Today we feature Emily Ward (she/they), a freshman from Mullica Hill, NJ. Emily is majoring in Physics and has a minor in astronomy. Emily discusses how their involvement in PRISM supports them while being a Rowan student and their journey through recognizing and being open about their identity.
Could you share with us how you’re involved on campus and how those involvements are meaningful for you?
“Sure! Unfortunately, I didn’t get to be as involved as I wanted to last semester because of some things in my personal life, but I enjoyed going to Honors Fiber Arts Club and Prism events when I had the chance. Fiber Arts Club is great because it’s honestly a stress reliever; you just sit and crochet with a group of other Honors College members and listen to music. It’s a great way to unwind after a long day of classes.
As for Prism, its meaningfulness is derived from my past experiences. I’m an ex-Catholic school kid who discovered they were queer pretty early on in my Catholic school experience, and it could be a very isolating feeling. Even though there were other LGBT+ kids around me, it was still hard to feel like you didn’t really belong at your school, and that your existence somehow conflicted with its mission. It just means a lot to me to be at a school that has a huge LGBT+ club and safe space. I don’t feel like I’m somehow intruding upon the mission of my school anymore.”
What is one club or organization that makes Rowan feel like home?
“I feel like Prism really makes me feel at home. I went to Catholic school for basically all my life and I remember when I went to the first Prism meeting and they were going over discrimination policies for the club and it included sexual orientation and I don’t think I have every actually gone to a school where sexual orientation was part of the discrimination policy. This was because catholic schools were just simply different.”
“At my previous school I actually helped run a club like Prism with Abigail [we were Co-Presidents] but it was kept secretive because of the values of the Catholic school. We had to keep the club a secret because if we told people what the club was, the school feared that students and investments would be pulled from the school. So we had this club that was named Cultural Diversity Club, and we had to call it that so people did not straight up know what it was. There were so many teachers who were extremely supportive of us and our decision to make this club even if we had to keep it kind of secretive. Specifically, the moderator of our club was a religion teacher at our school and not only very supportive of this club, but believed in us and our ideas. It was just sad that the administration felt the need to silence the LGBTQ+ community and to hide a safe space for the community just to save face in fear that they would lose money.”
How does the Rowan community support your identity?
“Rowan supports my identity at the most basic level; I’m included in its anti-discrimination and diversity policies. Catholic schools don’t get federal funding or state funding, so they’re not subjected to the same regulations as public schools. In other words, homophobia and transphobia were never something mentioned alongside racism or misogyny. The diversity policies of my previous schools never included their LGBT+ students. It’s something so little that really says a lot; it sends out the message that you’re not protected here. If something were to happen and you needed to get the administration involved in a case of homophobic discrimination, they might not protect you. Here at Rowan though, that protection isn’t up in the air; every time I’ve heard the diversity policies read out at clubs like Prism or at the beginning of the semester in classes I tear up a bit because I just know that I’m protected here.”
Could you share with us how you identify?
“I identify as bisexual.”
How long have you been aware of your identity?
“I have been aware for about 7-8 years.”
How long have you been open about your identity?
“That’s a tricky question for me, since I come from a religious background. I initially came out to my friends in 6th grade and became open about it around them since I knew my friends weren’t homophobic or anything. Once high school came around, I was a bit more open about it. At that point I was out to my parents and most of my extended family without any real issues. I would tell my friends since I trusted them, but it wasn’t until sophomore year I finally just decided to ‘formally’ come out.
“I was at my friend’s house — actually the first friend I ever told about my sexuality way back in 6thgrade — and I decided to take some pictures with her bisexual flag in her bedroom. That night I decided it was time to fully come out. I posted the pictures on Instagram to an overwhelmingly positive response. Ever since then I haven’t really bothered to hide my sexuality anymore.”
How did you decide that it was time to share your identity with others, or come out?
“That’s hard to answer since I did most of that years ago now. I think I would mostly feel compelled to come out once I not only trusted the people around me, but felt confident enough in myself and my sexuality that even if people reacted negatively I would be able to handle it.”
What’s it like living openly within your identity, as a college student on our campus?
“It’s great! Like I mentioned before, there’s this lack of safety and protection that one feels when being queer at a Catholic school. There’s also that hidden fear of the people around you being homophobic and not really accepting your existence. At Rowan there isn’t really that fear. The predominant culture here seems to be one of acceptance and protecting LGBT+ people.”
Is there a person on Rowan’s campus who has been particularly supportive of you? How have they shown that support?
“I don’t really feel like I’ve been at Rowan long enough to have formed close ties with a club, professor, etc. Everyone has been overall accepting and supportive though.”
What is your role in Prism?
“I am a member of PRISM at Rowan.”
What is your favorite part of being involved in Prism?
“Meeting new people — I actually formed a D&D group with some people I met there!”
Anything else you would like to add?
“I know that I talked about my Catholic school experience being negative, but I do want to make it clear that not every single Catholic at my Catholic schools were homophobic or horrible people, and that I don’t hate all Catholics. I met a lot of incredible, accepting students and teachers at my Catholic schools. The Catholic church and school system absolutely have their issues that urgently need addressing, but I don’t want to diminish the love and support that I have received from students and faculty who were and are Catholic.”
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