Creating a more inclusive campus and community in Wilkes-Barre, two Penn State Wilkes-Barre employees are forging a path of acceptance for all their students
By: Rachel Olszewski
With Penn State’s Pride Month celebrated at the end of the academic year, two members of the Wilkes-Barre campus are creating meaningful contributions to the LGBTQ+ community. Megan Mac Gregor, the Student Engagement and Outreach Librarian, created the Gender & Sexuality Alliance, while Coordinator of Student Activities Jackie Warnick-Piatt was presented the PSU Commission on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Equity Outstanding Service Award for programming greater awareness of LGBTQ+ issues.
Although Pride Month is nationally celebrated in June, Penn State has moved their recognition of the LGBTQ+ community to April in order to allow more students the opportunity to experience the programs and events while they are still on campus during the school year.
Though the status of social progression and equality may swing like a pendulum, Penn State Wilkes-Barre has made it clear that they strive to be at the forefront of the movement towards positive change. After working with Continuing Education in the Spring of 2016, Megan Mac Gregor was made painfully aware of the need for LGBTQ+ awareness and acceptance in the local areas and on the Wilkes-Barre campus.
“While University Park does have a plethora of LGBTQA student organizations like Out in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, and Queer and Transgender People of Color, almost all of them are University Park based. If you’re not there, you either can’t be a part of them or you get second class access to them.”
The Gender & Sexuality Alliance, or GSA, is a step towards fulfilling that need. Mac Gregor describes it as a group that meets to create an engaging and safe space for our campus's lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, etc. community and their allies, regardless of age, race, religious affiliation, background, or interests.
“Besides creating a safe and non-judgmental space for people to meet and talk about issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, the group will also work to eliminate homophobia and heterosexism on campus and in our region so that LGBTQ+ students, faculty and staff and their allies have equality in every respect and are included in all areas of the Penn State and local community,” explains Mac Gregor. “It will also act as a place to connect with Penn State’s LGBTQ+ resources and the LGBTQ+ resources in our area.”
Jackie Warnick-Piatt echoes these assertions.
“A number of us have been through and provided information sessions/training on SafeZone, All That We Are, Transgender 101, and more, but to have a more permanent group/alliance on campus is a must.”
Recently there has been a positive trend, with Warnick-Piatt citing the GSA information session held in early April for faculty and staff, Pride Week information tables, the hosting of a film and discussion with the Rainbow Alliance, and an upcoming information session this upcoming fall with students.
Mac Gregor and Warnick-Piatt hope to continue moving Penn State Wilkes-Barre towards being considered among the best LGBTQ+ friendly campuses.
“While I bring in speakers such as Dr. Michael Bronski, author of ‘You Can Tell Just By Looking’: And 20 Other Myths about LGBT Life and People, spoken word artists such as K-Love or Katie Wirsing, video/discussions such as GayCation and State of Undress, Erin Davies and the FAG Bug, and even comedians, which focus on a variety of multi-cultural and diversity initiatives, more often than not the conversations our students have with the performers, with me, and with each other after the show is over, that are those true ‘lollipop’ moments (see Drew Dudley, Everyday Leadership, TEDTalk) which I believe we all hope to have in the lives of our students and our communities as a whole,” states Warnick-Piatt.
With these sentiments in mind, both Mac Gregor and Warnick-Piatt agree that there is still a long road ahead.
“Currently, after getting support for the GSA among our faculty and staff, we are in the process of getting ready to launch the GSA to the student body in Fall 2018,” says Mac Gregor, “This first year will be about listening to the people who join to get an idea of what they would like to see happen with the group, and just generally getting it established.”
Warnick- Piatt also adds, “We need to keep doing what we are doing; creating a more inclusive campus and community here in the greater Wilkes-Barre area. Along with Megan and colleagues from the other four local colleges, we are reaching out to provide larger support network for our LGBTQ+ students through the formation of a multi-campus organization, perhaps events, social activities, etc.”