Written by Cotton Parker, Alternative Break Student Volunteer
Sunday, March 12
Our journey began at about 6 AM, packing our luggage into one of two vans bound for a hour drive towards Logan Airport in Boston. After a quick breakfast—and a few hours filled with a lot of turbulence—our plane landed in Charlotte.
Six students and two faculty were on this trip. Cotton (he/him) is a sophomore majoring in environmental science and minoring in politics who also works in the DLC Women’s Center on campus. Avery (they/them) is a game art and design student enjoying their first year at SNHU. Virginia (she/they) also works in the DLC and is an accelerated first year majoring in psychology. Abby (she/her) is a senior double majoring in politics and global affairs as well as sociology. She is a student worker at the Chandler Center, and our unofficial trip photographer. Acacia (any pronouns) is studying game art and design
for their second year at SNHU. Delaney (she/her) is a sophomore working on her degree in elementary education. Beth Anderson (she/her) is one of the leads on this trip. She is an alum and has been working at SNHU for 5 years and is currently positioned as the Associate Director of the DLC. Our other lead, Kelley Hobbs (she/her) works as the Associate Director of the Chandler Center (the office that runs alternative breaks) and has been with SNHU for 11 years.
Our work didn’t begin until the following morning, and we couldn’t check into our Airbnb quite yet, so our first two stops were the local Waffle House for lunch, and the Ikea to kill some time. After getting lost in that maze for a few hours and unhauling groceries, we finally settled down at our Airbnb for the night, enjoyed our spaghetti dinner and Disney channel movies, and got excited for the next day.
Monday, March 13
We all left the Airbnb a little late at about 7:50 AM and arrived at Ally Charlotte Center where we would be working for the next week. (Ally Financial, Inc. is a partner of Campus Pride and provided lunch the first day as well as some speakers on panels throughout the week.) When we got there we realized that we were actually an hour early, much to a lot of our relief; I don’t think many of us enjoyed waking up at 7 AM each day. Shane Windmeyer (they/he), founder and current executive director of Campus Pride, led us to where we would conduct our work. We also met Ryan Anklam (he/him), chairperson of Campus Pride and Director of Insurance Regulatory Controls at Ally.
We started our service learning by getting a better understanding of where Campus Pride comes from and the services it offers through a trivia scavenger hunt on their website (www.campuspride.org). At this point the students from SUNY Oswego arrived and we all introduced ourselves. After a pizza lunch sponsored by Ally we met Reggie Willis, the Chief Diversity Officer at Ally, and the students from UW Madison arrived. We wrapped up the day preparing to start our service projects and finding our campuses on the Campus Pride Index—a database of schools rated on how their policy accounts for and fosters the growth of queer students (https://www.campusprideindex.org/).
Tuesday, March 14
Happy pi day (π=3.14)! Tuesday, I’ll admit, was a lot of work and a bit draining. When we got settled in at Ally (at the correct time today), we began on our first project: updating the Worst List (https://www.campuspride.org/worstlist/). The Worst List is another database of colleges but this one gathers those which have discriminatory practices against LGBT youth. In order to qualify for this list a campus must have “1) Received and/or applied for a Title IX exemption to discriminate against LGBTQ youth and/or 2) Demonstrated past history and track record of anti-LGBTQ actions, programs and practices,” as identified on Campus Pride’s website. Our job was to find if these colleges have gotten any new news coverage, or have implemented any new policies. We were doing this project on and off for most of the day.
At 10:30, Ally had a “town hall” meeting for their Pride Employee Resource Group (ERG) that about half of the total students went to. They discussed what they as a company have done last year to support their queer employees and their plans for the future. For lunch, most people took a walk around the city streets to eat out and continue to do so for the rest of the week. After we got back from lunch, some of us broke off to stop the Worst List project and began filming promotional videos for Campus Pride to put on their social media that advertised Camp Pride (a week long summer program for university age students to learn more about queer culture and social activism: https://www.campuspride.org/camppride/) and Career Connect (a careernetworking site where queer students can connect to mentors and employers to improve their career toolbox and find inclusive jobs: https://www.campuspridecareerconnect.org/), as well as making videos for things like Trans Day of Visibility (March 31) and Campus Pride Month (April).
