Religiously-affiliated institutions exist to educate and serve their faith. But they also have an obligation to support their students. What does that mean for LGBTQ students and staff at religious institutions? This week, we chat with Sean Smallwood and Sergio Pérez about creating space and finding your queeritual community on campus.
Meg Sunga: Hey y’all, it’s Meg Sunga and welcome to “Will There Be Food?”, the student affairs podcast that – like your job — is so much more than free pizza. Every week we get to explore a new topic in higher ed with humans in the industry. When I think about the relationship between religion and the LGBTQ+ community, it’s hard for me not to think of the negatives. I grew up Catholic and lived in the home state of the Westboro Baptist Church, so if you know anything about them, you should know that if you’re anything besides straight, you’re going straight to hell. Fast forward to a few years ago where I actually came out as bi. As you can imagine, I am still trying to figure out what being Catholic and being a bi person of color means for me. In today’s episode, I’m talking to two student affairs professionals who have navigated the intersection of religion and sexuality during their time in student affairs and learn how they support their LGBTQ+ students on their campus. Today, my first guest is Sean Smallwood. I met Sean when we were undergrads and NASPA undergraduate fellows at the 2013 Dungy Leadership Institute. He is currently a Student Governance Advisor at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities. Hey Sean. How’s it going?
Sean Smallwood: Good. How are you, Meg?
Meg Sunga: Sean, to kick us off: what made you want to explore queer religious identity in grad school?
Sean Smallwood: Yeah, so when I was a grad student, I think like probably several grad students, I was having a hard time finding my grounding. I was in a very rigorous program for graduate school and one that really caused us to have a lot of self-reflection and identity reflection. And as I started digging deeper into my own identities, I started realizing that there were two major identities that were very important to me that I still felt a lot of conflict around; both being identifying as a queer person, also identifying as a religious person and even a spiritual person. And if I’ve done any exploring or if I’ve done a significant amount of exploring around that I came to find that those two identities are very fluid for me. And so even being religious, I use that as a very fluid term. It depends on the day of how I feel. Being queer, not only as a political term for me, but something that, um, also felt very fluid for me at the time that I was in grad school. And so I kind of felt a little lost and I was talking to a lot of other grad students about it. And there was one grad student in particular who really encouraged me to dig into it as a scholarship topic. As I started doing more exploring, it really resonated with me and helped me not only ground some of my personal reflection, but also gave me something to see and scholarship or something to see that was out there.
Meg Sunga: For folks listening…Sean, I want to talk about what being queer and religious means as an intersecting identity. So what does being queer and religious mean to you?
Sean Smallwood: Yeah, those two identities are actually really special to me. They’re uniquely my own, but they’re also a part of a larger category of things at the same time. And I don’t know if other queer religious folks feel that way, but I certainly do. So to me, those two identities both identify not only a political spectrum that I situate myself on as a queer person; a political spectrum that I situate myself on as a religious person and I have a lot of values around that politically. But also personally, it’s how I try to orient myself around my purpose every single day. So whenever I come into the office or whenever I’m with my partner or whenever I’m with a group of friends, that’s how I try and orient myself and ground myself and know that those are identities that are kind of pillars of who I am.
Meg Sunga: So Sean, you were out in undergrad as well as in grad school, but your undergrad experience was at a southern school in the Bible belt versus grad school which was in Vermont, in the northeast. What was it like navigating those two experiences, being out and then also those being completely different places with different political ideologies and acceptance?
