Mines oSTEM club advocates for students all year, and they have undoubtedly made the campus a safer place for LGBTQ+ individuals. Earlier this semester, they hosted Ally Week: a series of events intended to educate individuals on the best way to be allies. Which prompted the discussion with oSTEM leadership: What makes a good ally?
There is the easy answer: “If individuals wish to develop themselves as allies to the LGBTQ+ community, the best way to begin is by educating themselves. Once you have a basic understanding of the LGBTQ+ community and the challenges they face in society, take action,” explained Taylor Miller*. “Nothing will show that you are an ally more than taking action. If you hear someone using a slur against the LGBTQ+ community, call them out for it. Ask people their pronouns upon meeting them to normalize the fact that not everyone goes by the pronouns you might automatically assume. Ask your LGBTQ+ friends how you can best support them as an individual.”
There is also the honest answer: “Any answer to this question will inherently fall short of a comprehensive answer. There is not one mold in which all ‘good allies’ will fall into and there are not a designated set of qualities that make an individual a good ally,” Miller explained.
As an example of actions an ally can take, Sam Stone* shared that their mother sent them back to school after break with two full trash bags of her old clothing. “It was the simplest thing that my mom did,” Stone said, “but it meant a lot to some of my friends because they were able to get nice clothes without having to deal with potentially judgmental or threatening people at a clothing store.”
Ally week included a wide variety of events, all designed to educate and advocate. On Monday, they handed out cookies on pedestrian plaza, and on Wednesday, they painted rocks to spread out on campus to represent support for the community. On Tuesday, they paired with Hillel (the Jewish group on campus) to encourage allies to ask if their place of worship was welcoming to the community.
On Thursday, oSTEM partnered with Student Advocates Against Violence and for Education to hand out condoms and provide information about sexual assault. On Friday, they partnered with Active Minds at Mines for a booth on suicide prevention. These last two events were chosen because LGBTQ+ individuals are at a greater risk for sexual assault and suicide.
Mines students are at a somewhat unique position on this campus. As Jamie Meyer* stated, “Mines students are very good at recognizing that we are all going through a difficult and stressful process. I think that makes most students sympathetic towards each other. However, this same reality makes many students blind to a reality that exists outside of class. This applies to being an ally; many students might not know that they are allies, or that is something they would want to be. Many students find their traditional ideologies from home at Mines, and never come across the opportunity to question them.”
“I see no clear solution to this problem as it is not an administration’s position to dictate students personal lives. However, I do know that other universities are able to provide their students with opportunity to personally confront their own biases directly,” Meyer concluded.
Miller added, “I wouldn’t credit any change on campus to administration specifically, but we have some wonderful advocates and allies within the staff and faculty that are pushing for positive change. I believe the administration needs to better advocate for students. Insisting that students be the sole advocates for themselves ensures that change will be slow or all at once.”
oSTEM started as the “underground organization” Sigma Lambda. “Individuals wishing to participate would have to write a PO box to get the location of the next meeting, and the meeting locations would change every meeting in order to prevent individuals who were not accepting from attending,” Miller explained.
The shift from Sigma Lambda to oSTEM was a big step for Mines. “Four years ago, new freshman were advised not to come out of the closet at Mines if they had not already started. Since then, this campus has had a shift in being slightly more accepting towards the LGBTQ+ community,” said Stone.
“Last year we were able to present in front of the Mines Philanthropy Council and we were funded for our campaign to get gender-inclusive bathrooms on campus. In addition to this, we were able to work with Representative Rosenthal and have three of our members to the Colorado State Senate to testify on behalf of ending conversion therapy for minors in the state of Colorado,” Miller said, describing some of the other big accomplishments of the club.
*Names changed at the request of the speakers