- Age: 29
- Hometown: New Brunswick, NJ
- Alma Mater: Rutgers University
- Alma Mater: Senior Office Manager and OutSpoken Peer Education Coordinator at the Rutgers University Center for Social Justice Education and LGBT Communities
Vanessa participated in Camp Pride in 2013. Now, she works for the Center for Social Justice Education at Rutgers University. We asked Vanessa to reflect on her experiences with Campus Pride and how they’ve affected her life and work since. Below are her responses.
When did you first become involved with Campus Pride and what do you recall about your experience?
I First became involved with Campus Pride in the summer of 2013 when I attended Camp Pride in Nashville. I can recall everything about the experience like it happened last week. The environment that Camp Pride provided was one that I rarely have seen duplicated. I remember the community building that occurred with all 70+ attendees. I recall the tight bonds and the family-like feelings of our den groups. I recall also the openness of conversation and dialogue about identity, intersectionality, visibility, privilege, and so much more that helped me on my own journey to self discovery.
Share a story about a meaningful moment that you attribute to your experience with Campus Pride.
The most meaningful moment that comes to mind occurred during camp. After James Clementi, Tyler Clementi’s brother, gave a speech at camp most of the folks at camp were deeply triggered and affected by the speech. Because of this the dens called meetings for everyone to unpack and process what had happened. During this meeting I revealed a very traumatic event that took had happened when I was much younger. Me letting down that wall and allowing myself to be vulnerable in that moment let me share something out loud that I have never said out loud before. That moment in time has shown me that it is ok and sometimes therapeutic to be vulnerable and to let people in and that in it of its self is meaningful.
Describe what you are doing today with your professional life and how Campus Pride helped to prepare you?
Campus Pride has really shown me what it means to be a leader and what a leader does. During Camp Pride I talked to, made connections with, and befriended many student leaders from all over the country. I saw how my leadership was only in its beginning stages and I saw where it can grow to. Taking the leadership tools and advice that I learned at camp I have applied them to my work at my center at Rutgers and in one year I have gone from an office assistant to senior office manager and education coordinator where I supervise an education team and am one of the main student educators on topics of gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, class, and their intersections at Rutgers University.
How did Campus Pride impact you and your individual growth as a leader?
As I mentioned before the biggest impact I had was allowing myself to be vulnerable. Allowing myself to be vulnerable, among folks and just with myself, allowed me to begin my path of self-discovery and my journey to become my authentic self. I attended camp before I came out as Trans and after camp is when I began to allow myself to really be open to the thoughts I was having and begin to accept and began to allow those thoughts to manifest and be realized. And for me I think it is important to be comfortable with yourself and accept yourself and I feel that these are important traits for a leader to have. Since I came out I have been a much better leader on my campus and have been a much better role model and support system for others.
What value do you feel Campus Pride brings to LGBTQ and Ally young adult leaders?
I feel that the value that Campus Pride brings to LGBTQ and Ally young adult leaders is that it shows them that to be productive leaders means different things to different people and that there is no one model for being a leader. Leadership manifests in many different ways depending on the person. Some folks may be comfortable being out in front with all the visibility and attention on them and others are more behind the scenes. Both are valid and productive ways of being leaders and I think Campus Pride shows young leaders that allowing yourself the space to become the kind of leader that is comfortable and safe for them is ok.
How does Campus Pride still provide enrichment to your life today and what you do professionally?
Campus Pride provides enrichment to my life today by having provided me a network of chosen family that spreads across the country. This past April Rutgers University hosted the 19th Annual Northeast LGBT Conference and with over 600+ attendees from across the country and Canada there were about 10 that I can call family. Almost 10 folks from camp attended, even one from my own den group was there. During the conference we spent time together catching up and spending time together. Spending this time with these folks was not like talking to friends, it was like talking to family. Campus Pride has enriched my life because it has provided me with a chosen family for life and also a future professional network because many of us intend to pursue careers in Student Affairs in Higher Education.
What advice do you have for those involved in Campus Pride or for those who want to become more involved?
Advice that I have for those involved in Campus Pride is to be open to learning. Open yourself up to folks you do not know and allow yourself to be vulnerable and to have conversations with folks about things that you may not have talked about before. And for someone to challenge your own privileges, because I think that it is important to acknowledge spaces and instances where you are the oppressed and where you are the oppressor. Advise for those who want to be involved is to totally go for it! Attending camp or being involved with campus pride is a privilege and having access to these spaces is truly transformative. Once you leave or become involved you will have life long friends and a possible future professional network and both will help you and sustain you now and in the future.
What knowledge, skills and resources do you use today in your professional life that you learned from Campus Pride?
The knowledge that I gained from Campus Pride was the power of self, agency, autonomy, access, privilege, giving others space, and taking space for yourself. I have seen through personal experiences and my work that all these elements are important for folks and in many ways they intersect. The skills I learned was simple but it was to take a step back and listen. I believe that we truly learn for hearing others tell their own narratives and to be a productive leader or ally means taking a step back and listening. And the resources that I use today are many of the resources offered by Campus Pride. Campus Pride has so many resources and connections to resources that I utilize the website and its connections regularly to pass along to others.
What’s next for you in your personal and, or professional goals?
What’s next for me in my personal life is become more visible, involved, and enact change for my sisters and other Trans* folks on my campus. I recently became one of the first Trans woman to be admitted into the Woman’s College in Rutgers and I want to create transparency with the college to create language that makes the acceptance and admittance of other Trans women and Trans feminine folks more clear and intersectional. And also work with University administrators and committees to make my university safer for my community. In my professional life, this coming academic year I am hoping to conduct research to create a Student Support Model for Trans* students making the transition from high school into a college or university and also a model for the university on how to support Trans* students transitioning in college. My goal for this project is to have a two part comprehensive model where one part is designed and geared towards practitioners and university administration so that policy and executions of these policies can be crafted and or improved. The second part would be aspect of my research that would be accessible to students and younger Trans* folks so they can know what to look for when applying to college and what students should be advocating for on their campuses with examples of existing policies and how they are/should be executed.
Campus Pride is the leading national educational organization for LGBTQ and ally college students and campus groups building future leaders and safer, more LGBTQ-friendly colleges and universities. The organization provides resources and services to thousands of college students and nearly 1400 campuses annually. Learn more online at CampusPride.org.