Students thrive somewhere over the rainbow at the UI

BY DANIEL SEIDL | MAY 14, 2014 5:00 AM

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After four years of hard work, the odyssey is finally over for one LGBTQ student.

“It feels amazing,” Preston Keith said. “Being done with school and going onto this next journey … it’s just surreal.”

Keith was recognized along with 18 other University of Iowa LGBTQ students at the Rainbow Graduation on Tuesday. The program celebrates the accomplishments of these UI students.

UI Chief Diversity Officer Georgina Dodge said the event helps define community for those students.

“This is really special; this is a particular coming together that holds a great amount of meaning,” said. “Community does not just refer to your identities but to a culture of acceptance.”

Roy Salcedo, the coordinator of the UI Multicultural Program at the Center for Student Involvement and Leadership, said the event is important because it gives those students an opportunity to be recognized freely.

“I think it’s important to have a safe space to celebrate that,” he said. “Although the University of Iowa may be looked at as a safe and inclusive place, we still have a lot of work to do. Some of the graduations may be looked at as noninclusive.”

Dodge said the accomplishment is especially impressive because LGBTQ students may experience even more challenges than other students.

“I know that the path through higher education is not always easy,” she said. “Those of us who find ourselves on the margins of the mainstream … know to expect those challenges. In an age of partisan pettiness, anyone who disagrees with you may attack you.”

The event featured several speakers, including a keynote speech from UI Assistant Professor Katie Imborek, the codirector of the LGBTQ clinic at the Iowa River Landing. Imborek said she experienced some of these challenges herself when she started college.

“I really think back to this really, really scared 18 year old who started college,” she said. “I was … going through this time where I had no idea what the heck was going on. My world was spinning.”

When she moved to Iowa City, Imborek said, she was surprised with how accepting the community was.

“We came to Iowa City, and I saw people walking down the street holding hands,” she said. “I thought, oh my goodness, this could actually be us, this could be me.”

Keith said he has also always felt supported by the UI community.

“There is a community here who supports you no matter what,” he said. “I think that there are a lot of resources here … that a lot of universities don’t have.”

One of these resources is the LGBT Resource Center, where Keith works.

“A part of my role is to connect students with resources throughout Iowa City,” he said. “[The center] allow[s] for them to get not only reassurance but reaffirmation.”

Keith will continue to work at the center and will become a full-time staff member now he has graduated, he said. The community kept him at the university, as did unfinished work.

“I think the community that I’ve built here, and just the people that I’ve met, are going to stick with me,” he said. “Being able to continue that work … is going to be something that’s really important to me.”

Salcedo agreed there is still work to do.

“We do have LGBT students here, and unfortunately some students are not comfortable coming out,” he said. “Until that changes, the university needs to continue to look at that and say what can we do to make sure that doesn’t happen, ever.”

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