Student Group Opens Eyes, Minds and Closet Doors
By Jennifer Wood
There's an organization on Bowie State University's campus unlike any other---a group of students unafraid to proclaim We're here! We're queer! We're just as much a part of this university as you are! The group has been around for almost two years, but it is stirring up more controversy now than ever.
Eyes Wide Shut is the organization ruffling feathers all throughout the BSU community. An assembly of students representing the spectrum of the gay community, Eyes Wide Shut has shed new light on the issues that GLBTQ students face on campus as well as in day-to-day life. While the group is small in membership, it is huge in purpose. The objective of the organization is to "provide an environment in which gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, and straight supportive students can freely assemble in order to provide mutual support and to address the campus and community on pertinent issues," as stated in the organization's mission statement.
In the fall of 2006, the Legislative Branch of Bowie State University's Student Government Association, after much hesitation, voted Eyes Wide Shut in as a new student organization. Lanada Williams, former employee of BSU's Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drugs Prevention Department, also known as ATOD, originally served as the advisor of the organization. Her enthusiasm for the cause and experience in the field made her the ideal individual to get this effort off the ground. She along with an executive board comprised of seven BSU upperclassmen led Eyes Wide Shut through an enlightening debut semester.
The organization's premiere event featured an openly gay minister from Baltimore. He spoke about his struggles coming to terms with his sexuality in consideration of his religious beliefs. Then he encouraged the program's participants to embrace their sexuality as well as their spirituality; one does not discount the other. During the question and answer portion of the program, a man stood up and proclaimed his belief that if his own son were to come home one day and say that he's a [homosexual], he has the right as his father to "blow his [expletive] brains out."
After inactivity during the spring and fall 2007 semesters, Eyes Wide Shut's organization constitution and mission statement were presented at the first Legislative Branch meeting of the spring 2008 semester. The voting body, comprised of representatives from various pre-established campus organizations, seemed less than enthusiastic about the prospect of an organization that promotes the gay agenda having a presence on Bowie State's campus. Most of the people in the room had not been at Bowie to experience Eyes Wide Shut's impact the first time around. Many questions arose regarding the need for an organization of this nature and the existence of a "threat" to GLBTQ students on campus. After a long period of deliberation, Eyes Wide Shut was reinstated.
In the past three years, Eyes Wide Shut has been received by administration and staff who are generally quite open and accepting when it comes to the idea of accommodating the needs of BSU's GLBTQ population, organizers said. Faculty and students, however, tend to have a more apathetic, if not condescending, attitude toward the gay community on campus. According to a study conducted in 2007 by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), 53 percent of students surveyed reported hearing homophobic comments from school staff members, including, teachers and administrators.
Since its spring 2008 reactivation, Eyes Wide Shut has put on programs and events that BSU has never seen before. One of the most memorable of these events was help in May 2008. Prom: Our Way gave students the opportunity to relive a night that may not have gone as hoped the first time. The Garden of Eden theme set the tone for a night of fun and reflection. Many attendees expressed that they were not able to enjoy their proms in high school because their parents would not allow them to wear what they wanted or because their school's administration would not allow same-sex couples. This event provided the chance for these students to relive their proms the way they wish they could have been the first time around.
Most recently, Eyes Wide Shut hosted a panel discussion called Generations. The discussion included representatives of the GLBTQ community ranging in age from their 30s to their 80s. The panel featured Jim, 86, and Charles, 70, a gay couple who has been together for over 50 years. They shared stories of their attempts to conceal and disguise their relationship in 1950s Washington. Jim suffered a stroke some years ago and, although he lost his speech, his partner was able to interpret his every gesture. The depth of their bond was apparent.
Next on Eyes Wide Shut's agenda is assisting with the development of BSU's own GLBTQ student resource center, set to open this month. The center will be open and available to the entire campus as well as the surrounding community. It will be modeled after a similar center at the University of Maryland College Park and will be the first center of its kind at an historically black college or university.