Category Archives: Out on Campus

Out on Campus – Leo Ragazzo

Cover PhotoLike many of us, Leo Ragazzo found Emory because of its strong academic reputation. What makes Leo’s discovery of Emory a bit unique is that he was recruited to play for the Emory University men’s varsity soccer team. Wearing the number 13, Leo appeared in 37 games during his playing career and has been recognized for his defensive talents as a UAA Defensive Athlete of the Week during his final season.

 

Leo came out to his parents after a soccer game during his second year, and he explained that he wanted them to be some of the first people he told. He found his coming out experience to be a very positive one because he “encountered a lot of support through the initial ‘coming out’ process.” The resources provided through the Office of LGBT Life proved important to this positive experience because he was able to attend some of the discussion groups and connect with other members of the Emory LGBTQ community.

 

For Leo, coming out was his opportunity to express himself completely. In his own words, “it wasn’t like I was keeping this secret that was about to shoot out my ears or anything, but just the ability to express myself completely was such a powerful, new experience.” He reflects that his second year was also the time when he discovered his passion for the environment and animals, and was also when he started his work in Residence Life as a sophomore advisor.

 

Looking back on his time as a varsity athlete, Leo sees an area of his undergraduate experience that was less positive. As far as he’s aware, he’s the first openly gay man on the varsity soccer team in either a long while or possibly ever. Because of this, he experienced micro-aggressions on a regular basis:

 

I thought they would’ve stopped after my team knew I was gay, but that didn’t really happen, unfortunately. There were many “teachable moments” I guess you could say. A lot of explaining why certain words or phrases might be hurtful even if my teammates “didn’t mean it that way.” I think Emory varsity athletics can improve here. I think there is a space to make Emory athletics as a whole a more LGBTQ-inclusive environment. I won’t say my experience as an openly gay varsity athlete was horrible, because it wasn’t. In fact, some of my best Emory memories are on that field. But, I will say that environment wasn’t always a safe space for me.

 

He admires Emory’s dedication to supporting LGBTQ students, but also understands that for many students, staff and faculty, the opportunity to find a safer space to come out may not exist. Leo hopes the events he became familiar with that helped him find power in his identity will provide others with the same feeling.

 

As Leo prepares to graduate, he is completing majors in Environmental Sciences and Biology and plans to pursue a career in veterinary medicine. Leo has also remained very involved in Residence Life and now serves as the Senior Resident Advisor for Hamilton Holmes and J. Pollard Turman Halls. It was a Residence Life-related class assignment where he finds one of the most reflective moments of his four years at Emory. The assignment was to facilitate a presentation providing ten words describing who he is. Leo was quick to share the last word: proud. “I am proud of who I’ve become, and I know being a part of the LGBTQ community [at Emory] has helped me get there.”

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Update from the Office of LGBT Life

LGBTLifeAfter a busy spring semester, the Office of LGBT Life spent most of the summer resting and planning for the upcoming fall semester. In June, the Office had the unexpected, but much welcomed, task of celebrating the marriage equality decision by the Supreme Court of the United States. Emory community members from all around campus joined the Interim Director of the Office, Danielle Steele, in a toast to marriage equality, complete with rainbow cake! The Emory Report was on hand to take pictures and do a write-up of the festivities. Their report, which was posted on the official Emory University Facebook page, can be found here.

The Office of LGBT Life was also pleasantly surprised and honored to be named by eCollegeFinder.com as the most LGBT friendly university in the state of Georgia. This honor led to an interview of Danielle by WABE, Atlanta’s NPR station, in which she briefly spoke of the establishment of the Office of LGBT Life in 1991 and of the programs currently offered to Emory students. The interview can be found here.

Creating Emory
Staff of the Office of LGBT Life as well as numerous staff members from the Center for Diversity and Inclusion recently served as trainers for Creating Emory, Emory’s first year orientation program. Focusing on diversity, inclusion, values clarification, and sexual assault prevention, trainers completed several trainings in preparation to discuss these issues at length with current Resident Advisors and Orientation Leaders. These RAs and OLs will now have a series of conversations with each student of the incoming class about the Emory community of care we hope to create. Assistant Director of Regional Volunteer Programs and Emory Alumni Association’s Liaison to GALA, Latasia Woods, partnered with Danielle to train 17 Resident Advisors and Orientation Leaders. We look forward to a healthier, more informed, and more empowered Class of 2019!

