Oct. 15, 2018 (Middletown, Conn.) — On October 13, more than 125 attendees from 11 community colleges and four state universities gathered at Middlesex Community College in Middletown for the inaugural Connecticut State Colleges and Universities (CSCU) system-wide PRIDE Conference. President Mark Ojakian greeted the enthusiastic crowd, which was followed by a heartfelt Stonewall panel discussion and informative Planned Parenthood workshop. Asnuntuck Community College students and Women’s Leadership Institute graduates Audrey Eckhart and Kasey Dennehy organized the event.
“We have a greater responsibility to do more to make sure that your futures better. We want you to have the resources you need on your campuses to make lives better,” President Ojakian said to the students during his welcome address. “I’ll continue to advocate for all in this room. You are special and deserve the world.”
Eckhart and Denehy chose to organize a one-day LGBTQA conference as their social action project for their work with the Women’s Leadership Institute. At first they thought the conference would be a local event at Asnuntuck, but President Ojakian learned about it when he came to one of their student government meetings. He then helped them “scale it up” across all the state colleges. From this collaboration, the CSCU PRIDE Conference was born.
“I never thought I would be doing something like this. It’s very inspirational and overwhelmingly amazing,” said Eckhart, a liberal arts student from Suffield, who designed the conference logo and plans to study 3D animation. “I met so many other people like me. It’s empowering for myself because I am asexual.”
Dennehy, a marketing and sociology student from Enfield, added, “At first it was hard to find speakers since we didn’t yet have the prestige, but once the college and the state system got behind us, everything came together.”
The morning Stonewall panel discussion included four speakers from various ages and genders. Each person honestly explained their real-world experiences and how they overcame personal challenges to achieve success in their lifestyles. “No matter how afraid you are, there are people who support you and love you,” said speaker Andee Scallion. Jillian Celentano added, “I’ve lost some friends but I forgive them. I’ve accepted myself and became an advocate. It gets better.”
After the panel, the Planned Parenthood workshop entitled “Enthusiastic Consent” featured videos and interactive exercises followed by a Q&A session.
Elizabeth, a first-year student from Quinebaug Valley Community College, and her friend, Anti, were ecstatic to attend. “This event is better than I expected. Everyone is so welcoming and that’s not something you find often,” Elizabeth said.
Vinny, a student at Southern Connecticut State University, was very impressed by the direct expressions from the Stonewall speakers, describing them as “really powerful, which helped me understand how they feel internally.”
After lunch, everyone enjoyed an entertaining drag show, emceed by Dixie Normous, aka Mark Rohrig, that featured several performers including the 2018 Miss Fire Island Pageant Entertainers of the Year.
“We hope to continue to hold the CSCU PRIDE Conference every year, perhaps rotating to the various state campuses, starting with one of the universities next year,” said Angelo Simoni, the executive director of student relations and compliance for CSCU.
To find out more about the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities, visit https://www.ct.edu.