On Friday, April 9, the Student Center hosted “GAYpril: RAH Celebrates Pride,” in celebration of Pride Month. The event, held in-person in the Student Center pit, featured a night of screen printing, wood panel painting and other pride-themed arts & crafts in a lively and compassionate atmosphere of inclusion.
June is National Pride Month, where most LGBTQIA+ individuals and organizations across the country celebrate their identities with parades and parties. On college campuses, however, where students are rarely in school by the end of May, April is increasingly becoming “GAYpril,” where both university- and student-run LGBTQIA+ organizations, such as the Rowan Office of Social Justice, Inclusion, and Conflict Resolution (SJICR), Prism and True Colors, host campus-wide events, such as that held on Friday.
Normally such organizations collaborate with Rowan After Hours (RAH), who possess the people and resources to make such events function, but Friday’s event was the brainchild of Melissa Banuelos, a self-identified bisexual ally and graduate coordinator for RAH.
“As a whole, our goal is to provide a safe and welcoming and inclusive environment for all students and members of the Rowan community…I think that specifically, with this event, [our goal] isn’t just to create a safe space, but…to create a space for non-identified students so that they can better educate themselves,” Banuelos said.
And it certainly did: dozens of individuals and couples alike crowded the pit and upper decks, crafting signs, T-shirts, pillowcases and paintings, as well as entering several raffles and enjoying a sizeable build-your-own burrito bowl station.
Of course, it wasn’t all fun and games. While typically reserved for the more serious National Coming Out Week, hosted in November, events like these serve not only as safe spaces, but as educational opportunities for those within and beyond the community. Non-LGBTQIA+ individuals are welcomed and encouraged to join such pride-related events to learn more about the community and its members.
In such a time of divisiveness and tribalism, where the personal is fast becoming political, it becomes necessary to break down the walls that divide us and build bridges that unite us, despite our differences and disagreements.
Banuelos reflected the value of inclusivity and shared experiences between people of different backgrounds and identities.
“I think that during events like these we not only open the conversation to more people, but we bring more people in by showing them that it’s not just what they think they know, but it’s more and it’s beautiful and we need to know now more than ever,” Banuelos explained.
COVID stresses have been rough on all of us, to say the least, and the LGBTQIA+ community is no exception. In the ongoing struggle to maintain morale on our journey back to normalcy, RAH plans to host more and more diverse events in the future, which will hopefully grow in size, complexity and attendance as more staff and students become vaccinated and eager to resume in-person festivities.
“I think, in general, campus activities where students are free to come together and experience each other…especially to these underrepresented communities…that experience is one of the greatest things we can give people,” Banuelos said.
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