Students, faculty and staff walking around the Gannon University campus may have noticed students wearing T-shirts with the words “I AM” on the front and the word “ME” on the back.
The blue shirts with yellow lettering are easy to spot and they provoke the question, “What does that mean?”
If you ask the person wearing the shirt, he or she will tell you it is the design of the LIFE – Love is for Everyone – group.
LIFE is the product of many years of efforts by administration and students to have an organization that provides a safe environment for students, faculty, alumni and staff who are GLBTQA – gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, questioning, allied – and may be in need of support, or who may give support. This can be a difficult task to accomplish for a Catholic university.
The efforts of the past few years have grown to fruition recently with the institution of Safe Network, a campus resource for students who identify themselves as GLBTQA. This resource has been in the works for many years and, thanks to the efforts of men like the Rev. George Stromeyer and Dean Ward McCracken, it is now in place to serve the Gannon community.
The LIFE group is a source of support and education for those who may be fostering the growth and understanding of their sexuality. These people often find that this is not always the easiest process to accomplish where there is no support.
The formation of the group was a continuation of the work that had been started a few years ago at Gannon. It was then picked up by LIFE’s first president, Chad Gauthier – a junior communication arts major – and presented to McCracken, through whom it was processed and approved to operate under campus ministry.
Deacon Steve Washek, director of campus ministry, and Barbara Townsend, an instructor in Gannon’s psychology department, are the current advisers of the LIFE group. They have worked diligently in securing that the group remain focused and grow.
The current president of LIFE is Matthew Kridel, a sophomore pre-med major, and the vice president is Lia Koziel, a junior engineering major.
Meanwhile, Pi Kappa Alpha (PKA) is a fraternity on campus that has taken the initiative in stepping forward to be an ally to LIFE, both as a fraternity and on a personal level. Their commitment is to bring education and understanding to the Gannon community and to support the GLBTQA population, as well as bring education to the idea that they are united in the development of the person.
The PKA fraternity had an executive board meeting to get a sense of the possibility and desire to work with the LIFE group. The meeting was successful and the next step was a meeting with the LIFE executive board.
PKA President Mike Groesch, a junior physical therapy major, and Kridel met to discuss the year and planned events that the two groups can work on together.
Groesch said he likes the idea of campus groups working together to support each other’s efforts. “I am especially excited for us to support the LIFE group in their endeavors this semester, so that future generations of both organizations can follow our lead,” he said.Shivik Patel, a junior pre-med major and PKA’s external vice president, said he is looking forward to going beyond the bounds of what PKA has done in the past, as far as teaming up with other organizations.
“I think it’s an opportunity to create the stepping stones that will help both groups get our name out in the community,” he said.
Patel added that one of the goals the groups are hoping to achieve by working together is the promotion of their organizations’ shared values.
“Through reaching outside the normal Gannon organizations,” he said, “we will make progress in community and campus relations.”
Patel also said he can foresee some potential obstacles of the groups working together. “Because LIFE is such a new organization, we’re going to have to rely on a lot of our resources,” he said. “However, in doing so, we will help them create their own resources so that they can thrive in years to come.”
Jeffrey Crays, a junior accounting major and PKA’s community service chair, said he views the partnership as a positive event for the LIFE group. “It’s pretty cool that we can help them out in their beginning, and help raise awareness about the fact that all people deserve to live equally, without discrimination.”
Eric Pope, the associate director of Student Organization and Leadership Development (SOLD), said that from an office standpoint, the only thing he can offer is support. “I think it’s a great thing that they are working together and I fully support them,” he said.
Pope also said he hopes this turns into long-term commitment to working together for the betterment of the students they are supporting.
“As with any service, the longer the group/person does it, the more meaningful it becomes, and it will begin to become an integral part of their lives,” he said. “It’s my hope that this is the beginning of a long and lasting relationship between the two groups.”
Kridel’s view of the partnership is also positive. He said LIFE members are excited to be working with the PKA brothers. “As members of a fraternity, they understand the importance of creating a sense of community, which is exactly what LIFE is trying to accomplish among students of all sexualities,” he said.
“I know a lot of people were surprised by the pairing, but I’m confident that it’s one that’ll have a strong, positive impact on the Gannon community and I hope it’ll encourage other student groups to also work with us.”
Kridel’s comment about the surprise that PKA is willing to work with LIFE stems from the stereotype that the fraternity doesn’t mesh well with the GLBTQA community.
He said the meshing of the stereotypical polar opposites, which makes some people chuckle, is precisely why the partnership is the focus of the groups’ members.
Ellen Walsh, an assistant professor of history, said she is encouraged by PKA’s and LIFE’s commitment to engage with each other.
She said Catholic social teaching emphasizes the dignity of each human person, and that sexuality and social connections are inherent to the human condition.
“I think this new collaboration will provide a venue for students to critically examine their thoughts, beliefs and preconceptions about others,” she said. “Done with respect, humility and openness, this process can help us recognize the value of each individual, reveal commonalities among differences, and show how differences can enrich our community.”
Conor Grey, a sophomore pre-med and biology major, said he is glad to see these two organizations working together. “It’s not often that we get to see stereotypes being broken,” he said. “It’ll be interesting to see what happens from the partnership that is being formed here.”
Brianna Woods, a freshman theatre and communication arts major, said she thinks the partnership is a great idea. “It’s so good for Pike because it gives them a better reputation of a more understanding, well-rounded organization.”
She said the union will hopefully bring some light to LIFE’s effort. “I know that it’s not a very well-known organization, but Pike is very well known for some reason or another. When I think of fraternities at Gannon, I think of Pike. But by the same token, when I think of fraternities, I don’t think of very understanding, tolerant actions. This movement is just that,” she said. “I think it gives both groups a wonderful opportunity.”
Members of both organizations recognize the need for the combined efforts in offering a form of education, and they are gearing up to co-host a variety of educational events.
The first event that both organizations are working on is a Valentine’s Day carnation sale in the Waldron Center on Monday and Tuesday. The carnations will be donated from a local florist who is also supporting the efforts of the two groups.