While growing up in West Virginia, I often felt like a real life version of Belle from Beauty and the Beast.
I lived in a small town where everyone knew each other and I spent a lot of my time reading books at the library. Books were my way to escape from the suburbs. I dreamed of moving to a place where I would be able to meet a new person every day. I yearned for a community of my own. I wanted to learn more about the world around me, and I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to do it in my hometown. It may be a good place to raise a family, as many residents will tell you, but I knew I wasn’t going to find me.
I decided that I would move three hours away about a year ago. I was working on my associate’s degree at a community college and was told that all of my credits would transfer to the University of Louisville. I was thrilled to be told that I would not have to take another math class! I can remember exactly how I felt, though, the first time I saw that the university had an LGBT services office.
I couldn’t believe my eyes. I never imagined that a university would have an office specifically for LGBT students, and I certainly didn’t think that I would be about to pursue an LGBT minor. I come from a place where talking about LGBT issues is the equivalent of talking about your credit score: you just don’t do it.
Needless to say, I was sold.
There have been moments where I have felt like a fish without water during my time here. I am on my own for the first time in my life and it is extremely scary to learn the lessons that I know I have to. However, my mind is being opened to so many new possibilities. I participated in my first Pride Week, ate dumpster pizza with friends at an Occupy Louisville protest and felt for the first time that someone had my back.
Students at the University of Louisville care about their education and are eager to participate in class discussions. They’re eager to learn about each other. For a girl who felt as if she had to conceal her true identity all through high school, being here has lifted bricks off of my shoulders. I’m allowed to be my authentic self here, and I wouldn’t trade my experience for anything.
I challenge anyone who wants to find themselves to make a move. I challenge any student who feels like they have no one in their small town to consider a campus like the University of Louisville. Staff members in the Office of LGBT Services are always willing to lend an ear to students, and not only that; there is a campus drag show in the spring!
My favorite part has been being able to walk into the Intersection – a place connected to the LGBT services office where students can gather during breaks – and feel that I’m among people who are passionate about the same things that I am.
I know that when I was looking for a college experience I wanted one that would challenge me and open up my mind. It would be an understatement to say that the University of Louisville has done that. In the Broadway version of Beauty and the Beast, Bell sings, “I never thought I’d leave behind my childhood dreams, but I don’t mind. I’m where and who I want to be; no change of heart, a change in me.”
I’d say that it’s fitting, wouldn’t you?
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