To the students planning the School’s third and final Living in Community or LINC Day of the 2018-19 academic year, the mission was clear. They didn’t merely want to raise awareness about LGBTQ+ issues, they wanted to cultivate empathy. After a successful schedule of events over the course of two days, including a surprise dance on Tuesday evening, April 9, it’s safe to say that they accomplished their goal.
“I was so proud of the student response to the day,” says Vice Rector for School Life Dr. Theresa Ferns '84. “It was a testimony to the work of the planning committee.” Beginning with a lively question and answer session on the first evening, Ferns sensed a level of enthusiasm from the community that made this LINC Day especially memorable.
For each of the students who put hours of effort into coordinating it all, it was personal in some way. Some identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community and others as allies, but all understood the importance of dedicating a day of discussion. “This is an important topic to me because views and beliefs in the world are changing, and we should be open to this change, especially if it is to be more accepting,” says Michaela Purvis ’20. “I wanted to help push that change.”
Purvis provided one of the highlights of the first evening, as she emerged from a darkened stage in Memorial Hall singing Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way.” It was a surprise to the audience, and the students did not know, at least initially, who was singing. Her performance helped establish a tone of celebration that carried over into the surprise dance later that evening. Students poured into the New Space theatre and shared the experience of gay pride, both in the décor and in the music celebrating the LGBTQ+ community.
The next morning students learned about LGBTQ+ history in the United States, including the Stonewall Riots in 1969 – which are now commemorated each year by gay pride celebrations worldwide – and the AIDS crisis of the 1980s. The presentations provided context to the events of the previous night and helped to facilitate a better understanding of the LGBTQ+ community. “These issues are very relevant on campus because they affect students of every gender and orientation,” says Mabry Sansbury ’19. “Heteronormativity hurts straight students as much as it affects queer students.”
Jennifer Cotton-Herman, associate dean of students, credits this LINC Day planning group with understanding how to best navigate the discussion with their peers and balance heavy topics with pride and celebration of the LGBTQ+ community. “They wanted to put their spin on each part of the day,” she says. “They wanted it to be interactive and to paint a picture of what life is like for members of the LGBTQ+ community in the U.S.” As LINC Days have become a part of life at SPS, Cotton-Herman notes that the students have done an excellent job at structuring these days to keep things fresh. “It’s not just a sit and get day,” she says.
The success of LINC Days is measured by the conversations that continue well after the events have concluded. “I really hope that everyone takes at least one thing away from this LINC Day,” says Olivia Fletcher ’19. “If everyone is just a little more knowledgeable and accepting, that’s a win for us.”