|by Steve Charles • January 30, 2012|
National Association of Wabash Men President Greg Castanias ’87 had to struggle to be heard over the enthusiastic conversation in the Trippet Dining Room Saturday during the first networking event between gay alumni and members of sh’Out, the College’s gay, lesbian, transgender and straight student alliance.
“This event is a long time coming, and I’m so glad to see a full house here,” Castanias said. Alumni, students, faculty and staff in the room responded with applause.
For the next two hours, current student members of sh’OUT were able to learn from alumni how things were on campus for gay students 10, 20, 30, and 40 years ago. The alumni present were able to learn of a Wabash College that is more open to all students: In the words of one sh’OUT member, “For most Wabash students, the fact that I’m gay is a non-issue.”
For many students, it was their first conversation with a gay or transgender alumnus about networking and interviewing opportunities, but also about the experience and potential trials of being “out” in the workplace.
“I want to specifically thank Greg Castanias, Tom Runge, and the faculty, staff, alumni, NAWM board members, trustees, and students for this welcome,” said Rob Shook, who has been a leader in the GLBT-inclusive work at IBM for much of his 24-year career and who, with Castanias, sh’Out members, and the College, helped organize the event. “We need to be more effective in getting the message out that all are welcome, because, truly, Wabash is serious about this, and this luncheon is a commencement of sorts to re-energize that activity.
“We need to understand things that have happened in the past, we need to acknowledge those, and we need to move forward. We need to understand that this is not about tolerance—who wants to be tolerated?! This is about welcoming, valuing, embracing, and drawing on the strengths that each of us brings from whatever our perspectives may be.
“Each of us—gay, straight, bi-sexual, transgender, born in Indiana, born elsewhere in the world—we bring a unique value proposition to this group, to this campus, and Wabash, it appears, is ready to fully embrace that. And I’m very proud to be a part of that.
“The first thing we need to determine is how we can best be of service to the students of this chapter—internships, interviews, bringing speakers to campus, advising—whatever we can do, we will take the lead from you students as to how we can best help.”
Shook, the first executive at IBM to be promoted to executive status after “coming out,” noted that the vast majority of Fortune 500 companies have a non-discriminatory policy that is inclusive of sexual orientation.
"Between 2002 and 2012, the inclusion of sexual orientation in Fortune 500 non-discrimination statements has gone from 61% to 86%. Gender identity has gone from 3% in 2002 to 51% in 2012.
“Progress is being made, and Wabash can and should—dare I say, must—be part of that progress as we prepare students to work in the world, to lead in the world, and to live humanely.”
President Pat White stopped by the gathering between meetings with the College trustees.
“Thank you all for coming back,” White told visiting alumni. “One of the things we honor and most value at Wabash is the individual and the distinctive character and value and worth of each person at Wabash College. We have to live or die by that, or we don’t have any purpose in the world. I want to thank you for being here, and thanks to Greg and the NAWM for championing this effort to bring alumni together with students.
“I’m fond of saying that at Wabash, we have 80 faculty, but hundreds of teachers. That includes you alumni, who bring to the conversation not just how to get a job, but what it means to be a human being, to be who I am in the 21st century. Thank all of you for participating in that discussion, and continuing to teach me, and everyone else in the world, what it means to be Wabash.”
"Not only was Saturday's luncheon a tremendous success with alumni, students, faculty, staff, administration, and allies in attendance, but also the opportunity to meet with other NAWM members and trustees at the dinner on Friday night opened some frank conversations," Shook said. "The support from all whom I met was both refreshing and empowering. It's time for further substantive progress at Wabash; we're competing against other institutions for talent and talented students, and there are plenty of openly welcoming and inclusive alternatives out there. It's time for Wabash to leverage its acceptance of all people as an advantage for the school. There are many alumni willing and able to help communicate and execute that."
“Ultimately the NAWM’s goal is to confirm that Wabash is, and has been for some time now, an open, inclusive, and participatory society,” Castanias said. "Wabash, and certainly its alumni association, is committed to openness to, participation by, and inclusion of all of its alumni, and that includes our gay and transgender alumni.
"The networking event was a huge success. Alumni, faculty, and the administration all gathered together, listened to, and learned from each other. That's always been the Wabash way."