This fall, the Office of LGBT Life staff will welcome two new graduate students and four undergraduate students to the team. Stay tuned to learn about all the great programs and projects they bring to campus this semester! The Office of LGBT Life has also welcomed five new Safe Space facilitators from across campus to facilitate this cornerstone program. We thank them for volunteering their time, skills, and knowledge to make Emory a safer campus for LGBT students, faculty, and staff!

Finally, we already have one event on the calendar for the fall semester. In collaboration with the Career Center and sponsored by Macy’s, the Office of LGBT Life is happy to announce the Out at Work Panel on October 26th at 6:30pm. We will welcome alumni from a variety of fields to chat with current students about the opportunities and challenges of being out in interviews, during internships, and at workplaces.If you have interest in being on the panel, please let Danielle know!

As always, alumni involvement continues to benefit our students. Contact Danielle Steele at dmsteel@emory.edu if you are interested in being more involved with the Office of LGBT Life. Thank you!

Update from the Office of LGBT Life

LGBT Life Pic

The Office of LGBT Life had a busy and exciting spring semester, filled with several events.  In particular, the Office hosted three networking nights as part of the “Out in…” series.  Designed to connect LGBTQ students with out faculty, staff, and professionals in their fields of interest, the “Out in…” series has grown this year to include multiple campus sponsors and collaborators.

First, on February 23rd, the Office partnered with the Career Center to host Out in Healthcare.  Held in the School of Medicine, students pursuing or thinking of pursuing careers in healthcare were able to connect with faculty, professionals, and alumni in medicine, public health, nursing, and allied health to discuss the advantages and challenges of being out in their respective fields.  Additionally, students were able to connect with one another across year and school to form a broader LGBTQ healthcare community.

In April, the Office coordinated back-to-back networking events with Out in Law and Out in Business.  Student organization OUTLaw helped secure space, and Office of LGBT Life Advisory Committee member Tim Holbrook invited members of the Stonewall Bar Association to network with current and prospective law students to discuss degrees of acceptance in various law fields.  Later that same week, the Goizueta Business School and the Career Center collaborated with the Office to host the Out in Business networking night and panel.  Office of LGBT Life Advisory Committee member Sei Yoshioka-Cefalo worked with the Office to secure a diverse panel of current and former Goizueta students, including GALA members Renee Weese 02EMBA and Markbradley Kitay 14B, to discuss the topics of coming out in different business settings and the challenges and advantages of being out in applications, interviews, and the workplace.  Many thanks to all of the alumni who helped make this year’s “Out in…” series a success!

In March, the Office celebrated the 23rd Annual Pride Awards at the Miller-Ward Alumni House.  Office of LGBT Life Advisory Committee members recognized this year’s winners who included students, alumni, organizations, and faculty members who represent the Office’s mission of creating an affirming and just campus environment.  Awards included the Outstanding Transgender Advocate Award, Outstanding Ally of the Year Award, Chesnut LGBT Person of the Year Award, Fierce Leadership Award, Rev. Dr. Susan Henry-Crowe Keeping the Faith Award, and the GALA Leadership Award.  The Alum of the Year was GALA’s own Malcolm Bruni, 92C.  In addition to the award winners, student leaders who received support from the J. Michael Aycock Leadership Development Fund and D. Daniel D. Adame Student Leadership Fund were recognized.  Finally, 2015 graduates were recognized for their academic achievements with lavender diplomas and rainbow graduation cords.  Congratulations to our award winners and our graduates!

Finally, the spring semester ended with the announcement that Danielle Steele, current Interim Director of the Office of LGBT Life, has also assumed the role of Interim Director of the Center for Women at Emory.  In this joint role, Danielle will continue to strengthen the programs and lead strategic planning efforts for both the Office of LGBT Life and the Center for Women.

As always, alumni involvement continues to benefit our students. Contact Danielle Steele at dmsteel@emory.edu if you are interested in being more involved with the Office of LGBT Life.  Thank you!

Out on Campus: Kayley Scruggs

Kayley Scruggs is a rising junior from Jackson, Mississippi, and a candidate for the Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing program. Aby Parsons 13G, Co-Chair of GALA, interviewed Kayley about her activism, her experiences of queer community at Emory, and her goals for life after graduation.

Kayley Scruggs

 

AP:  You’re from Jackson, Mississippi. What made you decide to stay in the South for college?

