Manhattan College’s LGBT Friends and Allies became an official campus club this fall semester. Ivan Rios, student president of LGBT Friends and Allies, created this club as a safe space for members and friends of the LGBT community to bond together and share stories.
“Last semester I came back to my room one night to find homophobic slurs written on my door,” said Rios. “I took offense to the slurs and contacted my RA on LGBT resources.”
Rios was directed to Resident Director Stephanie Brooks. The two teamed together to design a club that allowed students to have a place to seek help. The process of becoming an official club was rather easy according to Rios.
“The faculty was very supportive of our club and even donated money to the organization,” Rios said.
The club members fluctuate between 12 to 30 people per meeting, but its email list consists of over 100 names. During meetings, members discuss conflicts experienced and ways to integrate the club into the larger college community. One major event the club hosted was the Coming Out Day on Oct. 11.
“This day promoted the sharing of coming out stories, LGBT topics like asexual awareness, discussions of personal conflicts and to build strong bonds with one another in a safe space,” Rios said.
The club has partnered with Manhattan College ALLY Safe Zone Program which was founded by Cory Blad, Ph.D., associate professor of sociology and director of the urban affairs program. The club and Blad partnered together to create a Safe Zone Program event consisting of a group of LGBT speakers on Nov. 11.
“Ivan is a great leader with amazing organizational skills,” Blad said of their collaboration.
Five years ago Blad brought the ALLY Safe Zone Program to the college. The organization is geared towards the heterosexual audience to understand members of the LGBT community can go to a private space and be supported.
The ALLY program focuses on newly independent adults who are facing the realities of living on their own and adjusting to a new community. Rather than feeling unwelcomed, the program allows spaces for students to talk and to be heard. MC members include over 50 teachers, over 50 staff members and numerous students who have pledged to be allies.
“When I first came to Manhattan College there was nothing like ALLY,” said Blad. “There wasn’t anything formally addressing the inclusion of the LGBT community into the MC community.”
Like LGBT Friends and Allies, Blad said he received only positive feedback when launching the ALLY program. Blad said that his colleagues at other Catholic colleges have experienced questioning and a lack of acceptance when launching or backing similar programs on their campuses.
The foundation of ALLY is a grass roots movement with no defined organizational form. MC received help from Lehman College to help establish the organization’s presence. Lehman further assisted with the training process of becoming an ALLY Safe Zone member.
“The process is quick and simple. All you have to do is come in, sit down, and understand the reasoning behind the program’s existence,” said Blad. “Then I layout the responsibilities of being a member, and you then sign an agreement and received an ALLY Safe Zone plaque.”
Before the LGBT Friends and Allies club, Lois Harr, Director of Campus Ministry and Social Action, said that the college offered a club called Standing Together.
“At one time it was very active and very full of straight and gay people. They would do things together and have activities together and had parties together,” said Harr. “I remembered Tom Ferguson [from the] Religious Studies Department took people downtown to show them Stonewall and to tour around the village. The club did other things with faculty who were particularly interested.”
Standing Together, like other college clubs, slowly faded out as leadership graduated and membership decreased. Harr said this is normal behavior and that this is the first time in a couple years that a club like this has been brought back to MC.
Regarding the overall campus culture towards the LGBT community, the responses were varied, but overall positive.
“It’s an irritating persistence to hear people use the phrase ‘that’s so gay.’ I have noticed that negative vernacular has decreased,” Blad said. “Some students are not fully comfortable with themselves at MC.”
Rios confirmed Blad’s opinion that people cannot walk around with their significant other while being on campus. Harr said that the faculty are more accepting.
“I think the faculty here are very welcoming, and I think we have faculty members throughout the LGBT community too,” Harr said.
Harr said that the college wants to help young people feel safe and welcomed.
“The students are entrusted to our care, and everyone here is entrusted to our care matters. We want to be a warm and welcoming place,” said Harr. “I think that fact that we would encourage a club like this, or an organization or a group, to let a person talk and are welcomed to come in and see them, makes our community very inclusive.”
Even with some of the college’s positive attitudes towards the LGBT community, there are still some limitations because of the school’s Lasallian Catholic heritage.
“We want to help young people be safe, nurture them and grow up to be who they are supposed to be in the world. It’s a tricky thing since it is a Catholic school, so there may be some limits on what we can say, or support, but anyone who is here now we want to take care of them,” Harr said.
As a Catholic school, Campus Ministry constantly discovers new ways to give back to the community. Jenn Edwards Robinson, coordinator for social action for the Office of Campus Ministry and Social Action, confirmed campus ministry’s interest in partnering with LGBT Friends and Allies.
“We would love to partner with this new club in the future and for them to know that the social action suite is a space that is open, inclusive, and welcoming for all students and student groups,” Edwards Robinson said.
Feeling open, inclusive, and welcoming is the ultimate goal behind LGBT Friends and Allies. When entering MC, Rios wished he received a key piece of advice.
“I’m welcomed here, and supported here for people similar to me. I can just be myself,” Rios said.
Blad’s goal with the ALLY Safe Zone Program is that in the future the club would not be needed since diversity will be totally integrated into MC.
“I hope this program will be irrelevant because there will be no need for the program to exist,” Blad said. “It is slightly ‘utopian,’ but not impractical.”