Pride at Penn State Harrisburg creates ‘brave space’ for students

Lion shrine overlaid with Pride Flag and the work "Pride"
Credit: Penn State Harrisburg

MIDDLETOWN, Pa. – Pride at Penn State Harrisburg, the college’s student organization for LGBTQ+ students and allies, has relaunched with new student leaders who said they are looking forward to being a visible presence on campus and providing a “brave space” where students can be themselves.

“There’s a sense of braveness that comes with being visible,” said Jeremy Boorum, a doctoral student in the American studies program who became president of Pride in January. “There’s a sense of braveness that comes with joining our organization — whatever stage one might be in their identity.”

Pride at Penn State Harrisburg hadn’t been active since before the pandemic, which affected many student organizations. But those organizations are important for students who come to college to find themselves and connect with others; and some of these students may be leaving unsupportive environments behind, said Evan Williams, the college’s assistant director of student diversity, equity and inclusion.

“So it’s crucial that these identity-based organizations happen,” he added.

Williams said that after joining the college last fall and introducing himself to the campus on National Coming Out Day, he started receiving questions such as, "where is Pride at Penn State Harrisburg?" and "Where is the LGBTQ+ community?"

He held a sign-up event to garner initial interest and sought new leaders, and the organization gained momentum.

Boorum said there was a lot of student interest in relaunching the organization. Williams generated an email list of about 20 students in the fall and interest has since grown to about 100 students, faculty and staff.

“It’s important to have these organizations so that students can connect with other people they share identities with. A student organization really provides that space,” Boorum said, noting that it might be difficult for some students to find those connections otherwise.

This spring, Pride hosted interest meetings and social hour events, as well as a "Celebrate Love" event. The group is working to increase visibility off campus, too, said Boorum.

Boorum and Justine Shultz, Pride’s director of educational activities, presented at the Campus Queer and Trans Activist Leadership Summit, a virtual event hosted by the LGBT Center of Central Pennsylvania in April.

Boorum gave a presentation called “Walking the Path of Progress: Transforming Community Leadership and Fostering Brave Spaces for Our Futures.” He talked about the idea of building an organization like Pride from scratch, emphasizing that it’s a matter of walking — not running.

“With something like this, making that progress and building that visible space is something that takes time to do,” he said.

Shultz, who is studying for a doctorate in adult education and lifelong learning, held sessions on poetry writing for high school and college students at the virtual summit.

Pride’s presence at the summit allows area students — especially high school students who might be considering college plans — to know they have a safe environment at a local college campus, Shultz said.

Williams, too, said that seeing Pride at that summit may give hope to students that Penn State Harrisburg could be a space for them to be brave.

“They see college students being their authentic selves,” he said.

Boorum said he hoped to also inspire college students who might be trying to establish organizations on their own campuses.

Pride leaders plan for the group to be more active next year, with a series of events and regular meetings. Shultz said there’s been an outpouring of support and the goal is to keep growing the community.

“It’s nice to let our students know that they have a group, they have a community that is open and accepting and welcoming, and they can come as they are,” Shultz said.