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Hello, my name is Gunther. I am a 23 year old graduate student at John Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia. In May, I reached the half-way mark in my Masters degree program -- "Student Personnel in Higher Education." What exactly is "Student Personnel" you ask? Specifically, after graduating, I hope to work in the residence life field at some large urban state university.
As a gay man, I decided through my undergraduate education at Ashland University (Ashland, OH), that I wanted to obtain a position in residence life so that I can positively affect the lives of future college students. While at Ashland, I was a Residence Assistant for a period of two years. It was the best two years I had in college. Positive and rewarding are two words that describe the experience.
My employment with Marshall is as a "Graduate Assistant." I live in Twin Towers West (the fifteen story mega-tower I call home). I am also the Vice President for the Lambda Society -- the student union for GLBT students. In addition, I have been known to speak for the Lesbian Bisexual Outreach Office at Marshall. We have a standing arrangement in which we speak to students in the "freshman seminar" classes. These "speaks" can get quite lively at moments. One time, I had a young man state that he wanted to punch me -- "the only fags that I have ever known were at the end of my fist." Well alrighty, I guess that that is all cleared up! To make matters even better, I recognized him from my residence hall. Argh!
I guess that I will wander into the topic which I will cover in this Oasis article. There are many of you young men and women who are about to enroll in a college or university this coming fall. As a community, we should all be proud that young GLBT students are choosing to better themselves through education. The only way to make life more positive and rewarding is to become educated then use our education to change the system.
When looking at a college, please keep several things in mind. First off, keep in mind that there are certain schools which are more open to our community. I would dare to say that John Marshall University is one of the schools which is doing a wonderful job at meeting the needs of GLBT students.
Since orientation sessions are fast upcoming at many colleges, you might think hard about asking questions of the staff and faculty at the institution you chose. Does the school have a student group for GLBT students? An office which is geared towards meeting the needs of GLBT students? A non-discrimination clause in their affirmative action policy? Gay friendly housing options? Counseling services for those of you in need?
These are a few of the vital questions you should ask while visiting your school during orientation. You will never know unless you start to ask the proper questions.
Currently, there is one young man, Tate, whom I am currently working with out of the LGBO Office. Tate was concerned about finding a residence hall here at Marshall which will be conducive to his academic pursuits. Additionally, he wanted a hall which would be accepting of his sexual orientation. A very important issue, indeed! I actively encouraged Tate to write Residence Services to attempt to get a placement in the honors residence hall. Again, it never hurts to ask! All that can happen is they can say no.
When I came to Marshall in the fall of 1996, I had a nice single room in Hodges House (the "jock" hall). When I started to ask around, my best friend Jay said I would probably be constantly harassed in Hodges. Don't be fooled by the rumors which are spread by students (even your best friend). Gather data from all your sources and evaluate it and make a smart and informed decision. As it turned out, my time in Hodges was flawless. No harassment. No vandalism. Just a plain old good time.
As residence life staff, we are responsible for the well being of every resident student. This means you! I encourage all freshman to contact their college residence life office and ask very candid questions. Get the best placement they can offer you. However, make sure that you are not taking the easy way out. Harassment is bad -- but keep in mind that college is not a "ride down easy street." Attitude is the best indicator of how a student will fare within the residence hall system. Stand up for your rights. In my sixth year of residence hall living, I can say from experience that attitude is the key. Positive. Fun. Friendly. Firm.
College life can be quite rewarding. As a result of my resident staff experience at Ashland University, I have developed close friendships which continue to remain strong to the current day. College will be fun but also stressful. Remember to stay active for the benefit of our community.
I guess that I will close out this article. I look forward to sharing more with you in the near future. Best wishes!