Sean Smallwood: Yeah. I came out at the age of 15…which, growing up in Texas, I didn’t really know anyone who was like me. And I always felt a little different. And I think there’s — I hate to say, but it’s kind of a cliche story of feeling really different, feeling out before you are ever able to identify as being queer. I often call it living in a glass closet, where everyone knew about it, but except me. And so I came out pretty young. In my community where I was growing up, religion and football were really the two pillars of the community. You know, there was a church everywhere, there was a church everywhere and every single Friday night you were at the football game, you know? And so those are things that were really central to my community and I really loved those things about my life growing up. But as I went to college, I started questioning a lot of things; I think many of our college students do. You start trying to reform and understand the world through your own lens instead of the lens that you’ve been given your entire life. And so when everyone went to college, even in a southern state, I was lucky to be in a community of a really progressive area. I went to the University of North Texas, which is a small — it’s not really small actually — it’s a music school. It has about 36,000 students at it. And so it’s a pretty large institution and it’s just got this really progressive vibe about it encourages you to question and encourages you to think critically. And so while I was there, I struggled a lot with trying to think about myself as a queer person but also a religious person. And I was often told by both communities that you can’t be the other. So I was told by queer people that you can’t be religious. And I was told by religious people that you can’t be queer. And even though the community I surrounded myself was very progressive, they still lived in this very dichotomous kind of world where you can only be one or the other. And I never felt good enough in either sphere; I was never queer enough because I wanted to go to church. I was never religious enough because I still wanted to be around queer people and celebrate different sexualities and different genders. And so that often forced me into boxes and me kind of, um, for lack of a better term code-switch between those two worlds in my life. And even in the fraternity that I was a part of. There was a few queer people here and there, but I was always the gay brother. I was always the gay fraternity brother to the majority of people. Now there was enough select few people within the fraternity that I wanted to stay in, be a part of the community. But there was a lot of people who just regarded me as the gay brother. No one really saw the religious side of me. And so, so that’s where going into the northeast, which ironically is predominantly atheist, predominantly secular, predominantly not Christian as I identify, that that’s where I really was able to reconcile. Which is kind of an interesting story in the sense that like you wouldn’t expect to move to Vermont and go to graduate school in Vermont of all places and find a religious community that you identify with, because I believe it’s like less than 20% of Vermonters identify strongly with a religion. Um, and even most of the people in my program didn’t identify strongly with any particular religion. And so that’s where even now as I reflect on it, and even as I reflect on this scholarship that I wrote, it’s interesting to me that I came to find myself more in that community. I was inspired by a lot of people. I had a lot of role models — and now best friends — who I greatly love and admire who helped me get here. It took a lot of self-work on their part. It took a lot of love from them to help me get here. But, but yeah, that’s a little bit of my journey around these identities in particular.
Meg Sunga: All right, so this word queerituality, where does it come from? How did it come about? Who, just what inspired you to get this word out in the world?
Sean Smallwood: So I can’t take full credit for coming up with the phrase. There is a story behind it that I won’t bore you with too much, but I was, I was a practicum intern in an office and I was sitting with another person from my cohort, Jeff Godowski, and I always told Jeff that if I ever talked about queerituality in any kind of professional setting that I would give Jeff props for coming up with this term. So, Jeff Godowski, you’re the one who actually came up with this and inspired me. But it, it came out of a conversation of like, I wanted to talk about queer spirituality because I also didn’t want to confine it to just JudeoChristian understandings of spirituality. I wanted to come up with this term that really captured what I was talking about in the paper that I wrote and what I was talking about in classes. And Jeff was, Jeff was really good at puns, and so Jeff said, “why don’t you just call it queerituality?” And I was like, “oh, that works. That works.” And there was other interns in the cube with us — cause we all shared one cube. There was like four of us and one cube. Welcome to graduate internships in higher ed. And I asked others in that cube space and they’re like, “yeah, that works. Like we liked that.” And so ever since then it’s kind of stuck.
Meg Sunga: So Sean, we know that there are LGBTQ+ students who choose to go to religious institutions, but not all of these institutions are super affirming of gay or queer students. What advice do you have to a student who chooses to go to that type of institution?
