An Event of Belonging

Off to one side in Rice Commons, a large multipurpose room on the main floor of the Student Center, a small gathering of people waited to take their turn at the podium and officially open the College’s Office for Student Equity and the LGBTQ+ Center. The mood in the room was celebratory, and the audience enthusiastic.

“These offices coincide with the tactical recommendations in the College’s 10-year strategic plan,” said Redgina Hill, vice president for Inclusion and Equity, as she welcomed the standing-room-only crowd. “One of the calls is to reduce the economic and social barriers to success for our students. In doing so, Saint Mary’s honors its commitment to creating a culture of belonging and mattering by fostering an inclusive environment,” she said.

The Office for Student Equity provides financial resources so all students can share in the full college experience. As 29% of Saint Mary’s students are first generation, and 26% are eligible for Pell grants, the office helps bridge the gap for students who can’t always afford the extra costs of higher education.

Funded through an endowment from the Wilson Sheehan Foundation, the office works closely with the Office of Financial Aid, Student Affairs, and Multicultural Student Services to provide a cohesive network of resources in addition to financial help. “Since its opening, our office has been able to provide laptops and repairs, professional clothing, and money for field trips,” said Christin Kloski ’15, associate director of the Office for Student Equity. “This list will continue to grow. I’m excited to see the future!”

Angela Martinez Camacho ’23 spoke at the event about her experience needing financial help to purchase her books. “I knew my parents would not have been able to add yet another expense to their lives during a pandemic. The Office for Student Equity gives me hope that students like me won’t feel ashamed of needing extra financial assistance from time to time. Their services are beyond just giving money. This office is a resource where students can talk about our futures.”

The LGBTQ+ Center serves as a place for resources and support for the community and its allies in recognition of the fundamental dignity of each human person. No one is more enthusiastic than Jacqueline Leskovec ’74. Her memories of her time at Saint Mary’s are good ones, but admittedly marked with a wistfulness that she couldn’t be her authentic self.

“I am so proud of Saint Mary’s for moving forward with this safe space,” she told the audience. “Back in the last millennium when I came out, I longed for such recognition and acceptance for who I am. I could only dream of such a welcoming place for LGBTQ+ students on campus. Visibility, acceptance, and a safe space help us all along the road to self actualization. Brava, Saint Mary’s!”

Today a network coordinator for the Network of the National Library of Medicine, Leskovec has committed her spare time to working with Saint Mary’s alumnae through Pride SMC, an official Alumnae Association affinity group.

Current student Francesca Guilana ’23 draws strength from Leskovec’s story, and values the College’s commitment to the community. She leads SAGE, the Sexuality and Gender Equity club, Saint Mary’s gay straight alliance. At the dedication event, she spoke of her hopes for moving forward.

“I believe the opening of the LGBTQ+ Center will have an amazing impact on our campus community,” Guiliana said. “It’s a showcase of the College’s efforts to acknowledge all students, and will be so beneficial for current and future Belles. This is such a fantastic step to take in fostering an accepting community.”

More Courier Fall 2021