CHARLOTTE — More than a dozen colleges and universities are scheduled to participate in an LGBT college fair program on Saturday held in conjunction with the local Pride Charlotte Festival this weekend. The fair, one of several presented across the country, will give LGBT and straight ally young people the opportunity to interact with colleges and universities organizers say are demonstrating a commitment to safe and inclusive campuses.
The Charlotte-based national non-profit Campus Pride has organized the fair, which will host colleges and current or rising college students on Saturday, Aug. 25, 1:30-4 p.m. during the annual Pride event on S. Tryon St. in Uptown Charlotte.
Thirteen colleges have signed up to participate in the event, along with national groups like the Point Foundation and the College Board. Eight North Carolina schools will participate, including Davidson College, East Carolina University, Elon University, North Carolina State University, Queens University of Charlotte, UNC Asheville, UNC Greensboro and Wake Forest University.
Angela Mazaris, director of Wake Forest University’s LGBTQ Center, said her school’s decision to participate in the fair reflects a commitment to diversity and inclusion.
“We are celebrating our 50th anniversary of racial integration and as a part of that really thinking about the ways we can celebrate inclusivity and encourage inclusivity among our community members,” Mazaris said. “For us, going to the Campus Pride fair is a natural extension of the outreach we do to all sorts of underrepresented communities.”
Mazaris said Wake Forest began participating in the fair last year just as the college’s LGBTQ Center opened. The student center celebrates its one-year anniversary this week. The school’s participation in the fair represents a “holistic strategy to ensure everyone is having a positive experience at Wake Forest regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity,” she said.
But the environment at Wake Forest hasn’t always been so welcoming. Once the beacon of higher education in the North Carolina Baptist State Convention, controversy arose in 2000 when two members at the on-campus Wake Forest Baptist Church requested to hold a same-sex holy union ceremony.
Mazaris said that’s all in the past. She and the LGBTQ Center have been “welcomed with open arms.”
“The president of the university supports us and we have support from the provost,” she said.
At North Carolina State University, GLBT Center Director Justine Hollingshead said the admission fairs offer students a unique space in which to learn about her school.
“You can’t just expect they will go to the mainstream events or just show up on campus and go to open house,” said Hollingshead, whose school has committed to also participate in other Campus Pride fairs in New York City and Chicago. “[Students] are looking for a smaller environment they know is safe and comfortable. If only one student comes to campus as a result of the fair this weekend, that is worthwhile and that has been time well spent. Every student matters.”
Campus Pride’s national fair program kicks off in Charlotte. It will make stops later this fall in Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, Dallas and New York City. Campus Pride Media and Communications Manager Jess McDonald said the Charlotte fair is a special gift for the organization’s hometown.
“There is a strong community of LGBT youth in Charlotte and a number of LGBT-friendly colleges in the area, so it made sense for us to host a fair here,” McDonald said. “Hosting a college fair in our hometown city is also significant because although we’re a national organization, we make an effort to be involved in the local LGBT community as well. We are proud to partner with Pride Charlotte, and this is a great opportunity to bridge our national programs with local efforts.”
The LGBT college fair program will be held on Saturday, Aug. 25, 1:30-4 p.m. during the Pride Charlotte Festival, which runs both Saturday and on Sunday, Aug. 26. For more information on Campus Pride, visit campuspride.org. For more information on the festival, including maps and entertainment stage schedules, visit pridecharlotte.com.
[Ed. Note — This writer has previously worked as communications manager for Campus Pride and serves on the Pride Charlotte organizing committee. qnotes is also a sponsor of the Pride Charlotte Festival.]