Students building Equality at Eastfield College

BUILDING EQUALITY | When Philomena Aceto, right, realized that Eastfield College had no LGBT organization on campus, she and another student decided to start one themselves. Judith Dumont, left, signed on as the fledgling group’s faculty advisor.

Snow delays start of Eastfield College GSA, but organizers say first meeting will be rescheduled

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

MESQUITE — Eastfield College was the largest of the area’s community colleges without a Gay Straight Alliance, according to student Philomena Aceto. But now Aceto is working to change that.

Aceto — whose partner is longtime activist Dawn Meifert and who has her own history as an activist — began working on her degree at Eastfield last summer. She met Kris Fleskes, another student, and they realized there was no representation for the LGBT community on the more than 18,000-student campus.

Other area two-year colleges have GSAs and campus LGBT alliances. Last fall, P.R.I.S.M., which stands for Promoting Respect In Sexual Minorities, opened successfully at Navarro Community College in Corsicana. The GSA at Richland College, the largest Dallas County Community College, meets twice a month.

“Let’s start one,” Aceto urged Fleskes.

Any campus group must have a faculty advisor but faculty cannot start a group themselves. So Fleskes and Aceto met with two Eastfield staff members, Judith Dumont and Kristie Vowels.

Dumont, former director of Youth First Texas, is now the faculty advisor for the new group.

When she began working at Eastfield last summer, Dumont said, she tried to make her office the safe space on campus for the LGBT community and indicated that by putting an HRC sticker and “proud ally” stickers on her door.

She said she cheered when the two students approached her about starting the GSA.

Aceto said Vowels told her, “You are exactly what we’ve been praying for.”

The group’s first meeting has been postponed twice because of weather. Aceto said that’s just giving her more time to promote the club in classes and on campus.

“I’m out preaching it every day,” Aceto said. “This isn’t about being gay. It’s about equality.”

To emphasize that point, they’re calling their group Equality.

Aceto said she’s has been running up against some resistance and a lot of indifference in an area she called one of the most conservative in Dallas County.

“We’re curious how the campus will receive us,” Dumont said.

She attended advisor training and said there was no reaction when she announced the name of the group she would facilitate.

“I’m hoping everything will be OK,” she said.

But Dumont agreed that the campus was very conservative.

“There were raised eyebrows on campus when I didn’t change my name after I got married in November,” she said.

Aceto said she would like to bring some interesting speakers to campus and produce some creative programming.

“We want to go after bullying,” she said.

Dumont said the group was important as a safe space not just for students, but for faculty, staff and administrators as well.

She said she’s already planning to participate in National Day of Silence. Last year, Dumont organized that event among students who are active with Youth First Texas.

Eastfield College was closed on Wednesday, Feb. 9, the most recent launch date for Equality. Aceto said the group would reschedule over the next week.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 11, 2011.

—  John Wright

New GSA is opening doors — and minds — at Navarro College

Members of P.R.I.S.M. say new group is being well-received by administration, most classmates

Tammye Nash  |  Senior Editor nash@dallasvoice.com

LEADING THE WAY  |  Officers of P.R.I.S.M., the new gay-straight alliance at Navarro College in Corsicana, meet each Tuesday. Officers are, back row from left, Kristen Joyner, assistant historian; Mauricio Palacios, treasurer; Max Tucker, prime historian; Chasidy Merida, public relations chair, and Jessica Martinez, secretary; and front row from left, Juan Tenorio, president; Brandi Collard, faculty sponsor, and Micheal Dickens, spiritual advisor.
LEADING THE WAY | Officers of P.R.I.S.M., the new gay-straight alliance at Navarro College in Corsicana, meet each Tuesday. Officers are, back row from left, Kristen Joyner, assistant historian; Mauricio Palacios, treasurer; Max Tucker, prime historian; Chasidy Merida, public relations chair, and Jessica Martinez, secretary; and front row from left, Juan Tenorio, president; Brandi Collard, faculty sponsor, and Micheal Dickens, spiritual advisor.

Think of Corsicana, Texas, the county seat of Navarro County located about 55 miles south of Dallas on I-45, and “liberal enclave” isn’t likely to be the first description that comes to mind.

The town of about 25,000 is known as home of the Collin Street Bakery, famous around the country for its fruitcakes. But Corsicana is also home to the main campus of Navarro College, which now has what its members call the first gay-straight alliance to be formed — and recognized as an official campus organization — at a Texas community college.

Members of the group and faculty advisor Brandi Collard recently answered a few questions about the alliance for Dallas Voice.

Dallas Voice: Who came up with the idea of starting a gay-straight alliance at Navarro College? What is it called?

P.R.I.S.M.: Our GSA was truly a collaborative idea, and several people were instrumental in starting the group. The organization is called P.R.I.S.M., which stands for Promoting Respect In Sexual Minorities.

DV: Why did the group start? Was there a specific event, or series of events that led to it being started?

P.R.I.S.M.: We started the group because we wanted to form an organization that would provide support for LGBT students and cultivate lasting positive relations between the LGBT and straight communities. No specific event or series of events triggered the formation of the club.

DV: When was P.R.I.S.M. started?

P.R.I.S.M.: We began developing the framework for the group in late August of this year. We became an official campus organization on Sept. 20.

DV: Have you encountered any opposition from administrators? From other students? From the community around the college?

P.R.I.S.M.: We have received nothing but support from the administration. We have had a few cases of individualized harassment of P.R.I.S.M. members by other students, but nothing our members haven’t been able to handle on their own. The community response has been mostly positive so far.

DV: How has the school administration helped or hurt in forming the group?

P.R.I.S.M.: We have been treated exactly the same as any other organization — with fairness and equality.

DV: How many members are in P.R.I.S.M. and how often do you meet?

P.R.I.S.M.: We currently have 40 members, and we’re still growing. The club meets every Thursday afternoon, with an additional meeting on Tuesday just for officers and our advisor.

DV: What kind of activities have you done already?

P.R.I.S.M.: We had a booth at the Club Fair on campus where we signed up new members and handed out rainbow awareness ribbons and bags of Skittles with our meeting info on them. The members are currently selling candy bars as a fundraiser.

DV: What kind of activities do you have planned?

P.R.I.S.M.: We have a “Partners with You” night planned at the Cotton Patch Café. The restaurant will donate 10 percent of participating patrons’ total bills to the group. We’ll also have a booth at the Navarro College Homecoming post-game festivities. Our biggest event so far is a “Science Fiction Double Feature” at the end of October. We have an opportunity to volunteer with a pet adoption event for the local animal shelter in November. We will also be participating in Phi Theta Kappa’s holiday food drive, and we’re planning a holiday bake sale near the end of the semester.

DV: What can people in the LGBT community outside Navarro College do to support your organization?

P.R.I.S.M.: People can help us a lot by contributing to our fundraisers and supporting our events. We’re also looking for guest speakers to inspire and encourage the members of the club.

DV: What else do people need to know about the GSA?

P.R.I.S.M.: We at P.R.I.S.M. want to emphasize that we are an alliance. There is a misconception on campus that we are simply a “gay club,” but we’re so much more. We’re a group that promotes awareness, respect, and unity for all.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 22, 2010

—  Kevin Thomas