By Erica Dunigan
Staff reporter

For many students of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community, college is the first opportunity they have to be open, and speak out about their sexual orientation.

Tom Jacobs, division chair for communication, computer science, and English, is faculty advisor for PrideBuilders. He said, “Many campuses have a gay, straight alliance group, which is the classic name for it. But, the essence of the gay, straight alliance is to form a support group to make sure that the students have a place to go speak and be themselves, notice if there is any inappropriate action against gay people, and then to take action on that.”

A small organization with only ten members, PrideBuilders invites students with open arms.

Carol Schonlau, elementary education junior, is president of PrideBuilders. She said, “When I first came to college I was looking for an organization to join, and my roommates told me to come with them to a PrideBuilders meeting. I wanted to be able to be a part of a family.”

To be titled lesbian is a common thing for Schonlau. “Once I started going to PrideBuilder meetings, students on campus would start questioning if I was a lesbian or not. They would sit there and call me a lesbian,” said Schonlau. “I just let it go in one ear and out the other. PrideBuilders would end up becoming a big part of my life.”

Students take the risk to create a proud organization that brings awareness to campus.

Sarah Jane Boyer, music education senior, is co-president of PrideBuilders. She said, “PrideBuilders started when two girls wanted a place where they could get together with others from the LGBT community, and be able to talk openly about coming out and the struggles that we face each day.”

As a student, Boyer knows how hard it is to come out about such a touchy subject. “I know how hard it was for those two girls to come out, and tell the school that we need this type of organization on campus,” said Boyer. “We try to invite students that aren’t gay or lesbian to the meetings and discussion session. We also have game night, and we are planning on branching out in the community by helping a charitable organization.”

The group has evolved. It can serve as a place for students to meet and feel at home.

“Pride Builders is a safe environment and is open to everyone just not the LGBT community,” said Boyer. “It allows students to discuss their feelings, and be in an open, free atmosphere.”

For some students, the group can become much more than just a meeting between friends and peers.

“When my family was no longer an option to go to, PrideBuilders would become my new family,” said Schonlau. “I didn’t know at that point who I was. The group would teach me that I should be proud of who I am, and that I’m a strong person inside and out.”

A campus opens its doors to a small organization to have endless possibilities for members to be themselves.

“Coming from somewhere where no one was open to something like Pride Builders, Southwestern is very welcoming. They never sweep us under the rug. We can be who we are,” said Schonlau. “There are still people that will judge, but no one is truly trying to bring us down. They’re not putting up road blocks, they allow us to branch out and be who we are.”

Erica Dunigan is a junior majoring in convergent journalism. You may e-mail her at erica.dunigan@sckans.edu.