Diversity event at McDavid Hall receives national award from National Residence Hall Honorary

The event simulated the coming-out process for LGBTQ students

The National Residence Hall Honorary awarded its “Diversity Program of the Month” national award to the Walk a Mile program held by McDavid Hall Coordinator Joe Kelley.

The program was designed to help MU students empathize with those coming out in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer community.

"Walk a Mile gives a generalized idea of the coming out process,” Kelley said. “It explains that there is more than one coming out process. You don’t just come out once.”

According to the National Residence Hall Honorary website, students who participated in the Walk a Mile activity were instructed to write down important family members, friends, activities and possessions in their lives on separate slips of paper. The activity involved students setting aside three slips they believe they would lose after coming out and three random slips.

The loss of these important aspects of their lives symbolizes what LGBTQ students can lose when coming out. Some participants lost more than they expected, and one participant lost all of the slips, representing someone who commits suicide after coming out.

“Although there were several people at the event with friends who had already come out to them, there were also people who had never had an LGBTQ friend,” Kelley said on the website. “These people were the ones we wanted to reach the most, and I definitely feel like the event was successful. Since each person had people, possessions, roles and activities that were very important to them taken away, it seems likely that everyone who attended will be more understanding of the coming out process when they encounter it later in life.”

McDavid Hall Peer Adviser Erin Miller said the goal of the event was to simulate what it was like to come out and show how hard it can be to lose things really important to you.

“It was great,” Miller said, “We had really good discussions about LGBTQ issues and coming out. It was definitely an eye opener for those who are straight.”

Kelly said the Walk a Mile program is easily adaptable across MU and other campuses.

“It’s really about looking at what the needs of students are,” he said. “This program works best with students who are open to the experience. There is no cost associated with it, so finances are not an issue.”

Kelley came up with the idea for the activity after attending an event hosted by the diversity office.

“The program was originally done when I was in graduate school by the diversity office and I recreated it here,” Kelley said, “(We wanted to show) what someone goes through emotionally, physically, mentally when coming out.”

The LGBTQ Resource Center holds similar activities across campus to raise awareness about how difficult coming out can be for LGBTQ students.

“We have our outreach panels where students go into organizations and FIGs,” LGBTQ Resource Center Coordinator Struby Struble said. “It’s usually about four students per panel, and they each tell their coming out story. At the end we open up the room to questions. (We get) good feedback from the groups we do it with.”

The center uses an activity that is very similar to Walk a Mile, called the star activity. Between the star activity and outreach panel, students can get an idea of what coming out is like.

“The best way to get through homophobia is to have a personal connection,” Struble said.

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