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Advice and Announcements for VSU Students

When Honesty Is Bravery

by Rebecca Smith on April 14, 2014 in Healthy Relationships, LGBTQ, Respect

I saw this post on Freshly Pressed.  I thought it was great and wanted to share it here.  Please click on  Queer Confessions to read more from this great blogger.

I remember the first time I came out to anybody. I was a socially awkward fifteen year old boy living in Texas. I had no athletic prowess to boast, and my musical tastes were closer to my father’s than to my peers. For three years, I kept my sexuality a secret from everybody because I was terrified of being gay. I didn’t know any other gay kid or adult, so I felt lonely and misunderstood. The only thing that scared me more than my solitude was the very real possibility that others could hurt me with their words or fists if they found out that I preferred boys over girls.

At fifteen years old, I decided that I had lived under fear long enough. There was a reality show on TV back in 2001 that documented the lives of average high school students, including one gay youth; his visible gayness gave me the courage to share my secret with one person. When I came out to a friend in my youth group, I was frightened that he would make my life a living hell – and because my friend was the most popular youth in our very large church, he had the means to do so. But he did not make my life miserable; he said, “Thank you for telling me. This doesn’t change who you are. You are still my friend.”

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That was almost 12 years ago, and since the winter of 2001, I have mastered the art of coming out to friends, coworkers, and family. I have told my conservative, evangelical friends about my sexuality, and I have come out to my liberal friends and colleagues. I have come out in intimate conversations and in public speeches before large crowds. I have come out to straight neighbors and gay neighbors, rich friends and poor friends, Christian friends and doubting friends; by and large, I am a better man for being honest about myself. I feel better knowing that I can be my true, genuine self around my peers, because I do not have to hide something that is a profound part of my existence. I can simply be, and I can simply be gay.

My friends remind me that I am a brave man for coming out. A friend of mine regularly tells me, “You are the bravest, most courageous person I know;” this same friend has a story of being delivered by the grace of God from a life of crime (including murder), counterfeiting money, gang banging, and homelessness. Another friend said that my decision to tell my story to a crowd of evangelical Christians numbering over 200 was, perhaps, the bravest thing he ever saw a person do. These comments puzzle me; I am simply being honest. Aren’t Christians supposed to be honest? And yet, in this society, honesty is bravery; it takes courage to tell the truth.

Two realities – one societal, and the other personal –  remind me why it is so important for my LGBT brothers and sisters to come out and make their sexualities known to their network of friends and colleagues. Extremists from the far right will call us monsters, abominations, and sick perversions; their subordinates will tacitly (or not so tacitly) agree with them. The extremists are content to shove us into boxes made of fears based on ridiculous stereotypes and assumptions, and they cannot see LGBT people as such – people. When we come out, we force all our neighbors to see that we LGBT people are their neighbors, their sons and daughters, their mothers and fathers, their brothers and sisters, their aunts and uncles and cousins. We show the world that we are their teachers, doctors, accountants, scientists, politicians, theologians, preachers, dancers, musicians, and athletes. We show the world that LGBT people, like our straight brothers and sisters, can have hope, can believe in God, can walk in faith and not by sight, can embrace a peace that surpasses all understanding. We show our enemies and allies alike that we are human like them: we breathe, we eat, we laugh, we cry, we hope, we dream.

However, I am constantly reminded two days a week why I must be out and why making my sexuality visible is so vital to my well-being. I work in a church that is hostile to the LGBT community, where the parishioners will sometimes make overtly homophobic comments, where I would be fired if the leadership knew my sexuality. I do feel like I live two lives – my normal life at home where I can be out with my friends and school colleagues, and a closeted life (although the closet is transparent) where I am trapped in fear and isolation. Because I am not out to anybody in my congregation, I feel like I have no connection to anyone, for I cannot truly be myself with those people. It’s enough to make me want to leave the church (but not the one, holy, apostolic Church); for the sake of genuine relationships and my own health, I must be honest about myself to my neighbors and friends.

If you are an out and proud LGBT person, I celebrate you and your courage!

If you are a closeted or partially closeted LGBT person, I am with you. Stay strong, and may you one day find a safe place to leave that prison of fear.

If you are a straight ally, thank you of your support and love. We need you as friends and advocates.