KS:  Unlike many socially and politically progressive southerners, I am immensely proud to be from the South. I believe that southerners hold a certain demeanor that transcends simple southern hospitality; warmth and generosity are innate to us individually. I have witnessed profound acts of compassion that constitute my faith in the South’s aptitude for progress. I believe that the South can make great leaps toward achieving social justice, and I want to be a part of helping my southern communities do exactly that.

AP:  You’re a fierce advocate and activist in the reproductive justice movement. Can you tell us how you came to be involved in doing that work, and why it’s important to you?

KS:  I have identified as a feminist since I was 12 years old, which is what started my path to activism. When I decided to become a midwife a few years later, I began recognizing how pregnant women are mistreated by the United States healthcare system. My interest began with birth justice, mostly focusing on the demonization of home birth and the epidemic of medically unnecessary Caesarean sections. Soon, I realized that society’s failure to respect a person’s right to access a safe, empowering birth and the right to a safe, respectful abortion share the same root: patriarchy’s regulation of body autonomy. This realization led me to broaden the scope of my advocacy. Reproductive justice is my biggest passion and top priority because the status of reproductive autonomy affects everyone–whether you have a uterus or not. When one person’s reproductive rights are violated, bodily autonomy for their entire community is threatened.

AP:  How does your bisexual identity and your participation in LGBTQ communities inform your reproductive justice activism (or vice versa)?

KS:  To me, LGBTQ equality is a reproductive justice issue, and reproductive justice is essential to LGBTQ liberation. Recognizing this connection fuels my passion for both movements and inspires me to create safer spaces in my work. For example, my experience in the LGBTQ community informs me that not only straight women require reproductive health care, and changes the way I communicate about reproductive justice.

AP:  Tell us a bit about your involvement with LGBTQ groups and issues on campus.

KS:  I served on the executive board of Emory Pride my first and second years at Emory, and I began working at the Office of LGBT Life in the second semester of my second year. Being involved with the LGBTQ community at Emory has been essential to developing my personal relationship with my bisexual identity. In a few short months, I went from being out to a handful of people to an entire campus and many of my friends back home. Being around such unapologetic queer people pushed me out of my comfort zone in the best way possible; my experience with the Emory LGBTQ community gave me the confidence I needed to demand that my identity be acknowledged and respected.

AP:  You were a recipient of an award from the Aycock Leadership Development Fund this past year, and were able to go with Emory students to Creating Change, the national conference on LGBTQ equality. What were some of your highlights from that experience?

KS:  Creating Change allowed me to share space with people who shared my passion for both reproductive justice and LGBTQ issues. Although the two movements intersect in many ways, it is rare to be in a space that explicitly connects them. Nearly a week of hearing about other LGBTQ activists’ work to expand access to reproductive care and sharing experiences with them was one of the most inspiring times of my life. In addition to the overwhelming inspiration, Creating Change is wonderful because it is one of the safest places to be exactly who you are. No matter what your identity or your passion, there is someone there who you have something in common with. Instead of hearing the normal response of “What is that?” when I say that I’m pansexual or an aspiring midwife, I hear “Me too!” or “That’s so cool!” several times per day.

AP:  You’ve shown a lot of courage by being a vocal and visible advocate for the issues you care about. Who are some of your role models that inspire your activism and leadership?

KS:  I am inspired by women every day. The strength that I see in women I don’t even know astounds me and is my inspiration for all that I do. More personally, I am inspired by my co-escorts at the last abortion clinic remaining in Mississippi. I have been volunteering as a clinic escort there for a little less than a year, and I quickly developed a profound sense of respect for three of the women who have dedicated themselves to defending our clinic against the anti-choice protestors who line the sidewalk outside of it. We are connected by the work of supporting our patients and other women everywhere, and they have taught me how to be a fearless, loving activist.

AP:  What is something you wish the Emory community understood about LGBTQ students?

KS:  I wish that non-LGBTQ students understood that being an ally is a continuous, demanding process that requires a lot of self-education. I wish that members of the Emory community would grow to be more comfortable with saying “I made a mistake. I’m sorry, and it won’t happen again,” instead of becoming defensive when someone feels threatened by their words or behavior. Overall, I hope that the Emory community will realize that caring communication is essential to creating safe space for LGBTQ students.

AP:  What kind of support or involvement, if any, would you like to see from GALA and other alumni of Emory?

