When Professor of Psychology Dr. Nina Slota welcomes students to her class for the start of a new semester, she likes to break the ice by asking them to share with her a little-known fact about themselves. Students write their responses – which range from the disclosure of middle names to the admission of strange talents – on a notecard for Slota to read later that day.
When Slota joined the Fairmont State University faculty three years ago, she followed this first-day-of-class practice just as she always had. Except, this time, some of the responses she received were much more personal.
“I had students saying, ‘I’m LGBTQ+,’ and I couldn’t help but wonder if I was the first person they were telling or if they had already come out,” said Slota. “So, I picked up the phone to see if there were any organizations on campus to which I could direct them.”
Slota’s inquiry led her to Professor of English, Dr. Robert Baker, who had started a group for members of the LGBTQ+ community on campus called Falcons w/PRIDE, and he asked Slota if she wanted to be involved.
“And that’s how, in my first week of school at Fairmont State, I became the organization’s co-advisor,” said Slota.
Since then, Slota says the growth of the organization’s presence on campus has coincided with the discovery and cultivation of its mission: for members to explore their own development and identities so that they can become “confident, comfortable and curious.”
“As a psychology professor, I realize how important it is for individuals to find out who they are at that age,” said Slota, who now co-advises the group alongside Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice, Dr. Amanda Sanchez. “Really, that can be a challenging thing for anybody.”
That’s why, according to Slota, Falcons w/PRIDE is open to anyone who seeks connection in a space where they can feel safe and keep an open mind – and that includes members of the LGBTQ+ community as well as allies.
“It doesn’t matter who you are. We just want you to come and learn how to be comfortable with yourself, learn how to respect other people and be OK with who you are,” she said.
For rising senior psychology student Asia-Lynn Cooper, who was voted Spirit Week Royalty last spring, Falcons w/PRIDE has taught her just that and, in many ways, served as a beacon of introspection and truth for both her and her peers.
“Being a part of this organization has not only helped me grow as a person, but it has also allowed me to help those around me grow,” said Cooper. “I have gained the knowledge and experience of acceptance, self-love and passion for this community.”
And as Falcons w/PRIDE continues to grow, both in numbers and visibility, the hope is that its mission will transcend the organization itself by lending lessons in inclusivity to the entire campus community.
“Fairmont State not only welcomes and supports anyone seeking to further their education, but we also want to make sure we provide a safe, welcoming environment in which those personal journeys may take place,” said Mirta M. Martin, Fairmont State University President. “Falcons w/PRIDE helps us do just that. By supporting and empowering LGBTQ+ students and their allies, this organization helps make Fairmont State University more inclusive, making it a place where everyone has the opportunity and confidence to truly soar.”
To learn more about Falcons w/PRIDE, email email@example.com or follow the organization on social media.
Facebook: Falcons W Pride