Fear of Rejection

by Rebecca Smith on April 9, 2014 in Being Positive, Friendship, Healthy Relationships, Single LIfe

It’s not easy to put yourself out there.  Some people live to meet new people and have no fear going up and starting a conversation with a perfect stranger.  Other people struggle with their fear of rejection.  They are interested in new people around them, but it can be scary to start something with someone new.  Especially if you’ve recently gone through a bad break up or you’ve been single for awhile.

If you have fear, the only way to get over it is to face it.  Outgoing people will tell you they are less worried about how they feel and more concerned with making others feel good.  If your goal is go out and meet new people, try to take your focus off your fear and focus on making just one person you meet smile.  Realize that not everyone you meet is going to be interested in talking to you.  That doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you or with something you said.  Some people just won’t be in a good mood or be interested in any type of conversation.  Don’t let those people set you back.

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Look for people who seem more open or friendly.  Dare yourself to give them a compliment.  Try to learn something from what they are wearing or how they are interacting with others.  Use your observation skills to give you something to start a conversation with.  If you’ve ever noticed, shoes will tell you a lot about a person.  Shoes can give you clues into hobbies someone has or what type of job they do.  Their shoes can tell you if they are more laid back or more stylish with fashion.  Their clothes will also give you other clues as well.  Finally, look at their face and their body language.  Do they gesture or show a lot of expression?  Or do they seem more closed off because their arms or crossed and their face seems blank?

Also, realize that you are giving off vibes as well.  What does your appearance say about you?  Non-verbal cues give off a lot of information to others to let them know if you are more open or closed to being approached.  Are you smiling and interacting with others?  Or are you sitting alone hunched over your drink at the bar?  You don’t have to be super fit and all GQ to get attention.  Your appearance does matter, but how you are projecting yourself to others matters even more.  You want to seem approachable instead of giving off a vibe that says, “Please leave me alone”.

It is okay to be nervous, but try to be aware if you are sending off desperation signals.  Sometimes you can try TOO hard and make the initial approach very awkward.  Remember to think positive and tell yourself positive things to keep your anxiety at bay.  Every person has great qualities, but not all people are aware or acknowledge their positive traits.  Try to focus on those qualities and realize you have a lot to offer other people.  When people get nervous they can focus too much on the negative and think of everything that can go wrong.  Instead, try to stop yourself from going down that path and try to be more positive about yourself and others around you.  Confidence will carry you a long way.

Even if you don’t feel all that confident, you can fake it a little until you get more comfortable initiating conversations.  Practicing will make it easier.  I often tell some of my shyer students to start conversations in less intimidating places.  For example, smile and ask how the gas station attendant’s day is going.  Talk to the cashier at Wal-Mart or the grocery store.  Go to places where you don’t know anyone and take a few risks without too much pressure.  The more you risk facing rejection, the easier it will become.  You will become used to the fact that not everyone responds positively, but that a lot of people will.

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The key to remember is that you aren’t trying to make yourself feel better, you are trying to make someone else feel better that day.  Not every person you interact with has soul mate potential or even one night stand potential, but you never know when you may interact with the right person who ends up becoming someone significant in your life.  Just don’t give up and remember that nothing in life worth having is ever easy.

“Whether you think you can or you can’t- you are right”  Henry Ford

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”  Eleanor Roosevelt

“This time, like all times is a very good one, if we but know what to do with it”  Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Fall seven times, stand up eight”  Japanese Proverb

Race and Relationships

by Rebecca Smith on April 7, 2014 in Friendship, Healthy Relationships, Interracial Relationships, Respect

Ryan Knapick and Josh Baker have been best friends since fifth grade. Colette Gregory entered the picture in high school. She and Josh are dating now. Knapick is white, Gregory is black and Baker is half-Hispanic. To them, race doesn’t matter.

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“People are finding people with common interests and common perspectives and are putting race aside,” says Knapick, 22, a May graduate of Indiana University who works at a machine shop and lives with his parents in Munster, Ind.

He and his friends are among an estimated 46.3 million Americans ages 14 to 24 — the older segment of the most diverse generation in American society. (Most demographers say this “Millennial” generation began in the early 1980s, after Generation X.) These young people have friends of different races and also may date someone of another race.

