If you have met me even once, you probably know I am more open-minded and alternative than the average Jane. As a freshman entering ABAC, I was nervous to find a sense of community. My first two weeks at college were honestly lonely. I longed to find acceptance and peers with similar ideas, thoughts, and hopes. I wanted to become part of an organization that I felt represented my views and goals.
So this past club day, I set out after class to find a place on campus where I belonged. I strolled through the tables of pamphlets, trifold displays, and sign-up sheets and noted the various communities and organizations, but none of them called me home. While having this thought, rainbows, Skittles, and a friendly face suddenly bombarded my vision. The rainbow flag was my north star and I immediately knew I was home. Josh Powell, president of SPECTRA Gay Straight Alliance, proudly and loudly introduced himself over the noise of club day participants.
He explained shortly the tenets of SPECTRA (Safety, Peace, Equality, Community, Trust, Respect, and Acceptance). SPECTRA was created with the purpose of promoting tolerance on campus. A major function is to provide a safe haven for those being discriminated against or bullied. SPECTRA is not intended to be a strictly “gay” club, but a club for diverse students who may feel more comfortable around likeminded individuals that share the same interests. Though we strained to converse, I gathered enough information to be able to track down the location and time of SPECTRA’s next meeting.
I showed up at the next meeting bright and early, earlier than anyone else. Josh greeted me with a hug and a rainbow flag, which he instantly hung on the door of the conference room. Once the room crowded with members, Josh began the meeting with a list of events the club was to host. The mission of SPECTRA is to educate those on campus and in the local community on social issues concerning LGBTQ individuals. The issue SPECTRA was focusing on next was school bullying and suicides due to bullying.
The group, as a whole, brainstormed and concocted a plan that we followed two weeks later.
Members, including myself, stealthily met in the meadows after the sprinklers shut off, armed with chalk and a slew of names collected over years of bullying. Soon, 44 body outlines, each representing 100 lives, were chalked on the sidewalk to represent 4400 lives lost to bully induced suicides. Names members had been called were written inside the outlines. The following morning, pamphlets and purple ribbon pins stood nearby for those looking to seek more information. Most students avoided the sidewalks and walked on the grass, some tiptoed around the chalk bodies out of respect. Club members were overwhelmed by these reactions to the event.
After the main event, Josh and I passed out purple ribbons to faculty, staff, and classmates we knew. Josh toured me around every building and introduced me to teachers, administrators, janitors, lunch staff, anyone and everyone. I left campus thankful for Josh’s warm welcome and the sense of inclusion I felt as a member of the club. In becoming more involved with the group, I learned about the history of SPECTRA. Not even 3 years ago, students were unable to experience the opportunities SPECTRA had afforded me. However, a story of defeat and triumph emerged.
SPECTRA’ s origin story could be likened to a court show drama. According to former Student Government Association (SGA) Attorney General and SPECTRA member, Joseph Schriefer, “People were panicking on both sides. People were scared that having a gay club on campus would offend and alienate some of the alumni.” At the time of the election, the fall semester of 2011, minimal standards were required to become an SGA member. A large portion of students voted in this specific meeting and never attended another. (It should be noted SGA member requirements were strengthened as a result of the SPECTRA incident).
On the day of the vote, two clubs, including SPECTRA, stood before a full room as they presented their cases before the SGA body. SPECTRA founders made their pitches for the club. Rosa Miranda, a Hispanic SGA senator and SPECTRA member, spoke on the right to establish a club for minorities such as the LGBTQ community. Daniel English, SPECTRA cofounder, laid out examples throughout history of minority rejections.
Another cofounder spoke of SPECTRA’s goal to educate and network with the local community. SGA members then read their statements. One student worried that since “ABAC is traditionally a Christian college, having a gay straight alliance on campus would deter prospective students.” Another student proclaimed homosexuality an abomination.
After these comments, Dean Hughes stood up and read the ABAC policies and University System of Georgia rules to reinforce the validity of SPECTRA’s right to exist. Interestingly, the other club’s approval votes were cast by a show of hands. When SPECTRA came up for election, one member of the SGA board suggested a secret ballot. His motion was approved. Votes were tallied outside of the room by the advisor and vice president. The vice president came back to the meeting once the votes were counted and very nonchalantly said, “The club failed.” Not attaching names or faces to the vote personally insulted several members of SPECTRA.
Tears were spilled, but they could not dampen the valiant effort underway to get SPECTRA approved. Daniel English began a grievance process with the help of Etta Lee, associate professor and SPECTRA advisor. Working up the chain of command, the club caught President Bridge’s attention, who was hesitant to support SPECTRA, after a meeting was held with Lee and English.
Prior to the meeting, Lee contacted Georgia Safe Schools Coalition for suggestions. Legal advice was the response given and Lambda Legal, a LGBTQ civil rights organization, wrote a letter to the president. Upon receiving the letter, President Bridges reconsidered his position on SPECTRA’s rejection and SGA was stripped of its power to approve clubs. Etta Lee spoke on the decision to discard the previous SGA structure: “President Bridges put Dean Hughes in charge of club approvals. Basically, they shut down all clubs. Clubs had to be approved and reapproved within the new system. What came out of the ordeal was that the denial of SPECTRA was because of a broken system, and so they fixed the system.”
SPECTRA stood tall in the face of adversity and is now an active club within the ABAC community. Old members were lost, new members were gained. Presidents changed hands until Josh Powell grasped the position.
Josh envisioned SPECTRA at its best and has worked hard to make this vision a reality. Josh’s membership and motivation during his freshman year led to the success of last year’s HIV awareness week.
With Josh leading as president this year, the club has hosted numerous events, the biggest hits being Chalk Love and the suicide awareness event.
SPECTRA’s next upcoming event is HIV awareness week. A common misnomer of SPECTRA is that it is the “gay” club, just as HIV is known as the “gay” disease. SPECTRA is working alongside many local gay-straight alliances to dispel these misconceptions.
HIV can infect anyone, no matter ethnicity or orientation. SPECTRA is hoping to educate and include everyone, no matter their ethnicity or orientation.
Starting on Monday, Nov. 17, two AIDS quilts will be hung in the library. Informational pamphlets pertaining to the quilts and the disease will be located in the library as well. Students are to wear red in remembrance of those who died of the disease on Tuesday, Nov. 18.
Later that same day at 4:30 p.m., John Rogers, a public health educator for the South Health District Infectious Disease Program, will speak and answer questions about HIV in Bowen 100. Condoms and HIV testing will be available in the dining hall lobby on Wednesday, Nov. 19.
On World AIDS Day, December 1st, a documentary highlighting the spread of HIV within the southern states called “deepSouth” will be shown in Howard Auditorium. The film’s director, Lisa Biagiotti, will be present along with a live stream Q&A featuring actual cast members.
SPECTRA has the remarkable ability to bring all facets of the ABAC community together to discuss a wide range of issues such as discrimination, HIV/AIDS, bullying, and suicide.
If you are interested in becoming involved with, becoming a member of, or simply checking out SPECTRA, biweekly meetings are held in Nursing Building 200 at 4 p.m. on Wednesdays. The next meeting will be on Wednesday, Nov. 19.
You may also contact club president, Josh Powell, at his email email@example.com