Photo Courtesy of Claire Murashima
In the 102 years that Student Senate has existed, we’ve never had an openly gay student body president. It’s beyond time that the LGBTQ community is represented in the highest student leadership position at Calvin. I’m proud to be the first.
A few years ago, I never thought that I would be coming out to the world through my school newspaper at my Christian university. I wanted to be known as the girl who started Dance Marathon and led students to raise $50,000 for our local children’s hospital, the girl who co-hosted a podcast for the Chimes, or the girl who tried out for every single hip hop dance guild and was rejected from every single one. But my legacy will invariably be different, because I am Calvin University’s first openly LGBTQ student body president. I’m bisexual. I’ve also questioned if I was a lesbian in the past. Usually, I use the term “queer” because it encompasses all of these identities.
One thing’s for sure: I am not straight. I’m sharing my story with the community because I take the weight of representation seriously, I have a desire to lead Calvin and the CRC into the future and want other queer students to see themselves in my story. I’d feel as if I’d made a mistake as student body president if I did not use my platform to do so.
I’m proud to be Calvin’s first openly gay student body president, but it hasn’t always been easy to be queer at Calvin or to be open with my story. I didn’t want to be the cause of controversy at Calvin or in my church. An elder at my church back home was advised not to attend his queer daughter’s wedding. Although the church should not have done this in the first place, I didn’t want to cause issues for my parents in the place they love to worship.
Secondly, I didn’t want everyone in my life to see me as just gay and overlook all of the other things that make me who I am; my bad puns, my statement earrings, my love for How I Built This, or my obsession with oatmilk.
Lastly, I didn’t want students to see me differently if they knew this part of my story. With time, I’ve accepted that some will lose respect for me; however, I will not apologize for existing in the way that God made me. I’d rather be my true self to make space for other queer students than hide who I am out of fear of offending others.
Being closeted at Calvin is an incredibly isolating experience- and my staying silent will only perpetuate that norm. When I was younger, I saw very few examples of people who love like me in the church and other leadership positions I aspired to. I would have loved a role model who embraced both their queerness and faith–and I hope to live that out in my leadership at Calvin.
Numerous professors, alumni, and family members have asked me why I’m writing this now–given that “it’s easy to be gay at Calvin in 2020,” and “times have changed.” I have no doubt that it is easier to be gay at Calvin in 2020 than any other time in the past: gay marriage has been legal in every state for five years, overall support in the U.S. has been increasing for as long as I’ve been alive, and my generation has seen more representation in the media than ever before. I know at least 20 other queer students at Calvin, whereas my mom went through Calvin without knowing a single openly LGBTQ person.
But, Calvin’s heteronormative and relationship-focused culture can leave us feeling excluded. Furthermore, we don’t see ourselves represented in Calvin’s administrators or professors. Not seeing anyone who loves like us makes us feel like we don’t fully belong at Calvin. When the demographics of our university’s administrators and professors doesn’t match the diversity of our world, we are not reflecting the Kingdom of God.
My voice is the only queer one at many of the committees I sit on, such as Faculty Senate and Calvin’s Planning & Priorities Committee. It saddens me that there is no representation beyond myself in these spheres, because we make decisions that impact all students- including our LGBTQ students. According to Student Senate’s fall survey, LGBTQ students make up 7% of the student body, while openly-LGBTQ individuals make up 0% of our administrators and professors.
I’m happy to be a queer voice, but the responsibility of representing the LGBTQ community should not have to fall on me. Calvin is intentional about including people of color when making decisions–but we are okay with not having an LGBTQ perspective. Who will represent queer students in these intensive governance committees after I’m gone?
My hope in saying all of this is that Calvin will have more conversations about how we include our LGBTQ students and how we can advocate for more LGBTQ representation in all areas of campus. We’ve made much progress as an institution and a country, but I want us to consider the toll that our lack of representation has on our students. It is my prayer that we will be bold as we lead our university and our denomination into the future. I’m honored to be Calvin’s first openly gay student body president–and will continue to represent your opinions at the tables where decisions are being made.