This age group is more tolerant and open-minded than previous generations, according to an analysis of studies released last year by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, part of the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy. The center focuses on ages 15 to 25.

Another study by Teenage Research Unlimited in Northbrook, Ill., found six of 10 teens say their friends include members of diverse racial backgrounds.

Unlike their parents and grandparents, today’s teens and twentysomethings grew up with “diversity,” “multicultural” and “inclusion” as buzzwords. Many were required to take college courses in cultural diversity. Now the media fuel this colorblindness as movies, TV and advertising portray interracial friendship and romance.

Some attitudinal changes are based in demographics. About 33% of those under 18 are racial or ethnic minorities, and about 20% of elementary- and high school-age students are immigrants or children of immigrants, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Racial diversity is especially common in college friendships because that age group is exposed to a wider range of people, and college students have more opportunities to become friends with peers of other races, says Anthony Lising Antonio, an associate professor of education at Stanford University, who has conducted research on friendship diversity.

It’s not that young people are specifically seeking out friendships with other races, kids say.

“It goes beyond that to who you get along with,” says Karina Anglada, 17, a high school senior in Chicago whose parents are from Puerto Rico.

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The ‘color-mute’ syndrome

Rebecca Bigler, 42, a psychology professor who directs the Gender and Racial Attitudes Lab at the University of Texas-Austin, traces such attitudes to baby boomer parents who may have set a tone for raising colorblind kids.

“It makes us feel racist if we acknowledge race, so we try not to, and we end up being color-mute,” she says. “Children learn from their parents that you don’t talk about race.”

Bigler is white. Her former husband, the father of her teenage son, is black. People talked about race when she was a child in the ’70s, she says, but now the younger generation — especially white kids — believe that racial injustice is “a thing of the past.”

“Society is still marked by racial inequality, and my worry is that it won’t get addressed,” she says.

Evidence of inequity is ubiquitous: A Department of Justice study released last year shows that blacks and Hispanics were more likely than whites to be searched, arrested and subjected to police use of force. And last month, the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University issued a report about inequality in American schools, even as the system becomes increasingly multiracial.

Where students go to school depends on where they live, which is dependent upon family wealth. The Harvard study found that segregation isn’t simply a black/white divide but a multiracial one, in which whites remain the most isolated group and the least likely to attend multiracial schools. California schools are the nation’s most segregated, the study found.

‘Common interests, not color’

Gregory, 24, knows that firsthand. She was born in Gary, Ind., and grew up in Los Angeles; she was the only black person in a private school in her Bel Air neighborhood. She returned to Indiana for high school, the same Catholic school Knapick and Baker attended.

“It’s more natural to me to be in a diverse setting and to be attracted to people because of common interests and not because of common color,” says Gregory, who works in fundraising at a Chicago theater company. She earned two degrees from Northwestern University.

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Baker, 23, who graduated from Loyola University in Chicago and is an accounts manager for a Chicago consulting firm, says his high school’s diversity allowed him to be friends with whites, blacks and Hispanics. He says he’s Hispanic, like his mother. His father is white but is unsure of his heritage because he was adopted, Baker says.

Knapick, who is seeking work in his college major of criminal justice, bonded with Baker playing basketball, running track and as Boy Scouts. Both are Eagle Scouts and earned their honors at the same ceremony.

Some of the mixing is a result of record numbers of immigrants, both documented and undocumented, totaling more than 35 million over the past two decades and representing the largest wave of immigration in American history, says Marcelo Surez-Orozco, founder of the Harvard Immigration Project, now known as Immigration Studies @ NYU. He is a professor of globalization and education at New York University.

“We have more groups coming at a faster rate and changing our society with a speed we’ve never seen before,” he says.

In addition to immigrant families, the number of children from other countries adopted by U.S. parents has tripled from 1990 to 2005.  The fact that white parents are adopting babies from China, Guatemala or South Korea who don’t look like them reinforces the idea that race matters less. So does the fact that interracial marriages, though still not common, have increased from less than 1% of U.S. marriages in 1970 to almost 6% of marriages in the 2000 Census.

The tide began turning when the Supreme Court in 1967 struck down laws in 16 states forbidding marriage between blacks and whites.