KS:  I would like to see GALA helping to bridge the gap between Emory’s LGBTQ students and the Atlanta LGBTQ community. Many LGBTQ alumni are politically and socially active, and I would like to see Emory students become more involved in LGBTQ activism and volunteering. I believe that GALA could be a rich resource for the mentorship of Emory’s LGBTQ students, and I would love to learn more about the advocacy work of GALA members in the Atlanta community and beyond.

AP:  What are your hopes and goals for the remainder of your time at Emory? What do you hope to do after you graduate?

KS:  I  will be entering the School of Nursing this fall, and while I am there I hope to strengthen the presence of the LGBTQ community in Emory’s nursing program. It is one of the only schools at Emory that does not have an LGBTQ student group, which will hopefully change within my time remaining at Emory. I am also excited to become involved with Nursing Students for Reproductive Health and connect with more pro-choice students at Emory. After I graduate, I hope to be immediately a compassionate nurse, eventually an empowering midwife, and always a powerful advocate for social justice.

OUT on Campus: Samantha Allen 15G

Samantha Allen

Samantha Allen

Samantha Allen 15G is a PhD Student in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Emory University. She writes about gender, sexuality, and technology. She is a contributor for The Daily Beast, and her opinion pieces appear regularly at The Daily Dot. Her work has also appeared on Rolling StoneThe Advocate, SalonHuffington Post, Mic, Kinsey Confidential, Jacobin, and in Adult Magazine. 

Lilly Correa 73C, Co-Chair of GALA, recently interviewed Samantha for this newsletter.

LC: You were raised in a Mormon household. What was your experience growing up?

SA: Mormonism is inimical to any form of gender or sexual variation, and my personal experience with it was suffocating. There are LGBT Mormons who stay in the church hoping to change it from within, but that life wasn’t for me. Growing up, I was told first that homosexuality was an immoral choice, second that it was a tolerable condition like alcoholism. I lived my entire life feeling like I was a sinner until I realized in my early twenties that the problem was with the church and not with me.

LC: What brought you to Emory from Rutgers?

SA: It’s sort of an accident. I went to Rutgers for Linguistics, but the courses in that department were so overloaded that I ended up double majoring in Women’s & Gender Studies to fill my time. By my junior year, I was much more interested in studying gender and sexuality than I was in diagramming sentences, so I decided to pursue a graduate degree in Women’s Studies instead of Linguistics. Emory has one of the highest-ranking PhD programs in that field. I somehow got accepted, and I’ve been here for five years now.

LC: What is your dissertation topic?

SA: My dissertation is about sexual fetishism, and it looks at everything from sneezing fetishism to erotic vomiting. [Side note: The answer to the question “Is there a fetish for X?” is always “Yes.”] Most theories of sexual fetishism would think of these seemingly bizarre practices as evidence that the “sex drive” has been diverted into bizarre territory, but my dissertation asks what it would mean to think of fetishes as having completely legible affective (or emotional, in non-academic speak) motivations instead.

LC: Tell us about your fellowship with the Kinsey Institute?

SA: In 2013, I was selected to be the John Money Fellow at the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction at Indiana University in Bloomington. I spent three weeks in their incredible archives reading everything from 1920s pulp magazines to 1940s fetish scrapbooks to 1980s fetish newsletters. I’ve used a lot of this material for my dissertation, but, more importantly, I met my partner at the Kinsey Institute, and we’ve been together ever since. She was sitting across from me in the reading room doing some research of her own; we got in the elevator at the same time one day, and the rest is history.

LC: In addition to your own blog, you also write for the Daily Beast.  What has been the best received column and the most controversial column?

SA: The best received column was also one of my most recent: a piece about Kate Brown, the first bisexual governor in the United States, and what her new visibility means for bisexual Americans, so many of whom are still in the closet compared to gay men and lesbians. It was particularly gratifying for that piece to get a positive response because I don’t identify as bisexual myself, and it feels good to get something right when you don’t have a personal experience with the subject matter.

As for controversy, I’ve gotten so much social media and email pushback over my columns, I don’t even know where to begin. I’ve heard from anti-abortion evangelicals, homophobic Mormons, diehard Confederates, anti-feminists, Silicon Valley tech investors, and more. When you write about women’s and LGBT issues for a large outlet, almost everything you write will be construed as controversial.

LC: What do you see as the intersectionalities, or lack thereof, of your background, including your race, color, religion, ethnic or national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression?  How has your time at Emory helped promote the intersectionality of these different backgrounds for you or other students?