Sean Smallwood: So I say for some of those students, especially if you’re on a very conservative campus, I would tell you to be careful, because there’s a lot of ramifications that come from it. And I don’t say that in order to say like be scared or be vigilant all the time and don’t, don’t let it run yourself ragged either. Um, but I say that because I do feel protective even if there are folks who do share those identities because it’s not always the easiest, especially whenever you’re trying to figure out everything in your own life. So first of all, be careful and be conscious of who you’re disclosing to. But for other students, if you’re in a space where you feel comfortable and you are embracing those parts of yourself and you are at a faith-based institution…Mind you, there’s a lot of faith based institutions that are very affirming and accepting and they’re doing really, really great work out there around queer and religious identities work that I can only dream to be a part of. If you’re a part of those kinds of communities, try and make space for other students to come along with you. What I tell my students all the time is that peer support is often the greatest support that institutions offer students. And peer learning we know is very, very powerful. We know that from research. Especially if you’re sitting at a table or if you are creating a table for other queer and religious people, invite that other person in so that they have a community to come to as well. Even if they don’t identify with a particular religion. Maybe they’re just exploring humanism or atheism or anything like that. Bring them to the table because their voice and their diverse perspective is still so important to the conversation. Um, and start creating community where you’re having these conversations. Cause something that I wish that I had whenever I was a student; I wish I had someone to talk to about it. I felt like I was talking to one person about being queer. I was talking to one person about being religious and it wasn’t until my mentor through the NASPA undergraduate fellows program that I was talking to him about my identities because that was one of the first questions. And one of the first conversations was like, what identities are important to you? He was one of the first people that I really was honest with and saying, you know, I’m a queer person but I’m also religious and, and I don’t know how to deal with that most days. He’s, he’s a straight white man. He identifies as Jewish. But he talked a lot about how, um, how, whenever he was growing up you didn’t feel like he could talk about being Jewish and while he can’t necessarily understand what I’m going through as a queer person, he’s thankful that I was able to tell him. And so he often brought that conversation back to me instead of shying away from the conversation, which is what I think a lot of people are doing. He kept on bringing it up and kept on having the hard conversation, which I think was so important for me. So start having those hard conversations because I guarantee you someone out there who identifies as queer wants to talk about what it means to be religious. And the fact that we’re not talking about that — and this goes for students, this goes for professionals, right — That’s where vice presidents and presidents of institutions, if you’re shying away from the conversation, you’re doing a disservice to someone.
Meg Sunga: Oh Gosh. Honestly, I, I wish that I had someone like you or even me, I’m on my campus back when I was an undergrad and maybe I would’ve come out a little bit sooner. I don’t know.
Sean Smallwood: Right? And, it’ll happen in its own good time.
Meg Sunga: And I, and I think that’s the thing that we’re always going to have to be mindful of, is that everyone’s coming into their identities at different times. Right? And so, I mean, even for me, God, I was raised Catholic and I’m still wrapped up in a lot of shame and I am still trying to figure out how to navigate certain conversations with, with family members and you know, and even some friends. But I think we’ll get there someday and you know, maybe, uh, slowly but surely I’ll even find a church that I will feel comfortable going to.
Sean Smallwood: It took me a long time to find a church to find that I could actually be with. Even I was thinking about it and talking about it, it took until like the middle of my first semester of grad school to actually walk into a church and not feel weird. Right. So it takes time.
Meg Sunga: So for student affairs professionals at religious institutions, you know, some of them might not have had the upbringing or the education or the resources, um, to help them support LGBT students. What are some things that they can do for themselves to increase that competency?
Sean Smallwood: Yeah, so I think that it depends on what kind of learner you are as a student affairs professional. For me, I’m very theoretical, very strategic-minded. Um, so for me the first thing that I latch onto is research. A quick Google search honestly will get you a lot of resources. And there’s even more since whenever I kind of initially researched queer spirituality, there’s been more research that has come out since then. And so, there’s a lot of really good stuff out there. But one model of identity development that I constantly go back to is the, um, the model of multiple dimensions of identity, which is just a really…it’s foundational for the scholarship that I wrote. It introduced the concept of Queer authorship to me, which is, um, kind of situated around the idea of self-authorship as well. A name that I’ll give to folks is Chris Stedman’s book called Faithiest. Faithiest is again, one of those books that kinda just changed my life around the way that I think about stuff. And Chris Stedman has a long history with religion and, and queerness and whatnot. And so he talks about growing up. Um, I believe it’s in the Evangelical Church. He talks about being in a denomination that was not welcoming of queer people at first. Then he found some community around that, but then he also ultimately decided and found humanism and atheism. And he talked about his journey with that. And so even though technically if you want to get like really granular, if you want to get, um, more dichotomous, I guess with the way that we think about religion and spirituality, you could almost put us on opposite ends, ends of the outcomes on opposite ends of the spectrum with the way that we kind of came to our identity. His work was still so pivotal in helping me understand the idea and the concepts of queer authorship or reforming what the world is around me and my own queer lens. So I can talk about how I’ve learned religion through a heteronormative lens, but queerness allows me to relearn it and reform it in a way that makes sense to me. And finally like if there’s a student that’s willing to talk about their experiences, I wouldn’t necessarily do an anthropological study on them, but I would listen to them, listen intently, don’t make assumptions, listen to understand, not to try and poke and prod and push them in a certain direction. Cause I think the greatest resources always right in front of us. It’s the students that we get to work with every day and so we should count ourselves lucky.