No pressure to ‘choose sides’

A Gallup Poll on interracial dating in June found that 95% of 18- to 29-year-olds approve of blacks and whites dating. About 60% of that age group said they have dated someone of a different race.

Olivia Lin, 18, of Brooklyn, N.Y., is Asian; she’s dating someone who is Puerto Rican and says her family is “pretty open to it.” Lin, who will graduate in the spring with both a high school diploma and an associate’s degree, in the fall will attend Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., the only non-sectarian Jewish-sponsored college or university in the country.

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High school freshman Aliya Whitaker, 14, of Montclair, N.J., says her mother is Jamaican and her father is African-American. Her mother encourages her to make friends with those of other races.

“She’s never told me to stick with my own people or choose sides,” Whitaker says. “When my friends have quinceaeras (Hispanic girls’ 15th-birthday celebrations) or bar mitzvahs (a Jewish coming-of-age ceremony for 13-year-olds), she encourages me to go.

“But she says: ‘Remember where you come from.’ “

This post was originally written by Sharon Jayson in USA Today.   Click here to read the entire article.

Love Yourself. I Know…Crazy, Right?

by Rebecca Smith on March 31, 2014 in Being Positive, Healthy Relationships, Respect, Single LIfe

Why is it that everyone in the world seems so obsessed with love, but no one seems to know how to love themselves?  I know some people think they are the center of the universe.  However, that sounds more to me like self-absorbed, not self-love.  I’m talking about enjoying being in your own company.love

I hear a lot of people say they don’t like to be alone.  Is this because they are extroverted and feel energized around people?  Sometimes.  A lot of the times I notice people are trying to distract themselves from their negative thoughts.  Even introverted people who like to be alone will distract themselves in their alone time.   These distractions come in the form of friends, the internet, food, alcohol, marijuana, shopping, tv and even homework.  Anything, instead of having to deal with their emotions.  Why is that?  I think it is because if people stay busy they don’t have to admit they don’t really like themselves.

When I ask students in my office to tell me what they like about themselves, I usually get a long pause.  Those words don’t come easy for most.  However, if I ask the same students what they don’t like, I better have a pen and paper ready because I’m going to have a list of many things in a few seconds.

Some people have never had a positive role model in their life.  They’ve never had someone say positive things about them or even seen anyone have a positive attitude in general.  This person will not only have to learn how to create positive thoughts, they will most likely have to work hard at erasing all the negative voices in their head.  Some people are lucky and have had people around to support and love them.  However, they are still their own worst enemy.  They still have to learn to find their own positive voice inside.

Let me tell ya, a little kindness can go a long way.  It has to start small.  You aren’t going to wake up one day and find that you are suddenly full of love for yourself.  The first way to start is to think of little things you enjoy or like about yourself.  They can be about the way you look, feel, or things you do.  You can even appreciate things that no one else does.  Not everyone sees things the same way.  For example, my dad believes to be successful you have to make a lot of money.  I realized I started to feel successful when I saw how I could help people.  Even though I don’t make a lot of money doing it.   Others don’t have to agree or believe the same way for you to believe it about yourself.

Another example is this:  A girl walks into a grocery store to buy ice cream.  As she grabs the Ben & Jerry’s off the shelf, a girl on her left thinks, “I wish I could be that skinny and eat ice cream.”  Another girl on her right thinks, “No wonder she is so fat.  She eats ice cream.”  So what should this girl believe about herself?  That she is fat or skinny?  It all depends on who she asks I guess.  That is why it is important to develop your own beliefs because not everyone is going to have the same perspective.   And that is okay.  Beliefs aren’t wrong or right.  However, they can be more positive or more negative.  Many people tend to believe more negative things about themselves.  In order to change, you have to sometimes shove out what you’ve heard from others and develop your own ideas.

This isn’t easy, but it is also not impossible.  Beliefs are very powerful and you can change them.  I’ve also found that no one can reassure you but yourself.  Some people think they need to be in a relationship to feel good about themselves.  They feel if someone else loves them then it will be easier to love themselves.  However, I’ve found your significant other can tell you all day long that you’re smart and fun, but if you believe you’re stupid and boring you will bounce those compliments right off your negative shield.  It is good if there are positive people around you, but it doesn’t always make a difference unless you choose to embrace those positive beliefs yourself.