After wrapping up the day, everyone headed back to where they were staying and reflected on the day. We didn’t get much time to reflect on what we were reading and researching during the day, and thought that things were a bit rushed. Finding articles about traumatic things schools have done to LGBT students and faculty put a weight on us all. After our reflection and discussion, most of us from SNHU went to Camp North End to walk around, and then to Optimist Hall, a food court with practically everything you could think of. (I got vegan ramen and some honey lavender gelato!)
Wednesday, March 15
Happy Ides of March (the day Julius Caesar died)! The day started with feedback of the previous two days, and discussing what was talked about during our reflection time the previous night. Wednesday we continued our service projects, but added going on to the Career Connect website to bug test it and provide feedback on what could be improved. After lunch, the Ally Pride ERG had a panel discussing their experience being queer at Ally Financial, and answered questions regarding promotions, being tokenized, and inclusion. After the panel, a representative from Ally came in and advertised some of their internships opportunities at Ally, and told us about how we can get involved with the company. A few of us applied for the internships, and we’re excited to hear back! At 3:30, a student from SUNY (Syvanna, she/her) went onto the Campus Pride Instagram to have a Livestream with AAA asking questions about what they do as a company to promote queer inclusion.
After finishing our service for the day, the SNHU group went to Heist Brewery to meet with a group of alumni. We met with Matt, Amber, and Torian. We talked a lot about how SNHU has changed and how their careers and experiences brought them to where they are today. After dinner, we headed back to the Airbnb and continued an activity started earlier in the week, and wrote intentional affirmations/compliments to each other in the group. I think at this point we had definitely begun to bond as a group and value each other more than when we had started our trip.
Thursday, March 16
Thursday started with a speaker named Candelario Saldana (or Candy, as Shane would call him), who came in to talk about his experience as an undocumented immigrant on his journey becoming a lawyer, as well as his journey as a gay man. After, Don Wilson came in to share his journey coming out in the workplace at Wells Fargo, and how his environment ended up being very accepting and standing up for him when coworkers were being homophobic. Shane Windmeyer’s husband as well as a professional photographer came in for a photoshoot of us to promote Camp Pride. They brought in pride flags so we could take photos with props. We were supposed to have a Safe Space (https://www.campuspride.org/safespace/) training session with certification but that unfortunately got cancelled to no fault of Campus Pride. A team of students began preparing for an takover of the Instagram page happening the following day. After a focus group with SUNY, we got to meet Eureka O’Hara (she/her)—a transgender drag queen—over a video call and got to talk to her about her experience on Ru Paul’s Drag Race and her show We’re Here—a show where she and two other drag queens go to rural towns across America to give people makeovers (watch on HBO Max).
After we finished for the day, Shane treated us to dinner at an Asian restaurant called Saigon Palace, and invited us to their house to look at his drag sale. He showed Beth and I his back barn as well where he keeps his wardrobe. He had some things for free, and gave us a big fake rat which we later used to prank the other trip lead, Kelley.
Friday, March 17
Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Our day today started a bit later to catch up on sleep since some of us are beginning the trip home tonight or early tomorrow morning. We arrived at 10:30 and got a bit of work on our service projects in before a very well enjoyed speaker came in. Serena Rice (she/her) shared her story growing up in a very strict household and discovering that she is transgender. She shared some quotes that I thought were very moving. She shared a lot about overcoming people being transphobic to her, a friend said “You can be the most perfect, ripest peach, but there are still people who don’t like any peaches.” Just because you’re disliked by some does not mean that you’re not beautiful. She also said that she had learned: “It is not [your] job to make someone else see [your] value…if you don’t see my worth then you are undeserving of me in your life.” I think that that is part of the big takeaway for this trip. We may be fighting and there may be a lot against us as queer people right now, but that does not mean that we are not beautiful and amazing people. And as I sit here over our lunch break finishing this blog post, I reflect upon our week. It may have been tiring at parts but it brought us together and is a time that I’m glad I spent coming on this trip. See you next year, Alternative Break.