Meg Sunga: Thank you, Sean, so much. Oh my God. I just feel like I have so much work to do for myself, but I appreciate everything that you shared with me and allowing me to be vulnerable with you in this space and talk a little bit about your experience and reflected with my own and just thank you so much.
Sean Smallwood: The only other plug that I’ll make at the end of all this, I’ll make one more plug and it’s because I can’t go without talking about higher ed student affairs without also talking about data. And the thing is, is that while data isn’t the answer to everything, data is a sure good place to start. And so if your institution isn’t measuring the number or the percentage of queer students that you have on campus or even the number of religious students that you have on campus, you are doing your institution a disservice. So start pushing your institutional leaders to start looking at that information. You don’t know what you don’t have, right? And so data sometimes tells the story better than trying to find the narrative on our campus. And so just mull on that. Think about that. If you’re not gathering the data, you should be.
Meg Sunga: Thank you so much, Sean, for speaking with me today. I appreciate you so, so much in the five, six years that I’ve known you now and you’re doing great work with your students up in Minnesota. So again, thank you for joining me today and I appreciate you sharing your story and sharing some of the resources along the way.
Sean Smallwood: Yeah, thanks Meg. Love you.
Meg Sunga: Love you. Our next guest is a student affairs professional currently working at a religious institution. Sergio Pérez is the Director of Inclusion and Advocacy at Loras College. Sergio identifies as a cisgender gay man, first-gen and Mexican American. His pronouns are he, him, his. Sergio, how are you doing?
Sergio Pérez: I am doing quite well. Thank you for having me in the space. I appreciate it.
Meg Sunga: Thank you for joining me. I’m so excited. Sergio. Real talk. Where does your institution fall on the spectrum? And this is really, honestly, this is real talk. Where does your institution fall on the spectrum of super strict and religious in theory, but maybe not in practice.
Sergio Pérez: We are a Catholic institution, an archdiocesan institution. And so we’re one of, I believe, two institutions in this country that’s an archdiocesan, Catholic religious institution. What that means is that we’re connected to the archdiocese here. And so with us on paper, I would say we are very much a traditional Catholic hierarchy in the sense of how much the church is involved. You know, we have, for example, daily mass here. We have two chapels on campus. Students can feed that spiritual Catholicism, Catholic identity, that they might bring to the table. I would say when it comes to practice and, and you know how strict we are to that, to the teachings of the church. I would say we adhere to the idea of human dignity. So one of the pieces of being a Catholic institution is that a Catholic Church has to do what we call the Catholic social teachings. But I would argue that here at Loras, we’re in a state of bridge-building. And I see that because we acknowledged as an institution…the higher Catholic Church we’re a part of, still has not recognized the complete wholeness of relationships that queer, gay, lesbian, bi, trans folks bring to the table. We can still, build a bridge that does actually communicate to leadership that what we’re seeing here is not so much a queer, LGBT religious issue, but rather an issue human dignity. And sometimes it, it’s a rockier bridge to build. Other times it’s discovering “hey, we never needed to build this bridge.” And so that’s what’s empowering. And I think that’s what makes it fun working at an institution like this. We don’t have it all just yet, but we do get a level of resilience and grit and working the space to really build a bridge of inclusion for all.
Meg Sunga: Absolutely. Are staff at Loras allowed to be open with their own identities?