This means you can be single and still learn to love yourself for who you are.  It is actually better to learn to love yourself before you get into a relationship.  Then you won’t be as vulnerable to people who tell you what you want to hear just to get something from you.  You will be confident enough to see through other people’s manipulation and strong enough to stand up for yourself.  You will also be more willing to wait for a truly great person to come along.

P.S.  Just because you love yourself doesn’t mean you can’t set goals and improve things about yourself.  But it does mean that you shouldn’t try to improve only because you are comparing yourself to others.  Once you can let go of the comparing game, you can spend that time focusing on your own beliefs to reach the goals that make you happy, not someone else.

P.S.S.  Just because you love yourself also doesn’t mean you can’t spend just as much time and energy to love others.  You don’t have to stop doing one to improve upon the other.  There is room for yourself and others in your heart.

Losing Yourself in a Relationship

by Rebecca Smith on March 24, 2014 in Healthy Relationships, Respect

It can be easy to lose yourself in a relationship.  In the beginning you can be so excited by the possibility of love that you can lose what makes you really you.  Not that you change completely, but sometimes people find afterwards that they gave “too much” of themselves just to be in a relationship.

Trust me, this isn’t an easy balance.  You don’t want to be too selfish and demanding in a relationship.  However, you don’t want to shove all your wants and desires away to get someone to like you.  Again, this can be hard because most people have a tendency to give in and overlook things when they are first dating.  This could give your potential boyfriend or girlfriend the wrong idea about you and your personality.  I’ve heard a lot of people say their partner changed after a few months in the relationship.  What tends to happen is that it’s easy to give in a couple of times, especially in the beginning.  For example, it may not be too much of a hardship to watch a couple of football games when you start dating someone.  However, it is whole other thing when your partner wants to watch 6 or more hours of football every Sunday with a few hours on Saturday and Monday night thrown in too.  Your boyfriend or girlfriend could be confused by the fact that you all of a sudden hate football or don’t want to watch 5 games in a weekend with them.  It isn’t that you “changed”, it is just that you are becoming more yourself in the relationship.

This can happen in all sorts of ways in a relationship.  Most people don’t always speak up about what they like or don’t like right away because they don’t want to risk being rejected.  Some people even falsely believe that they will be able to make a permanent change in one of their habits or interests.  This can be true on occasion.  Some people do broaden their horizons and find they like or are interested in something they’ve never really tried before.  However, most of the time, you know in the back of your mind you don’t like something but continue to tolerate it for a certain period of time in the beginning of a relationship.

That is why it is called the honeymoon period.  Everyone is more accommodating in the beginning.  Just be aware that you don’t sacrifice too much of yourself in the beginning that it becomes really  hard to assert yourself later.  You want to be as honest as you can be about yourself.  It is better to take the risk of being rejected, then to be loved for someone you’re not.   If a person really can’t accept something about you, isn’t it better to figure that out sooner than later?  You don’t have to pretend you are into something just please someone else or get them to like you.  Everyone has different habits and interests.  It isn’t always easy to find someone who gets you.  It is also okay that not everyone does get you.  It doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with you.  Not all people are meant to be compatible.  It is okay to make small changes or to stretch yourself in a relationship.  You just don’t have to stretch so far that you end up breaking.  Know your limits and try to be upfront about it even within the first few dates.

If you have a fear of rejection or being alone, you can work on it.  Fear is the main reason people try to change or give things up to make a relationship work.  Try to work on facing those fears.  Then you will feel stronger and more confident.  Then hopefully you find a really great relationship instead of settling for whatever comes your way.  It isn’t easy, but it isn’t impossible.  If you feel fear is holding you back, I suggest you talk to someone who can help you through it.  Try to figure out and understand why you do what you do when it comes to relationships so you can make positive changes if necessary.  We are all works in progress.  Don’t be too hard on yourself if this post describes you.  I’m sure it describes a good percentage of the population.  There is hope for change and you can find a way to be more balanced in your current or future relationships.

First, figure out who you are and respect yourself.  Second, learn how to communicate that to someone else.  Third, learn to recognize what you can and can’t handle in a relationship with someone else.  Last, be confident in your choice even if that means possibly being single for a little while.