A group of Clark alumni are reaching across generations to create a more supportive and positive world for LGBTQ+ students by fostering inclusive, healing, and empowering spaces for current students as well as their fellow alumni.
The Clark LGBTQ+ Alumni Affinity Group (CLAA) was formed out of conversations around diversity, equity, and inclusion that have been taking place in the broader Clark community for the past several years. As the idea for affinity groups was taking shape, member Miranda Valerio ’11 says, “I realized as a queer alum that this could be a way that I could help and contribute to the positive change.”
What began as a “little, cobbled-together group of four” has continued to gather steam and grown into an active group that has developed a mission statement, goals, and logo, and is now hosting well-attended events that draw alumni from different age groups. Recent events have included a lecture, “Highlights of Clark’s LGBTQ+ Heritage,” featuring the late Dr. Robert Tobin; a wine tasting during Worcester Pride Week at Canal District Wine (a local LGBTQ-owned business); and a Q&A with Professor Abbie E. Goldberg about her recent book, “LGBTQ Family Building: A Guide for Prospective Parents.”
Carlo Morrissey ’79, Ed.D. ’90, was motivated to join CLAA because of his work as a school psychologist, where he’s seen the need to support students grappling with issues around gender and sexuality. “I thought maybe there’s a way that I could be helpful to students at Clark, just with my own experiences — maybe through mentoring, or just letting them know they’ve got an ally, whether they’re gay, or lesbian, or trans, or queer.”
Morrissey says he’s “older than most other folks in the group,” but that he learns something new every time they get together.
Younger members insist the lessons go both ways. Katie Bogen ’15 says she values learning how “the community of queer elders” have addressed challenges throughout their lives.
“These folks have experience fighting virulent homophobia and queerphobia and just have this emotional generosity to give to the younger generation,” Bogen says. “They very patiently and lovingly teach us what their experience was like, and it has been so moving.”
Bogen recalls experiencing microaggressions from her peers while a student at Clark and hopes to help change that by “supporting current students who are doing the boots-on-the-ground labor to ensure radical, queer, affirming inclusivity at Clark.”
Samuel “Vladi” Highland ’16 recalls that he didn’t feel comfortable being open about his sexuality as a student and as an athlete at Clark. “I just sort of existed silently,” he says. He would have been “thrilled” to attend a panel featuring LGBTQ+ alumni in his chosen field “to be able to see a version of what I could become.” He hopes to provide that kind of representation for current Clark students and to contribute to the creation of spaces that are healing and inclusive.
Group leaders are looking to continue growing membership and attendance at events. They see value in providing ways for alumni to connect and support the University beyond financial support and beyond symbolic gestures.
“We’re trying to move beyond safe spaces, and really allow people to be challenged and create these brave spaces where folks have to learn new things that challenge a dominant paradigm,” Bogen notes.
For more information about CLAA, contact Alumni and Friends Engagement.