Sergio Pérez: Absolutely. Um, this is kudos to the leadership here. When I was interviewing for my role, I felt the message, I heard the message that I could be all of me in any space in my work and professional role. And if anything, they even encouraged me to talk to other folks who had been working in this institution who also identified within the LGBTQ+ community. And so for me, I was like, “okay, if they have bad experiences, they probably wouldn’t be referring me to talk to them.” And so I, I guess as I heard that, I felt it like I could come here. It’s passive signals, if you will, to you folks who are coming to Loras to see that, hey, this is a community you can belong to, you know, that you can express your membership in this without fear of repercussions, at least from the institution. And so I think that’s something that here at Loras means, yeah, you could be queer, you know, have your Pride flag displayed, you know; that’s nothing that’s gonna cause you to, to put a divide between you and your work. And students appreciate that too. Cause they’re all coming in thinking, oh Catholic, you know, that baggage of they’re not going to be friendly. And then they start seeing, you know, people like myself in these spaces and leadership and work and whatever and they’re like, “oh okay, this is a different brand of Catholic” for some folks. And for us, It’s like, “yes, there is a diversity within our religious denominations as well.” So yes, people can be out here and, and it’s something that is so surprising to some folks, but also once you become a part of the community, it’s like, “oh yeah, well why wouldn’t you be?” But we understand and acknowledge the baggage that you know, the church gets. Cause it’s, you know, at the end of the day, the church teachings are very specific. And so we’re not surprised. You shouldn’t be surprised when someone enters the space thinking, “oh, do you not, can I be this part of me here?” And I say come here and fly your queer flag, by all means.
Meg Sunga: Do staff on your campus do any sort of LGBTQ training, or does just even LGBTQ training exist at all at faith-based institutions?
Sergio Pérez: Yeah, so, we’ve had an alliance, which is our student-led organization; it’s kind of your LGBT focus group. They have done an LGBT safe zone training, ally training for at least the last two years, if not longer. They’re advised by a faculty member, a social work faculty member, Michelle Bechen. And she has been, you know, a rock of support for queer students in that sense. So that’s actually been something that our office, our center has been working with them the last few years in doing this partnership together. So not just offering it to students, but also offering it to faculty, staff. One example last year is that our office worked with this alliance organization to do safe zone allyship development opportunity for all our athletic coaches and staff. So it’s definitely expanding. And the unique thing is that we do package our LGBTQ training and development with our Catholic identity and diversity statements. What I mean by that is that we remind folks that, while we are a Catholic institution and we acknowledge that some people aren’t completely done for the cause, our call by the church for respecting the human dignity of all compels us to at least participate and listen in at these opportunities. And so I think that’s a unique approach that you know, at secular institutions you don’t have to think about. And so for us it’s like, all right, let’s build a bridge. Maybe today you’re not ready to fully understand it and accept the queer community here. Down the road, you’ll know that we didn’t exclude you or shoot you away from some the curiosity you might have.
Meg Sunga: Why do you think LGBTQ+IA students choose to come to religious institutions in general?
Sergio Pérez: Many students are going to our institution in some way identify within the queer community. Others might not. And some might identify but aren’t open about it yet, or haven’t found peace with that part of themselves. And so, why they come here? I don’t think they necessarily think “alright, I’m coming here to explore this part of me.” I think they come here for other reasons; the small community. I think the surprise for many of our students, for example, here is when they, they realize they can nurture that side, feed that part of themselves here in a way that’s fully affirming despite what baggage the church or any Christian denomination might have. And so I think of the students who come into our office space and aren’t completely out. You know, I might be the one that knows, but their family, their peers don’t know just yet. And they came here for many reasons or they came here if they have a religious Catholic identity, hoping, believing that, you know, if they believed hard enough or went to this institution that they might, you know, kind of pray the gay away, if that makes any sense. And I say that because that was my experience, quite frankly. I had known for a very long time that I was gay and I thought to myself, “I want it to go away. I need to convince my parents that college is worth it despite a big price tag.” But also there was this part of me that said, “what do I do to, to rid myself of…” what I thought at the time was something bad or harmful. I think that sometimes still happens, unfortunately. That our internalized homophobia manifests itself in a way that will say, “go to this institution and God will bless you with a new experience and a new identity.” Well, that’s a very harmful way of thinking of things. There’s a wonderful Catholic Jesuit priest who shares, and he talks about “there’s nothing to change about us because it’s innate.” You know, being queer is the same thing as being born left-handed versus right-handed. And so why are we changing something that God created, that our church also teaches is perfect and beautiful as it is? And so it’s a complete change of mindset of how we looked at ourselves.
