On Tuesday, Oct. 22, students gathered in the Lower Level of the John A. Barone Campus Center to begin a celebration of the LGBTQ+ community for Fairfield University’s first Pride March hosted by the Fairfield University Student Association’s Diversity and Inclusion Board, the Office of Student Diversity and Multicultural Affairs and Fairfield Alliance, LGBTQ+ Group. The event was originally supposed to include a walk throughout campus that would end at the Egan Chapel of St. Ignatius Loyola, but it was moved to the rain location due to the inclement weather.
The event featured spoken word poetry, speakers and free t-shirts, and was organized by the FUSA’s Diversity and Inclusion Board. The Pride March’s organizer, Aarushi Vijay ‘22, director of diversity and inclusion for FUSA, spoke on its importance. “When I joined this position, I had this thought that I wanted to do something for the LGBTQ community,” said Vijay. “A lot of people from FUSA and outside of FUSA have come together to help us, the SDMA and Alliance.”
“And I feel like, being a Jesuit university, it is important for us to specifically show support for LGBTQ+ groups,” said Vijay.
Students in attendance could get a free t-shirt, bracelet and rainbow flag upon arrival. As students arrived, music played and food was available as attendees mingled and awaited the speakers. Attendees were also given poster boards and markers with which they could design their own pride posters.
Senior Eleanor Sgaramella, the vice president of Fairfield’s Alliance, said, “Walking into the BCC, it almost made me want to cry just hearing the music…When I got here [my first year], I was so worried about being supported so when I actually got here and got to see that [Alliance had] built a community and it’s bled out into other people furthering the community, it literally makes me tear up.”
The first of the speakers, Tobenna Ugwu ‘22, assistant director of diversity and inclusion for FUSA, introduced the event and outlined its purposes and was followed by Vijay, who recited a prepared spoken-word poem, “10 Things People Should Know About Pride.”
Following that, Niall Brennan, Ph.D., assistant professor of communication and a member of the women, gender and sexuality studies steering committee, introduced his portion of the talk by encouraging students to shout out responses to questions he would pose. He spoke first about the communication differences of coming out from when he was speaking to his family about it in the late 1980s and early 90s, and the options we have today. He contrasted the long process he went through writing a coming out letter to his family and gathering the courage to send it with the multitude of technological options we have today to achieve the same goal. Brennan heard from students about potential ways they could come out now, citing “Facetime,” “text” and “email” as potentially viable ways for LGBTQ+ youth to communicate about their sexual and gender identities.
“There is a sea of new ways to communicate with other people about a multitude of things, including gender and sexual identity,” he said. “And it seems to me that we have come a long way in the means by which we communicate with each other about something that’s so personal and so life-transformative.”
Brennan also spoke to the power dynamic between heteronormative society and those who are part of the LGBTQ+ community, encouraging students to not confine themselves to spaces or “bubbles” where everyone fully understands who they are.
Brennan closed by stating, “I would encourage all of us, LGBTQ+, queer, queer-conscious, supportive members of our community, to keep in mind that that world out there, which understands less about us, it’s important that you include that world in your awareness, in your consciousness, as you negotiate who you are and where you are, and your family, and your friends.”
After Brennan’s speech concluded, Vijay introduced Alana Coscia, Psy.D., postdoctoral fellow and Lisa Arnold, clinical director of the Collegiate Recovery Program from the Counseling and Psychological Services, who were accompanied by Ricochet the therapy dog. Coscia spoke to the “range of services” offered by the Counseling and Psychological Center, highlighting the individual sessions that can help with students struggling to navigate their identity among other stressors.
Arnold added to Coscia’s comments by emphasizing how underutilized as a resource counseling on campus can be, and how that resource can specifically aid LGBTQ+ students. “Oftentimes with all of the things we see at counseling… infused in so many of those issues are gender identity struggles, and challenges that students have on campus with their identity and coming out, or having already come out and finding your place,” she said. “It’s really important that you know that there is a lot of understanding in our department, and we are willing to take on that challenge with you at any time.”
Following Coscia and Arnold, representatives of Fairfield Alliance spoke to the importance of the event for the members of their club. Senior Lexi Thimble, president of the group, and Sgaramella took turns giving their remarks on how crucial they felt the event was at increasing the visibility of the LGBTQ+ community on campus.
“Lexi and I are both seniors, and we’ve been in Alliance since the beginning of our time at Fairfield,” Sgaramella stated. “So seeing this event put on by FUSA…it’s really so wonderful to see something of this scale put on on campus…to have someone else come to us and say that they wanted to promote visibility and pride on campus was just really wonderful.”
Father Michael F. Tunney, S.J. then stepped up to the podium. The central focus of his remarks surrounded connections that he drew between the LGBTQ+ community and Jesuit values, especially emphasizing how the two identities can coexist.
“Some of us are people of faith, and all of us are people of good will. Those of us with faith believe that we are made in God’s image and in God’s likeness and all of us, even those of us who don’t believe for a moment in God, we do believe that our humanity is suffused with dignity,” Tunney said, affirming the validity of those present who were with and without a faith.
Tunney went on to explain that, “as humans, as LGBTQ [people] we are sinful and we are in need of forgiveness for our sometimes wrongdoings; that is a fundamental flaw that comes with being a human being. All of us share that trait, and equally fundamental, specifically in our God-given, naturally spun, culturally shaped, sexual orientations…we are also beloved and lovable, and we are made and we are here for lives of love and sacrifice and service.”
Junior Eddie Nicolas said about Father Tunney’s speech that, “It was really cool to see how a priest could talk about how Catholic and queer identities aren’t mutually exclusive. I’m not a Catholic but it was still cool to see.”
After the Pride celebration had concluded, Vijay was satisfied. “Me and Toby [Ugwu] and Jeremy [Kaler]…planned what we wanted, who we wanted as speakers, did we want an actual march and if so, from where to where? And I really wish that march would have taken place but I think this was good enough.”
Freshman Mason Saye, commented on what the event could mean to fellow first year students: “It’s nice to know that there’s a community waiting for you and people that aren’t afraid to be out, that there are people who care about you and want to be your friends.”
Editor’s Note: Lexi Thimble ‘20 is the Editor-in-Chief and Tobenna Ugwu ‘22 is the Coffee Break Editor of The Mirror.