Ithaca College Students Organize Video Project to Tell Gay Youth 'It Gets Better'
ITHACA, NY — When some students at Ithaca College heard about a recent string of suicides by young people in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, they decided to take action. Turning to Facebook and YouTube — the same “new media” outlets that some had used to bully and harass gay youth — the students joined a nationwide campaign.
The result is a video featuring dozens of members of the college community — including President Tom Rochon — letting these young people know, “It Gets Better.”
The video was created by seniors Matt Timmons, Rob Engelsman and Nick Righi, who serve as managers for student-operated radio stations VIC and WICB, and television station ICTV, respectively. They had heard about the “It Gets Better Project” initiated in late September by columnist Dan Savage as a way for supporters everywhere to tell LGBT youth that, despite issues they may be facing today, their lives will get better.
“I watched some of the videos that had been posted on YouTube by people from all walks of life, doing their best to leave an impression on the viewer that life, no matter how difficult it may be, is still infinitely better than no life at all,” said Engelsman. “I was convinced we needed to do something. Ithaca College is, after all, one of the top gay-friendly schools in the U.S. Why not show that off? Why not open ourselves up to that community and see what happens?”
What began as an idea suggested by Timmons on a Thursday night evolved into a plan by the following day. They contacted friends and a few key leaders among students, faculty, staff and administrators to take part in a video shoot on Monday in a studio in the Roy H. Park School of Communications. On Friday afternoon they posted an invitation to the event on Facebook.
“Cut to later that night, around 1:00 a.m. to be exact,” said Timmons. “While walking out of the movie theater, I checked the event page from my cell phone. In less than 12 hours on Facebook, and just over 24 hours from the beginning of the idea, the event had roughly 130 people saying they would be attending. I was floored.”
When the time for the shoot rolled around on Monday afternoon, people were lining up in the hallway outside the studio.
"Within the span of four hours we shot over 100 members of the Ithaca College community sending their messages of compassion and hope,” said Timmons. “We heard stories that made us laugh and stories that made us cry; stories of isolation and despair; but more importantly, stories of triumph and happy endings.”
“Some were scripted, some not, and all in all it was a very emotionally draining afternoon,” said Engelsman. “Editing was the hardest part. The trick was being able to convey the message in a short time span. Originally we had planned on a four- or five-minute piece, but we ended up with around six minutes of video, featuring a little over half of the people we recorded.”
Among those was Ithaca College president Tom Rochon, who used his time in front of the camera to say, “I was so proud recently to learn that Ithaca College was awarded five stars in the Campus Pride Climate Index, but I know that overall climate doesn’t prevent people from feeling moments of despair and moments of loneliness, so I just want to say, it gets better.”
The ultimate message of their video is a simple one, said Timmons. “No matter how low you are feeling or how alone you think you might be, there is someone out there who cares. There are at least 107 of them at Ithaca College.”
The video was posted on YouTube at 11:00 p.m. on Tuesday night, and within 48 hours it had been viewed more than 10,000 times. Engelsman said he has been overwhelmed by the response.
“I discovered through this process that the current college generation doesn’t see being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender as a big deal at all. Some students who came in didn’t even talk about being LGBT, but identified with them because of their own bullying problems and their own attempts to overcome adversity. Students face scrutiny for being OCD, ADD, ADHD; for being color blind; for the clothes they wear or the way they smile. They face bullying for their hairstyle and their favorite song. And they are now standing up with the rest of the online community in saying that enough is enough and that something needs to be done. It does get better, and people need to know.”
In addition to the original video, Timmons and Engelsman have subsequently posted to YouTube a montage of every participant in the shoot titled “The Faces of It Gets Better at Ithaca College” and a selection of students telling their own personal experiences of being perceived as “different” titled “Student Stories from It Gets Better–Ithaca College.”
To learn more about the “It Gets Better Project,” visit http://itgetsbetterproject.com.