Meg Sunga: Whew, that was a word. I may or may not be crying. I’m crying. I’m trying to not look at my producer cause I’m going to try more. But no, I’m overwhelmed because this is something that is so hard to navigate as you know, at 17-, 18-, 19-year old, fresh into college student, to someone who is turning 30 this year. Like this is always going to be something hard. Cause I very much remember, you know, I grew up Catholic as well and I was very involved in my church; I sang in front of the church with the youth group. I did Life Teen, which was the big Catholic youth group national organization, I guess, in Houston. And remember that being very much a part of my life for a very long time. And I also remember the moment that I realized I wasn’t all the way straight to then being inundated with the message that it might be wrong. Like we’re talking about like, you know, these things that we try to push away. And so, I dunno, I was just, I just got so overwhelmed because the fact that you are so supportive of your students is huge, is huge. And I know that’s going to save a kid’s life or that’s gonna make someone want to stay, which is just super, super important. So whether or not that this makes this episode doesn’t matter, I just need to share that. I’ll say thank you. I just want to say thank you for the work that you do because it’s, it’s hard to do sometimes when it feels like it’s going against the grain a little bit, for people at institutions that aren’t as supportive. But also the fact that you are out and you are open with your students and saying that, you know, “we can have these conversations or how can I support you putting on this program?” I think that is huge. Huge, huge, huge. Um, which really leads me to my next question really. How do we keep students safe at these institutions?
Sergio Pérez: When you resect the students’ development, there’s a beautiful bond, you know, that that student will have either with you as a professional or with an office with the institution. I can’t tell you how many students I’ve worked with who said, “I don’t like it here. I want to transfer out.” And then they learn that they can nurture, decide themselves, be themselves. It changes someone’s experience. As you said earlier, it does save lives, because as you know, being closeted, it’s a dark space. It feels so lonely and we, because we know that pain and isolation, it becomes a real-life work to make sure as little people as possible have to feel that. Right. And so I tell folks, you know, our center is a space where you can share that burden with us cause we know what that might look like and feel. But we’re also a space, too, where we were going to celebrate all of our successes, too. And so we do more than, you know, just address the issues of struggles. We also want to highlight what our queer students are doing, cool things. When they’re studying abroad, when they are attending conferences, doing presentations. So they realize that they have so much to offer. And for other folks who might not always be so affirming of us, know that we are amongst you. It’s not a question of whether or not whether or not you know someone who’s queer, you’ve just not created a space for someone to feel comfortable to tell you. And that’s a big piece that we’re all so interconnected now, that’s as we move forward, it’s impossible to say that you do not know, you have not come across the humanity of someone who is queer.
Meg Sunga: Yes, yes. All of that. Yes. Yes. That’s a word. Oh my gosh. Sergio, what can SApros do to better support their queer students on religious campuses? And then, very specifically, while respecting their journey?
Sergio Pérez: I think there’s so many other amazing professionals in this country that work at small religious institutions that aren’t sharing enough of the great things they’re doing. That we’re kind of the forgotten, um, workers of diversity work in higher ed. And one thing I would love to see is, uh, student affairs professionals to work in these types of spaces to share out. I want to know what another Loras college across the country is doing. Cause there’s, there might be things I could learn or do or, you know, slap some purple and gold and call it good here, and vice versa. Maybe there’s things that we’re doing that, that institution might benefit from, too. I think sometimes we get stuck on “We can’t do that because that’s a large institution,” or “of course they’re public so they can do whatever they want.” And I don’t, I don’t want to say no. You need to do a much better job of connecting amongst ourselves and share out the different resources, approaches, thoughts of how we do this work. I tell you what, when I started in this role, one of the pieces of advice that I got was “work with your athletic students” and I was like, “what do you mean?” Get to know the coaches, get to know the athletic director, be in their space. And I said, okay. So I started attending games. I started attending their events. Students have already a built-in community amongst their teams. Leverage that to teach community, too. And one of the big pieces I didn’t mention as much here is that here at Loras, a lot of our diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts have actually occurred by working with athletics, which is not something that many folks see. And so for us, it’s the reason why we’re able to display a banner in athletic buildings that is the NCAA’s OneTeam logo. And that’s the logo, the initiative, that shares that. If you are LGBT, you are part of our team as well. And so for example, this past year we hosted Aaron Hernandez who was the first administrator in NCAA athletics who came out as gay. And so we hosted him on campus, we invited him to speak, and he spoke to our teams of his experience in leading into what it’s like to be queer, to be gay, and work in Division One football. And so it’s like there’s so many stories here of athletic leaders, role models, that have multiple identities that we have to leverage to teach and then that encouraged students to speak up that yes, I am queer, I am black, I am Latino. And because of this — especially at PWIs — we need to make sure that we’re centering the most in the margins and bring them to the center and help them lead us to what inclusion could look like.
