While handing out a deck of colorful sticky notes ranging from green, pink and blue, Lisa Gray, the Assistant Director of Student Life for Cultural and Spiritual Diversity, directed everyone in the Mosaic Center to anonymously write down how either they’ve been an ally to the LGBTQ community, or how someone’s been an ally to them.
The responses on the sticky notes varied. Whether responses described someone teaching a loved one about the respect that they must give to any member of the LGBTQ community, or attending a gay pride event, it seemed that everyone was pretty familiar with the concept of being an ally. However, after all of the workshop’s attendees agreed that UMBC students undermine the value of being an ally, the group of eight began to wonder how they could get more students involved in improving their allyship.
An ally, which is defined as an “active, consistent, and arduous practice of unlearning and re-evaluating, in which a person of privilege seeks to operate in solidarity with a marginalized group of people,” should be something which all members of privileged groups strive for. But according to Gray, UMBC students don’t always attempt to understand the lives of marginalized groups, especially when it comes to people who define themselves as LGBTQ.
It is not the responsibility of marginalized people to educate the privileged. Strong allies seek education. “There’s only so much sharing we can do individually, but we try our best,” said Gray. “Don’t merely be a supporter, be an advocate.”
Gray, who has been aiding student life at UMBC for over 9 years, conducts workshops dedicated to members of marginalized groups regularly, but she wishes that she could get more students involved. Only faculty attended this workshop.
“People don’t tend to come unless they get extra credit. At one instance, all of the rows were filled with students,” said Gray.
Although giggles were shared, the issue regarding students understanding the struggles of allyship remained. Melissa Rivera, a residential life staff member, explained how she wished not only the UMBC student body were better allies, but that all people are held to this standard.
“These are things you should simply be doing as a person. Calling someone the pronoun that they identify with should be the norm,” said Rivera.
Rivera, who has always been an advocate for marginalized groups, was very familiar with the idea of allyship, and understands that being an ally isn’t just helping out with a group one day, and forgetting about the group the next. Being an ally, you will have to always be supportive and understanding of the lives and values of out-groups.
“You can’t prove allyship. It’s a process,” explained Rivera. “It’s actually not even our voice that needs to be heard, it’s the people against whom discriminated occurs.”
Although Gray and Rivera feel that as a society, we haven’t reached the point in allyship that we should have today, there has been progress. With people still learning about allyship and the acceptance of out-groups, the Mosaic center is sure that diversity and acceptance will soon follow.
“People have different experiences,” said Gray. “You can’t force people to become allies, they have to want it.”