.
“I thought this would be a good opportunity to meet other students, and I wanted to help out,” she said.
Shi-Anne Morgan, who was with her at the table, is also a junior. She transferred to Utica University because of the opportunities it gave her to study sociology and anthropology abroad.
“I really like it here,” she said as she offered me multi-colored Twizzlers and fun stickers. “The faculty members are great, and people are really interested in the event.”
I asked Chris Suprenant, one of the university’s career coaches, why it was important for schools to show that everyone is welcome.
“All of our students have different experiences and come from different backgrounds, and just to know that you belong at the place where you spend a good majority of your time is invaluable,” he explained. “Especially in this day and age for the LGBTQ+ community, it makes life a lot easier.”
The Coming Out Day celebration was organized under the direction of Utica University Provost Stephanie Nesbitt. I asked her to articulate how diversity adds to an educational experience for all students.
“There is tons of research about how diversity rates on campus, in the community, in our country…well, it’s just proven that diverse populations breed a stronger and more resilient population,” she explained.
Nesbitt also spoke about the importance of all students feeling welcome in their learning environment.
“When you find comfort with yourself, acceptance in the community for who you are, when people say ‘that’s okay,’ even if it doesn’t fit with what everyone else expects, there is a joy and a peace that sort of settles on you. It opens up the world and your potential,” she said. “So I always tell people, I was always a person who was bright and capable and hardworking, but I never found success until I found my wife and I found ‘my person,’ and once we came together like that, we’ve been ‘knocking it out of the park.’ Our parents all say when you two finally found each other, we saw the people you were really meant to be, so making the campus like that for everyone helps people find success and joy, and that’s what we all hope for.”
Speaker after speaker spoke about their journeys to self-acceptance and the freedom of coming out. Each person who walked to the mic and told their story received warm and enthusiastic applause from the crowd.
Chris Suprenent summed it up by saying, “It just makes your college experience a lot richer knowing that there is a whole community to support you.”
Ron Klopfanstein is an adjunct English teacher at Utica University. Like Ron Klopfanstein at Facebook.com/ReadRonKlopfanstein, Follow him at Twitter.com/RonKlopfanstein, Instagram.com/RonKlopfanstein, Threads.net/@RonKlopfanstein, and Tiktok.com/@ronklopfanstein Read all his work at Muckrack.com/ron-klopfanstein. Ron appears on “The Hot Seat with Cassandra Harris Lockwood” on the last Monday of each month at 5 p.m. tune into 95.5 “The Heat” or stream it live at 955TheHeat.com.