Meg Sunga: I have some friends who work in athletics and when they listen to this, they’re gonna love that, cause they’re essentially doing that work.
Sergio Pérez: And it’s true because if you ask our students, it’s like if you ask student-athletes, they could develop harmful stereotypes of other teams too. And I’m like that is the work of what stigma stereotypes do to people of color, LGBT, and so it’s like we’re all in this together. If you’re able to identify that that’s harmful amongst teams, then that should translate to being powerful to people and other identities, too.
Meg Sunga: Do you have any advice for your queer students or queer students going to a religious campus and how to navigate it all?
Sergio Pérez: I would say look towards the signs, passive, on doors and email signatures from folks who identify within the queer community or are saying they’re someone you can talk to. Sometimes it’s a button, sometimes it’s a safe zone sticker. Reach out if you have a gender and sexuality studies major or minor, um, sociology. You know, at the very least, those are folks who are hopefully aware of issues surrounding the queer community, that they might be a starting point. If you have, at your institution, an office of diversity, inclusion, equity, maybe even the LGBT resource center, seek them out and don’t feel that you need to meet them at their space as professionals to meet you perhaps at a coffee shop, especially if you’re not ready to be seen in those spaces or aren’t sure if you’ll be overwhelmed by entering a space that is incredibly affirming right away. Make sure that you’re taking care of yourself; eating well, exercising, and sleeping. And I say that, because you know, college is hard for any and all students, but when you’re grappling was with pieces of identity that can make it harder. And it’s easier to have our brains so occupied with, “oh, how can this be” or thinking of course, of worst-case scenarios that we forget to take care and feed our bodies. Right? So those are, I guess the quick pieces there. Reading. That’s a huge one for me. Read books by gay authors, queer authors. Watch gay films, TV shows, at the very least. While sometimes our shows can be very, uh, vulgar, they are also incredibly affirming. And while we never need or should seek permission to be ourselves, as you explore this piece of who you are, know that you have an opportunity to not reinvent yourself, but to show us who you always were. And in that process, acknowledge the pain and how hard that can be. It is incredibly liberating. It allows you to live your life in a different way than you had before. So be yourself. Seek your support, eat well, take care of and always reach out to folks who you know are LGBT. We laugh, we have stories that can relate, but also incredible insights that might help you along the way.
Meg Sunga: Thank you so much. I’m thrilled to have had you on. I appreciate everything that you shared with us and thank you.
Sergio Pérez: No problem. They’re glad to be in space and I’m honored, and hopefully, there’s some tidbits of or nuggets of knowledge as well to take away.
Meg Sunga: You’ve been listening to “Will There Be Food?” with me, Meg Sunga. Thanks again to my guests this week, Sean Smallwood, student governance advisor at the University of Minnesota — Twin Cities and Sergio Pérez, director of inclusion advocacy at Loras College. You can follow Sean on Twitter @SeanRSmallwood and Sergio at @Sergio_Perez13. You can follow “Will There Be Food?” at @HelloPresence on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. For our episode transcript and show notes, head to presence.io/podcast. Don’t forget to rate us, subscribe, And share with all the friends and let us know what topics you want us to cover next. “Will There Be Food?” is a production of Presence. It’s hosted by me, Meg Sunga. The show is directed, edited, and mixed by our producer, Luke Burton. Our executive producer is Cassandra Corrado. Catch us next week when we’ll be talking about being in solidarity with student activists.
Faithiest (Christ Stedman, 2012)
“A Conceptual Model of Multiple Dimensions of Identity” (Susan R Jones and Marylu K McEwen, the Journal of College Student Development, 2000)
“‘Queerituality’: Reforming What it Means to be a Religious Queer” (Sean Smallwood, 2015)