The Liberating Arts: Activism and its role in the MC community
Congratulations! You may not know this now, but choosing Maryville College as your undergraduate institution is one of the best decisions you will ever make. There are lots of reasons this decision is a good one, but one of the main reasons has everything to do with our community…the Maryville College community.
We live in a community that enjoys a long legacy of student activism. Long before I joined this community, Maryville College students have been growing in wisdom, working for justice and dedicating their lives to creativity and service. I especially love the “working for justice” part of our history.
In 2002, when I was hired to work with pre-service teachers in the Division of Education as a member of the Educator Preparation Program, I fancied myself a pretty good ally to those living with oppression, discrimination and bigotry.
My previous work was in K-12 public schools as a special education teacher. Special ed teachers fight for and advocate for the best interests of students who many times are not able to advance their own interests. I didn’t have a clue what it meant to be an ally, but I was about to witness a social justice lesson for the ages!
During my early days on campus, a small group of students had been covertly meeting to discuss and strategize efforts to advance equal treatment for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer students. CLOSET (Campus League of Students for Equal Treatment), a student group seeking to be recognized as an official student club, had been denied official club status.
I was fascinated by this group of courageous, authentic rockstars. The entire campus was roiled by the controversy around this unofficial club and its demands to be recognized, respected and valued. I learned so many lessons about human worth, communication, advocacy and love during the CLOSET years–definitely a defining moment for our liberal arts institution and the MC community.
At the time, I didn’t know how important that moment in time would be for me and for the entire community – Important because we saw many ideas studied in the liberal arts classroom begin to be manifested on our campus as we watched allies and tireless activists stand up for equal rights.
We heard student warriors speak out against the micro aggressions and oppression they suffered every day. We watched as they fought for the same rights enjoyed by other student groups. I admired their courage, their wisdom, their passion for the MC community. I fell in love with the Maryville College community during this period of time. Watching our community move forward and grow in wisdom as we began to embrace, truly embrace, the Mission of our liberal arts institution was transformational.
The lessons learned as a result of CLOSET’s fight for official student club status and the eventual creation of our first Gay Straight Alliance were not lost on me in 2009 when my oldest son, Noah, came out. I admit that my initial responses to Noah were not pride-worthy reactions.
In the days following his announcement, I remembered CLOSET and the young people, LGBT students and their allies, who fought to educate us about diverse people in the LGBT community. I relied on those lessons to move forward and grow in wisdom as I developed my own strategy for celebrating my son. I embraced the mission and values of this amazing liberal arts institution, as did others.
Fast forward to 2017. Many in our community were strengthened and inspired by those student warriors who fought for the formation of the club called CLOSET. My family worked to start the local PFLAG chapter in 2010, so that other families and LGBT youth could access support and education.
In 2011, GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network) East Tennessee formed and began sponsoring the annual East TN Diversity Prom (now hosted by PFLAG Maryville). Maryville is now home to the Foothills LGBT Center, an organization providing regular support for transgender people, LGBT teens, and the parents of LGBT teens/youth. So many of these advancements are directly related to the efforts of the founders of CLOSET.
So, today, pause and consider how you will leave your mark on this community. You stand on the shoulders of giants! This community appreciates you, we celebrate you, and we depend on you. Thank you for choosing Maryville College…now get busy.