Students, faculty hope for increased LGBTQ+ advocacy after Lavender Graduation

Associate professor of English and Safezone Coordinator Alice Rutkowski (left), Coordinator of LGBTQ Programs and Services Dillon Federici (middle) and Assistant Dean of Students for Multicultural Programs and Services Fatima R. Johnson honored LGBTQ+ students and allies at Geneseo’s first Lavender Graduation. At the ceremony, graduating seniors are recognized for earning a college degree and also for their work on campus. (Ash Dean/Photo Editor)

Geneseo held its first Lavender Graduation on Thursday May 11 in the Hunt Room to support seniors who identify as LGBTQ+ students and allies. Many members of the campus community view the graduation as a positive step forward in campus advocacy for LGBTQ+ individuals, but some would like to see more improvements. 

The goal of the graduation was to acknowledge LGBTQ+ individuals’ and allies’ contributions to the campus and their successful completion of college, according to Coordinator of LGBTQ Programs and Services Dillon Federici. The Lavender Graduation is part of the Human Rights Campaign and the ceremony has spread organically to many college campuses. 

The 25 students honored during the ceremony had the opportunity to speak about their experiences at college. During this time, many students came forward and spoke about their experiences identifying as members of the LGBTQ+ community in Greek life and the pressure they feel as college students to find themselves. In order to be honored, students had to self-select themselves; this did not mean that they had to prove a particular identity, associate professor of English and Safezone Coordinator Alice Rutkowski said.

In addition, at the graduation Dean of Academic Planning and Advising and professor of English Celia Easton provided a recognition address. During this address, Easton focused on the necessity for people in a particular community to take the time to pull back from society and be together. She signified the importance of looking at the college’s history in regards of LGBTQ+ outreach and community building in order to hold onto hope and on the benefits of pacing activism in order to effectively create change. 

Members of Geneseo’s campus community were also presented with awards during the ceremony. Professor of psychology Jennifer Katz was given the Rainbow Revolutionary Faculty/Staff Award for her work with LGBTQ+ students with the Pathways program in addition to helping organize the Cultivating Communities program and for being a Safezone trainer. 

Federici, who helped organize the event and co-facilitated the graduation with Rutkowski, emphasized the important role staff members play in helping LGBTQ+ individuals throughout their college career. 

“The current status of things is that it takes a village. We wouldn’t have anything we do on campus without the handful of super passionate faculty and staff who dedicate their free time and work so hard,” Federici said. “So, we thought it’d be great to establish an award to give out to the great faculty and staff who go above and beyond.”

The Sylvia Rivera Distinguished Alumni Award, which is given to alum who have advocated for LGBTQ+ individuals throughout their time at Geneseo, was given to Ceridwn Troy ’97. 

Troy was one of the first people at Geneseo to come out as trans, according to Rutkowski, and would constantly start conversations among fellow students about issues surrounding the LGBTQ+ community. 

Federici said he has received positive feedback from students because they feel validated since the college held such a ceremony. 

Rutkowski commented that she would like to see more improvements in terms of outreach to LGBTQ+ people. She cited that Federici’s position as the coordinator of LGBTQ Programs and Services is only part-time, and she thinks it would be helpful to students if the college considered making this position full-time. Rutkowski also explained including LGBTQ+ individuals when speaking about diversity can be challenging.

“We don’t always remember to make queer students a part of the conversations around diversity and often times they are a less visible minority,” Rutkowski said. “If folks choose not to be out, you might not even know who falls into that category. So, I do think those students would need and benefit from some extra resources.”

Philosophy major and graduating senior Jessica Heppler stated that the campus is moving in the right direction in terms of allowing for name changes and gender-neutral bathrooms, but she agreed with Rutkowski, believing that the campus needs to do more in terms of promoting diversity.

“I think that inclusivity requires a lot more than events like this and recognition of one’s identity; it also requires active policy making,” Heppler said.