Honors students serve LGBT communities through their projects

Students in professor Sara Raley’s Serving LGBT Communities class visit the Human Rights Campaign, (first row, left to right) Clara Burgess, Julia Jacobs, Alexa Riland, Garrett Schey; (second row, left to right) Cicely Hazell, Candice Lyle, Mike Bucci,
May 07, 2013

The students in professor Sara Raley’s Jan Term Honors class took their LGBT service-learning projects in directions that hadn’t even occurred to their professor –  and that makes Raley smile with pride. 

“The neat thing about this class is that different issues spoke to different students,” Raley, assistant director of the Honors Program and a Sociology professor, says about the “Serving LGBT Communities” honors course she designed and offered for the first time over Jan Term and spring semester.

Aware that the coursework would be more than was feasible in the three-week Jan Term, Raley added two credits and extended the class through spring semester. Students learned about issues over Jan Term and then conceived and implemented their service projects through spring semester.

For many of the students – all in the college’s Honors Program – the class was an introduction to issues they really hadn’t thought about. Most were familiar with marriage equality since it has been in the headlines, but issues beyond that were new to them.

They caught up in no time as they designed their projects. Sophomore Emma Wingerd, a Chemistry-Exercise Science major from Pittsburgh, knew her project would relate in some way to athletics. The women’s basketball star took on inappropriate comments she’s heard around the gymnasium – and decided to produce a video that could be used with peer mentors and during first-year orientation.

“I wanted to make a change – to show that ‘that’s gay’ isn’t a cool thing to say,” says Wingerd, who recruited Green Terror athletes to be in her video and to empower athletes to step up and make a change. 

The project, she says, was truly eye-opening.

“Hey, I’m a science kid – making a video is outside the realm of my comfort zone,” Wingerd says. “Finding my voice has been a big thing for me. But that’s what the liberal arts are all about.”

Sophomore Matt Peterson was nervous too as he began his project, but the Biochemistry major was determined to make a difference volunteering on Trevor’s Space, a suicide prevention website and hotline to help LGBT teens.

“I had never had a lot of interaction with the LGBT community,” says Peterson from Littleton, Colo., who found his footing and was able to help. “Most memorable was a female to male transgender person who asked, ‘why can’t I stop harming myself?’

“I was really struck by how very different that is from how I see myself.”

Similarly, each of Peterson’s classmates took on a project that would make a difference. Sophomore Alexa Riland of Bridgeton, N.J., organized a call-in day to state legislators in support of Maryland Senate Bill 449 known as the Fairness for all Marylanders Act, that opposes discrimination in work and housing against transgender people. The Environmental Studies major set up the call-in table in Ensor Lounge that resulted in 32 calls during the three-hour session.

Senior Clara Burgess, a Sociology major from Chevy Chase, Md., arranged for her sister’s girlfriend to come to campus and give a talk on campus during Allies Week about intersex issues.

Both Julia Jacobs, a sophomore Biology major from Stevensville, Md., and Mike Bucci, a sophomore from Columbia, Md., triple majoring in Accounting Economics, Business Administration and Economics, produced brochures addressing LGBT issues among high school students. Bucci made his brochure easily printable for use by guidance counselors. Jacobs hopes her brochure, “Sexual Diversity at McDaniel” is adapted and used in McDaniel Admissions to help with the many questions LGBT prospective students have.

Other students followed their interests – sophomore Cicely Hazell, an Art History and French major from Georgetown, Texas, started a blog about LGBT identity in Art History, including one post exploring the question of whether the “Mona Lisa” was a da Vinci self portrait. 

Junior Emily Sanders, a Psychology major from Danbury, Conn., enhanced the Allies website with a Resource Hub, including general resources, scholarly work, student work, safe sex and Allies history. Garrett Schey, asophomore Biology major from Ellicott City, Md., investigated laws and legal precedent on the rights of LGBT individuals in the workforce and Biology major Candice Lyle, a junior from Baltimore, is creating a website that will pull LGBT-related events together into one calendar.

Although she has some ideas for changes when she again offers the course, Raley’s goals were met.

“I wanted them to be able to reflect on the ideas we discussed – and to move the conversation beyond the classroom,” Raley says, explaining that these honors students are very much self directed. “The movement is thriving and there is lots of opportunity to promote equality.”