Continuing Support after Pride Month
Even though Pride Month is over, we here at Western Colorado University want to ensure a message of hope and inclusivity to our queer community on campus. We know finding a place where you belong can be challenging, especially at a small school, but there are so many campus resources and people you can contact if you’re in need.
Provost Jessica Young
Our Provost, Jessica Young, is a proud member of the LGBTQIA+ community and brings her lesbian identity into everything she does at Western. Provost Young knows firsthand how difficult it can be to exist as a queer person in the academic setting. As she was growing up, she learned that being “out” could cost you your reputation and even your job. Now, she firmly believes that queer representation in higher education is essential because it creates a space where all can feel safe and welcome.
“If you are attending Western or you’re a faculty or staff member, and your identity is one that’s different from the heteronormative identity, I want you to know that you belong here,” said Young. “If you have any challenges, I’m here, and we are here as a community to help you navigate those challenges. This is a place where you are safe, and you are cared about.”
If you’re looking to be heavily involved in the LGBTQIA+ community on campus, Spectrum is the place for you. The club’s mission is to create a safe and inclusive environment for all students by fostering a healthy support system through activism, fellowship, and education. Surrounding yourself with people who are open to understanding you is the best way to understand yourself. This a community designed to accept you. On top of the support for each other, Spectrum hosts events on campus to raise awareness and educate our community on issues that affect people who identify as queer. The club has hosted an annual drag show and numerous informative lectures to help our campus gain understanding and acceptance.
Matt Aronson is a professor of sociology, graduate director of rural community health, and the faculty advisor for Western’s LGBTQIA+ club, Spectrum. Aronson knows how important it is to have diversity in power structures. Not only does it bring multiple perspectives to the table, but also because it’s a more accurate representation of reality. He advises students to seek out faculty and staff and get to know leaders who may align with their identity for support.
“Western’s a pretty awesome place,” said Aronson. “We have administrators, vice presidents, and directors of divisions that are loving people. That matters a lot to me. I don’t have to worry about other people’s acceptance of me.”
Western Theatre Company
A great place for queer students to find themselves and learn about self-expression is the Western Theatre Company. Theatre is widely known for its bonds with the queer community, and that relationship is no different at Western. Theatre professor Steven Cole Hughes and Western’s artist-in-residence Heather Hughes are loud about their support for LGBTQIA+ students and even louder about not wanting to be rewarded.
“We shouldn’t get a pat on the back for being accepting; it shouldn’t be an extraordinary thing,” said Heather Hughes. “People invest where they feel invited, and it’s our job as citizens, community members, and certainly educators to create invitations for everyone.”
After Western got three out of five stars on the Campus Pride Index evaluation, Steven Cole Hughes decided to teach an LGBTQIA+ Theatre History class in response. The course explores the ties between theatre and the queer community. At the end of the semester, the students create a class project. This year, the class made a Queer Library that sits on the second floor of Taylor Hall. The library contains queer non-fiction, fiction, and informational books.
“Theatre accepts everyone and values diversity. The more special and specific you are, the more we want to see you on stage,” said Steven Cole Hughes.
Paul Giberson is a Western alumnus and the Director of Student Retention and Completion. He came out as gay during his undergraduate years right here at Western. Now as a staff member, he continues to live his identity proudly. Though he recognizes the struggles all queer people face, he also knows he has the benefit of navigating his identity while also being white and male.
“I am able to look at the intersectionality of my identity and realize I have a lot of benefits from my white male identities that make navigating my queer identity much easier, so I don’t want to say that my good experience is the universal one.”
Paul knows the value of being in a leadership role at Western while also being a part of the queer community. He is proud to have a hand in creating visibility in higher education.
“I think a lot of folks struggle finding their identity, not just queer identity,” said Giberson. “Part of coming to college is getting to do that identity search. It takes time, and it’s cliché, but it gets better.”
It’s okay to ask for help! If you’re struggling with your identity or any mental health crisis, TimelyCare is a free online resource that gives you 24/7 access to care immediately. All you have to do is sign in with your student login, plug in your information, and a licensed mental health provider will be at your fingertips. College can be an overwhelming experience for anyone – you’re not alone! https://app.timelycare.com/auth/login
The queer community has struggled through adversity for far too long and has made strides in representation and visibility. Still, the work is never finished. We here at Western firmly believe in our institution’s moral stance of Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusivity. This belief does not end with Pride Month. Our DEI Committee and Vice President for Inclusivity, Steven D. Parker, are hard at work to ensure we hold to our beliefs and continue our work toward unwavering acceptance.