Out of the closet and on campus

Kerry Lester

Statistics prove one in 10 people to be homosexual. With a population of 7,000 undergraduate students, nearly 700 Villanovans could potentially be bisexual, lesbian, or gay. But how many are ready and willing to share their experiences? Particularly considering their campus is often nicknamed “Vanillanova” – a white, homogeneous, heterosexual student body?

Senior Chris McMenemy, junior Joe Parisi and sophomore Jon Messing speak out. All three are student members of the steering group of Villanova’s Gay-Straight Coalition. “We make the group’s organizational and planning decisions,” said McMenemy.

While the Gay-Straight Coalition is not the only sexual support group to exist on campus, BGLOV – Bi, Gay and Lesbians of Villanova, functions as a more confidential social and educational group.

“There was a desire for a more outspoken group,” said McMenemy. In the spring of 2003, the Gay Straight Coalition was founded. The group first started off with gay Alumni coming back to speak about their experience at Villanova, their coming out stories and how the University life affected their coming out process.

Since then, the GSC initiated the “Laramie Project – the story of Matthew Shepard” performed by Villanova student theater, and has held a number of hate crimes panels – specifically related to hate crimes of sexuality at Villanova. Today, GSC stands strong with approximately 40 active members.

“I don’t think there’s enough publicity for this organization,” said McMenemy. But at the same time, he says, “we try so hard not to bombard people, because as a new organization, you have to take certain steps and measures from developing stereotypes right off the bat.”

Now that we have a good membership, I think it’s becoming more known that there’s an organization on campus.

Parisi seconds these thoughts. “Over my year and a half [on the steering committee] I’ve seen what I am proud and thrilled to say is tremendous growth and improvement.  Slowly but surely people are becoming aware of the organizations presence.  I believe that as that happens more and more, ignorance and homophobia will slowly start to dissipate with the incoming of each new freshman class,” he said.

Although he knew of Villanova’s reputation before he came, at the same time, McMenemy said, “I considered the school’s academic reputation before its social aspects. Looking at schools, my objective was the best program for my major: Nursing. Knowing a few gay friends who were already here, that opened up the environment for him as a gay student, he said.

However, while McMenemy was openly gay before he came to college, Messing, a sophomore nursing major, “came out” when he came to Villanova. At first, said Messing, “I was scared, and had a hard time, but started going to GSC meetings, where I started to open up – the people there were very welcoming and open.”

“I still was shocked at the lack of gay student population,” he said.

Parisi was “out” at home a few months before entering college, but waited several months into freshman year before opening up to his new friends at Villanova. “It was an adjustment period just like any other student making new friends and feeling out new people,” he said.

As far as dorm life goes, none of the three students have encountered any major problems. Messing lives with a straight student, who is “very open-minded about it. He’s a really good guy, and very supportive of me” he said.

Although McMenemy “came out” in high school, he didn’t tell his roommates at Villanova immediately – “that’s only a part of me, it’s not who I am” he said.

And when they found out, a few months into McMenemy’s sophomore year, they were “super cool with it” he said.

McMenemy and Messing agree that living in an all-male dorm is slightly more threatening. “Whether or not someone is or isn’t gay, they use ‘faggot’ or other gay terms” said McMenemy.

But, they said, you encounter it no matter where you are. Each has had experiences like randomly going into a classroom and seeing stinging obscenities written on the desks or walls.

While Parisi sees the University administration to be incredibly supportive of gays at Villanova, ironically, it is the majority of the student body that is “surprisingly weirded out.”

However, said Messing, “I think every time a new class comes in, it’s definitely more diverse and more open-minded.” Although there are not necessarily more gay students each year, said, the number who are “out” gets larger.

McMenemy said, “I think it’s a generational thing. People are coming out at a younger age than they were five years ago – it’s becoming more accepted.”

“The thing with homosexuality – it’s not something that’s visible, and it’s a lot harder to identify someone that is gay, as opposed to the color of someone’s skin.”

I think it’s most important to be tolerable, and to understand how it is to be gay. You don’t necessarily have to agree with it, but you have to see where I’m coming from” he said.