SA: I’m a white, queer, femme woman from an upper-class Mormon background. Emory has helped me become who I am, but there are also so many ways in which you can become complacent here as a white person who comes from money. For me, Emory is an easy place to be LGBT because it feels designed around and for my experience. I’ve tried over the last year especially to stay in tune with the needs of LGBT students of color and our gender non-conforming students especially.

LC: Tell us about your activism. When did it start?  Was there a defining event?

SA: My activism started in college when I left the Mormon Church and transferred to Rutgers. Leaving the church was that galvanizing moment of realization for me. I started to see the world through new eyes and pay attention to forms of oppression that I had been told were nonexistent or exaggerated. In college, I did more protesting and marching than I can do now. In graduate school, I started to channel more of my energy into my writing and my work with the Office of LGBT Life. I facilitated one of our discussion groups for a year and a half, and I’ve been working for the office for a bit longer than that.

LC: What needs are you responding to, and what kinds of community-building, programming, and advocacy work are you engaged in on campus?

SA: This year, Danielle Steele and I have been focused on creating networking opportunities for LGBT students interested in careers in healthcare, law, and business. GALA has played a crucial role in making these events happen.

Over the last two years, I’ve also helped to develop the Office of LGBT Life’s programming around Transgender Day of Remembrance in coordination with the Trans-forming Gender Discussion Group. This past November, we held our second memorial service, this time with participation from Glenn United Methodist Church and the Reconciling Ministries Network.

I have also been working on an outreach program called LGBTQ-tips that divides our Safe Space curriculum into more bite-sized portions. Some departments and student groups want training, but they don’t have a three plus hour block in which all of their members are free, so LGBTQ-tips can hopefully bring the knowledge to them. We’ll be developing that further this semester, and hopefully launching it next academic year.

LC: Tell us about your current position in the Office of LGBT Life.

SA: I’ve been the graduate assistant in the Office of LGBT Life for almost two years now. What that means is that you probably got a lot of emails from me. Behind the scenes, I’m coordinating events, running the office’s social media channels, creating a lot of our advertising, and keeping the office open when Michael Shutt and Danielle Steele are off doing the more important work across the university.

LC: What kinds of issues are important to you and any facilitator groups you may belong to?

SA: I’m especially passionate about the intersections of feminist and LGBT activism. It’s why I made time to be a part of the Vagina Monologues while also working for the office last year. And even though I haven’t had time to participate in it this year, I was part of initial conversations with alumna Lauren Guilmette and Center for Women Program Coordinator Tiffany Del Valle that led to the reemergence of the Queer Women’s Group this year.

LC: Are there other spaces where you think LGBT students are finding voice on campus?

SA: I’ve been so pleased by the growth of both the Queer Students of Color discussion group and BlackOUT, a new student-led, black LGBTQ group, over the last year. As the national discussion around police violence and systemic racism has reached critical mass, it also seems like discussions around the intersections of race and LGBT identity have been gaining traction at Emory. I’m excited to see how those discussions continue to take shape in conjunction with the newly-formed Center for Diversity and Inclusion.

LC: What are your priorities or goals for the next academic year?

SA: I’m graduating this semester and leaving the academic world to continue my career as a writer and journalist. But given that LGBT issues are central to my writing, I’m going to carry the knowledge I’ve gained from working in the Office of LGBT Life with me and hopefully put it to good use in the public sphere.

LC: What kind of support or involvement, if any, would you like to see from GALA and other alums of Emory?

SA: I’d love to see GALA members at the Pride Awards as well as at all our “Out in…” events this semester! I’d also encourage everyone to sign up for the Out @ Emory website and get their free T-shirt in any color of the rainbow from Michael Shutt’s office.

LC: If you could ask for anything from the administration, what—if anything—would it be?

SA: As a student, former graduate instructor, and employee of Emory, I’ve seen the university from a lot of different angles. After five years, I can say that the people I’ve seen struggle the most with belonging and thriving here are Black and Latino/a students. I’d like to see more support for those students and more attention paid to the barriers that stand in their way at Emory.

OUT on Campus: Kolia Kroeger 15C

kolia&carterKolia Kroeger 15C is President of Emory Pride, Vice President of the Slavic Club at Emory, and the 2013-2014 recipient of the GALA Leadership Award. Kolia’s preferred pronouns are:  they, them, their.  Since coming out as genderqueer, Kolia became involved with various groups that question the social construction of a gender/sex binary. They are pursuing a double major in Russian Language, Literature, and Culture and History.

