Mt. A alumnus funding the program hopes to encourage “self-awareness and acceptance.
The new Sterns LGBTQ2+ Community Engagement Fund, established by Mount Allison alumnus Kevin Sterns (‘67), sees the creation of an internship aimed at providing more inclusive resources and spaces for LGBTQ2+ students. “A Mount A student will be employed as a peer educator, focusing on and encouraging engagement, community outreach, leadership, advocacy, and raising awareness and support of LGBTQ+ communities on campus and in the wider community,” he said.
“As a member of the LGBTQ2+ community myself I have experienced the impact that the lack of resources, spaces, and information have on students,” said Marika Wildeboer, a fourth year sociology student and the new LGBTQ2+ Engagement Intern. She will be working with the Wellness Centre, SHARE, and other groups on campus to review existing resources and programs, and to determine what resources and approaches are missing. “Too often, the dialogue and space is not available to students and teachers regarding information and support within residences, classrooms, and on varsity teams,” said Wildeboer. “This change needs to happen at Mount Allison to create a safer campus.”
She hopes to do a lot of the preliminary work this year to help build the program for the future. Wildeboer will be looking into resources, spaces, events, and policies that support LGBTQ2+ students at other Maritime universities. “I will also be analyzing and researching what Mount Allison has in terms of programs, classes, training, support, and events, and how to make improvements,” she said. “My goal is to research the best practices for actively engaging with students and members of the university community to provide high-quality resources and information for staff and students.”
“The position is intended to explore and enhance the experience and engagement of LGBTQ+ students. The aim of this work is to make Mount Allison University a safer, more inclusive and more welcoming positive space for LGBTQ+ faculty, staff and students,” said Melody Petlock, SHARE advisor. “The role will also look at types of training and education being done on campuses to create safer environments for LGBTQ+ students.” Wildeboer believes this program is an essential first step towards ensuring the safety and well-being of LGBTQ2+ students, staff, and faculty at Mount Allison. She noted the need for more resources and funding dedicated to issues of safety, inclusivity, and sexual harassment for LGBTQ2+ individuals. “[These are] issues that the LGBTQ2+ community experiences and is a part of, and there are not adequate spaces, information, and resources available yet and there is much to be improved. This job is a step in the right direction.”
Sterns hopes that the establishment of this fund and internship will help direct Mount Allison and the world in a more inclusive and accepting direction. Sterns was seventeen when he began his undergraduate degree at Mount Allison in the fall of 1964. “I felt generally safe and secure and loved my courses and residence life,” he said. “In many ways my life was charmed, but there was always an undercurrent of stress and worry. I was attracted to guys and had many secret crushes. I never discussed them with anyone as I felt it was ‘wrong’ and I hated the thought of being different.”
In 1966, a chance encounter and conversation with a colleague allowed Sterns to identify and accept his identity as a gay man. “I never looked back and from then on, I was comfortable in my own skin. However, it took me years to complete the process of coming out to friends, family, and work colleagues,” he said. Since his graduation, Sterns worked with TD Bank in Toronto before being transferred to New York City; there, a two-year assignment as the Chief Financial Officer of the U.S. Corporate and Investment Bank stretched into twenty years after he met his husband-to-be. Sterns retired from TD in 2004 and is “leading a privileged life of security and enjoyment.”
Sterns knew he wanted to help support LGBTQ+ students in some way. “Although my current knowledge is more USA-centric, I also know that Canada has the same issues with LGBTQ+ teen bullying, homelessness, suicide, and sense of isolation,” he said. When Mount Allison staff proposed this new program, he was excited to be able to provide financial support. “It was at Mt. A that I learned to accept myself,” he said. “I would like to think that this program will help so that others will not have to rely on luck as their path to self-awareness and acceptance.”
Wildeboer and Sterns acknowledged the need for this program arises from a deficit in LGBTQ2+ supports, and a hope for a safe, inclusive, and accepting university community. “Creating a safe space is extremely important to me and I think it needs to be Mount Allison’s first priority,” said Wildeboer. “This is an important baby step for the LGBTQ2+ students at MTA, as it will hopefully set a path for the creation of dedicated spaces and resources for not only students but faculty and staff as well.”
Sterns is hopeful for the future of the program. “If only the world was a perfect place of inclusion and acceptance. Such is obviously not the case. In an ideal world there would be no place for a program such as this,” he said. “We know that the world is far from ideal; hopefully this will help move it closer.”