The first thing we noticed about Charlotte was the clean air.
As Pedro (our staff leader, he/him/his), Austin (our student leader, he/they), Iris (she/her/hers) and myself (he/him/his) drove around Uptown Charlotte on Monday morning on our way to our first day volunteering with Campus Pride, we were struck by how beautiful every building was. Austin remarked that it felt like we were on a movie set: pristine, shiny and open. Coming from the cold, grimy, dark streets of Chicago, it was such a refreshing change of scenery and a nice precursor to our experience with Campus Pride.
We started our Alternative Break Immersion on Saturday morning as the four of us, all from Loyola University Chicago, piled into a van and began the two-day journey to Charlotte. Coming from a Jesuit Catholic institution, our alternative break immersion trips are unique for their foundation in the four Jesuit pillars: justice, faith, community and simplicity. We spend our time outside of work building community through cooking, living together, and nightly reflections that touch on the ways justice and faith have intertwined with our work in Charlotte. Aside from the digital research work with Campus Pride, we also chose to completely unplug from technology. This has given us so many opportunities to really connect and reflect on our experience in Charlotte.
Our work with Campus Pride this week has been challenging, educational and inspiring. We started our week meeting our peers from Bellarmine University and Michigan State University, learning about what Campus Pride does as an organization and becoming aware of the wide range of LGBTQ+ issues facing college campuses like discussed gender-inclusive housing to discrimination policies. Getting to expand on that basis of knowledge by working on the Campus Pride Transgender Policy Clearinghouse has been a really educational experience as well. We have made so much progress as a community but still have so far to go, especially regarding the rights of trans and non-binary folks.
Getting to immerse ourselves in LGBTQ+ advocacy has been such an opportunity for growth for all of us. I know that I am not just speaking for myself when I say that I have been so inspired by the conversations we have had during this week. I have learned so much from the guest speakers brought in and from the other students here. I think we’ve had a really beautiful opportunity to come together as a community, growing in our awareness, motivation, and advocacy.
In the background of all of this growth has been the beautiful city of Charlotte. None of my group had visited here before, leaving us collectively in awe of the beauty of both scenery and spirit found here. Getting to explore neighborhoods such as NoDa and cultural centers like the MINT enriched this experience exponentially. We have also felt so welcomed and celebrated by everyone that we have encountered. Shane Windmeyer and Don Wilson, in addition to all guest speakers and everyone from Campus Pride, have welcomed us to the LGBTQ+ community of Charlotte with open arms and open hearts. Special thanks must also be given to the beautiful community that hosted us this week, Holy Covenant United Church of Christ. As a gay Christian, it truly warmed my heart to be accepted and affirmed fully by a church in the South. Their generosity and love helped make this week so special.
As we are reaching the end of our stay in Charlotte, I can definitively say that we will carry the lessons learned and wisdom gained with us long after we return to Loyola’s campus. I have felt a connection this week to my identity that I haven’t felt in a really long time, and I feel so motivated to enact change and awareness on my campus back home. Leading with love really is the only way to live an inspired and full life, and I’m so grateful we got an opportunity to find so much love in Campus Pride and Charlotte.