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First-year Park Scholars share their experiences with the transition to collegiate life at IC
Monday, December 23, 2013
by John Jacobson '17
As a Park Scholar, the end of the first semester is hectic. Clubs and organizations are winding down their activities with many holding applications for positions to begin in the two following semesters. Students are drinking more coffee than usual as they stay up in the library past midnight – or three a.m. – or they just never sleep. Finals week is looming with every collegiate stereotype and expectation within it, a monster of rummaged ideas garnered from obscure college-set films and season openings of television shows. In the face of all of this, I have been lucky enough to see through the first semester (of what will surely be many) of my involvement with the LGBT Center on campus.
Working at the LGBT Center is unusual volunteer work, but I take pride in being unusual, so it has become a time of my week that I treasure. Volunteering at the center initially just consists of sitting in the resource room for a few hours a week in case someone unfamiliar with the facilities comes in. As a resource center volunteer, you help people by talking to them. You answer what you can, or refer the individual to Luca Maurer, the director of the LGBT Center, or CAPS for counseling. It’s a volunteer work that is much needed, but it’s really only the surface of what goes on with being involved in the IC LGBTQ community.
I have met some amazing friends working in the center. The resource room is a safe space where LGBTQ students of all demographics are welcome. It facilitates discussions on sexuality, racism, classism, sexism, ableism, and every other type of social problem that could go on within the community. Students get into heated debates about these things; sometimes it is within the context of the country, other times because of a Jezebel article on the film Love Actually. Volunteering in the center has led to my enrichment as an academic individual while still providing me with a social outlet as an LGBTQ individual. Not only that, but it’s gotten me closer with the community in a way that I could have never achieved in my hometown.
This volunteer work also led me to doing ZAP! Panels, which are panels hosted by the center and the club PRISM to discuss LGBTQ issues with various campus classes and organizations. Being a panelist means discussing your coming out story and the variant aspects of LGBTQ culture with a group of students who may have absolutely no knowledge of the subject. As a panelist, I’ve been able to talk with a psychology class, a class on diversity in recreation, and even the workers at the Hammond Health Center about my experiences as an LGBTQ individual within the health care system. I could not have asked for a better outlet for my knowledge. By teaching other people about what it means to be LGBTQ, I have been able to better teach myself about the terminology, the community, and the complex issues within it.
Volunteering has been a life-changing experience for me because of how it connects to my passion. Not only am I helping the community, but I am feeding the need to learn and grow in my identity by helping others. Every week provides me with new intellectual obstacles as I talk with more people and learn more individual stories. The end of the semester has reminded me of that. More than finals and caffeine, breakdowns and epiphanies, there is a sense of growth within my identities. This experience has led me to become a better Park Scholar, a better male that is gender-nonconforming and gay/queer, and a better social activist. It’s not just me anymore. I am a part of many interlocking communities, and they have changed my life.
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