Pockets of exceptional Student Voice always seem to occur in the most unlikely places. Webster City, Iowa’s StuCamp was no exception.
First for some background. StuCamp is a day long mini conference hosted by students, for students. It follows the popular “un-conference” model where the agenda for the day is set in the beginning by asking the room of 50+ students “What issues exist in your school that you want to solve”. The session suggestions ranged from “School lunch” to “What is the point of school?”
I could write long blog posts about each one. Each was a flurry of deep, insightful conversation. But the one that stuck out the most was added to the calendar at the last minute by a student who was clearly passionate about discussing this subject. I soon discovered why.
Iowa has a reputation of being full of extremely nice people and the reputation is well earned. Everywhere I went Iowans greeted me with warmth and smiles. But I wonder if that greeting would be different if they knew I was gay.
First of all, it’s important to make clear that homophobia is not something unique to Iowa in anyway; it’s a nationwide epidemic. But I couldn’t help but to be brought to tears by the stories of the students in this session.
One student recounted her experience as being bisexual in a Mormon household.
“When I came out as bisexual I got harassed and bullied. I get bullied at school, church, in the street and even in the class room infant of my teachers. Most don’t care. I know that they would probably bully me too if they could. I don’t understand what I did to deserve this.”
She later confessed that she hasn’t come out of the closet to her parents for fear that her mom, following the order of their church, would force her to leave home.
Another student spoke about being a-sexual.
“I am a sexual. They teach you in health class that “eventually” you will feel the urge to be sexual with a guy. But growing up I never had that urge and so I spent all my time wondering if there was something wrong with me. I used to identify as demi sexual. I’m sure most of your followers don’t know what that is. I didn’t either but google searched. That’s how I’ve had to figure out most things about myself.”
She went on to explain demi sexual to the rest of us in the room because as she suspected, none of us knew.
A third student described his experience being gay and attending a private Catholic school. He told us about how he fought hard to establish a gay straight alliance in his school but met opposition at every turn. At times he felt the need to resort to self harm but he had some advice for the others in the room.
“If you ever get to the point where you feel like you need to kill yourself. 1, Don’t. 2. It’s not worth it. 3. I love you. Someone loves you. I have been there before. I have been in the hospital before. But I’m here and I’m telling you that even when you feel like you don’t want to get help….get help!”
Safety and Wellbeing and Diversity and inclusivity are not included in the Student Bill of Rights by accident. They are there because we know that students who don’t enjoy unfettered access to these rights in school face often times insurmountable barriers to their educational attainment. Stories like these highlight the necessity for schools to be vigilant of and responsive to the needs of all their students, not just the “normal” ones. Too many students are dying for this not to be a priority.
-Andrew Brennen, StuVoice National Field Director