Lilly Correa 73C, Co-Chair of GALA, recently interviewed Kolia for this newsletter.

LC:  Your home town is in Texas (Thorndale).  What was your experience growing up as gender non-conforming in a small town?

KK:  The concept of gender variance didn’t really exist in rural Texas.  I imagine that my experience was very different than in urban or suburban settings.

kolia_queerLC:  What brought you to Emory?

KK:  Originally, I came here to be a chemistry major, and to get out of Texas.

LC:  What do you see as the intersectionalities, or lack thereof, of your background, including your race, color, class, religion, ethnic or national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression?  How has your time at Emory helped promote the intersectionality of these different backgrounds for you or other students?

KK:  I had not heard the word until I came to Emory. My strongest first impression was the crossover between my non-normative sexual orientation (at this point I was not even aware of “gender identity”) and class. The people I knew were like “let’s go eat or let’s go out,” and I always just left quietly because I couldn’t afford it.

Only later did intersectionality become a word with real meaning to me. After finding supportive people (only in the last two years), I was able to confront what my gender, race, and economic status mean in a broader context.

I think the college is on the right step by implementing the “Creating Emory” program, but it could be more comprehensive and on-going. The current system introduces new students to words and ideas,  but doesn’t help them to understand why this matters to them or how to incorporate “diversity” or “intersectionality” into their world view.
I feel like the people in the know are working to make things better, but the larger communities of privilege feel little need to be involved.

koliaLC:  Were you involved in the eventual establishment of gender neutral housing at Emory? Tell us about that process.

KK:  While I was deeply interested and worked to advocate for gender neutral housing, it was really Michael Shutt, Interim Director of the Center for Diversity and Inclusion at Campus Life, and the residential offices that made that happen.

LC: What needs are you responding to, and what kinds of community-building, programming, and advocacy work are you engaged in on campus?

KK:  I feel there is a stronger need around education in general on campus. There is currently Safe Space Training (directed toward faculty and staff).  However, several students, including myself are working to launch a new program, Queer-Tips.  This program, coordinated by the Office of LGBT Life, is basically a mobile, student/group-oriented program constructed from the basic structure of Safe Space.

LC:  So tell me a little bit about your involvement with Emory Pride.  Are you a facilitator in a special group?

KK:  As President of Emory Pride, my primary focus is implementing the strategic vision for this year (and future years).  A lot of my time is spent either guiding other members of our executive board, looking for funding for our various events and programs, or just doing general outreach.

LC:  What kinds of issues are important to Emory Pride?

KK:  For me, making spaces queer and trans*  friendly is a big part of my work. I hope that this is accomplished through Emory Pride.

LC:  Are there other spaces where you think LGBT students are finding voice on campus?
KK:  Frankly, many LGB students seem as though they don’t need “LGBT Spaces.” I do know of LGB students who hang out in the Office of Multicultural Programs and Services, the Emory Black Student Union and the Center for Women.

LC:  What kind of support or involvement, if any, would you like to see from GALA and other alums of Emory?  If you could ask for anything from the administration, what—if anything—would it be?

KK:  Currently, I am asking for reviews on architectural policy regarding gender neutral restrooms.

Out on Campus: Nowmee Shehab 16C

Nowee Shehab 16C

Nowmee Shehab 16C

Nowmee Shehab 16C is the Vice President of External Affairs for Emory Pride, and was recently featured in the Ms. Magazine Blog for her work on sexual violence on campus.

Lilly Correa 73C, Co-Chair of GALA, recently interviewed Nowmee for this newsletter.

LC:  You are a transfer student from Smith.  Why did you decide to attend Emory?

NS:  After my first year at Smith, I took a year off and did an AmeriCorps Program in Boston called City Year. During that year my academic and personal goals became clearer to me, and I knew I wanted to attend a big research university that had a liberal arts college and was close to a city. Emory was the perfect pick!

LC:  What do you see as the intersectionalities, or lack thereof, of your background, including your race, color, religion, ethnic or national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression?  How has your time at Emory helped promote the intersectionality of these different backgrounds for you or other students?

NS:  I immigrated to the U.S. from Bangladesh when I was 16, and my South Asian community and broadly the people of color community have been very important to me. Last year, I was one of the co-facilitators of the Queer Students of Color Discussion Group through the Office of LGBT Life. It has helped me a lot to find that safe space here at Emory. I also work at the Center for Women at Emory, and am involved with the Respect Program. My involvement with them has helped me find folks who share the same values as I, and delve deeper into what it means to be a queer woman of color.

LC:  Tell us about your summer internship?  What were highlights or disappointments?

NS:  D.C. is an amazing place to be during the summer, and I am really grateful that I was given the opportunity to be here this summer. I am a Victory Institute Congressional intern at Congressman Cicilline’s office. The Victory Institute promotes leadership within young LGBT people interested in public service. The program has 7 other interns placed in various Congressional offices and Committees. It has been incredible getting to know these 7 peer leaders from across the country, sharing our experiences and discussing the ways that young people are tackling the issues of our generation. Being on the Hill has been a great experience; my favorite aspect has been going to the different issue and bill briefings. I’ve had the chance to listen to key leaders talk about the unemployment crisis, immigration reform, and sexual violence prevention. Notably I’ve gone to several panels on international LGBT rights organized by the Foreign Affairs Committee. I have also had the chance to engage in some LGBT organizations in D.C. I have been volunteering with the National Center for Transgender Equality to help plan their Hill Lobby Day. I am really happy that I got to experience what it is like working on the Hill and working in an advocacy group. I think it has helped me consolidate my plan for the future.

LC:  Tell us about your activism.  Did it start in high school?  Was there a defining event?

NS:  Both of my parents were student activists, and continued to serve the public healthcare system in Bangladesh throughout their lives.  Growing up with their teachings of building supportive communities and their staunch commitment to public service helped shape my worldview. Though, I remember a moment of my childhood that really propelled me to start thinking about inequality. I think I was about 12 years old, and I witnessed a garment workers strike right in front of my apartment. One of my neighbors was the manager of a factory, and the workers were protesting because they hadn’t gotten paid in 2 months. The workers were also my neighbors who lived in a shanty town down the street. This experience really got me thinking about power in our society and the importance of community organizing in getting marginalized voices heard. I started volunteering at a community service organization when I was 14, and have been involved in non-profit and activist organizations ever since.

LC:  So tell me a little bit about your involvement with Emory Pride and your role as a facilitator?

NS:  I was one of the co-facilitators of the Queer Students of Color Discussion Group last year. I was also the Publicity Representative for Emory Pride spring semester of last year, and I am proud to say that I will start serving as the Vice President of External Affairs this year.

LC:  What kinds of issues are important to Emory Pride and any facilitator groups you may belong to?

NS:  It is really important to me that Emory Pride keeps its focus on being a safe space for LGBT students, educating our campus on LGBT issues, and centering the most marginalized voices in our community in our programming and actions. We have done a lot of identity focused programming in the past year which has been helpful to many students including myself. I would like to expand this and have political advocacy programming that engages LGBT students and allies on topics like healthcare and housing equity, immigration reform, prison reform, reproductive justice and how all of that is linked to LGBT equality.

LC:  Are there other spaces where you think LGBT students are finding voice on campus?

gde-black-ompsNS:  Fortunately, I think LGBT students are finding their voices all across campus through SGA, Office of Multicultural Programs and Services, Resident Life and Housing, and through various student organizations. It is great that LGBT students are finding leadership and community in different pockets of campus.

LC:  What are your priorities or goals for the next aca­demic year?

NS:  First and foremost I hope to continue being a supportive and loving daughter, sister, friend and community member. I am also committed to being a good student.  I am a Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies major, and I am excited to delve into my third year of studying the discipline. The classes this year seem very interesting. Additionally I am very excited about the plan to create a Center for Diversity and Inclusion that would promote collaboration between OMPS, Center for Women, and Office of LGBT Life.

LC:  What kind of support or involvement, if any, would you like to see from the GALA and other alums of Emory?

NS:  I think a clear and streamlined way of connecting with GALA Alums would be very helpful. The previous Out at Work, Out at Healthcare, etc.  panels have been very helpful, and similar professional development programming would be really great.

LC:  If you could ask for anything from the ad­ministration, what—if anything—would it be?

NS:  In my experience, something that we don’t talk about enough (or at all) in any spaces at Emory is who is not at the table, i.e. who are the students who are not at Emory because of economic, social and political oppression. Even though Emory is a welcoming space for a diverse group of people, we still need to do a lot to make Emory accessible to trans people, especially trans women of color, undocumented people and low-income students. I would ask the administration to make clearer pathways for marginalized students to access funding and make the process transparent.