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College student balances LGBTQ+ activism, student life
by MacKenzie Murtaugh
2019-08-07

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After her semester at a new college, Zaiden Sowle knew she found what was lacking at her previous college.

Before, her experience at Connecticut College—a small, liberal arts school in New London, Connecticut—was not the personal and intellectual time she expected to love. Instead, she felt ostracized by the lack of LGBTQ+ resources and culture on campus.

At her new school, Simmons University—a women-focused private school in Boston—Sowle found a better fit: a more trans-inclusive environment. As a trans woman, Sowle searched for a school that would be more accepting of her identity and people like her. Simmons prides itself as being one of the first colleges to include transgender students in their women's school.

Before Sowle began college, she worked to amplify those voices that tend to go unheard in schools and create safe spaces for them. As a former member of the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance's ( ISSA's ) youth committee, she planned and organized events for LGBTQ+ youths which included annual sleepaway camps and summits. ISSA works directly with schools on policy and advocacy. The youth committee consists of many LGBTQ+ youths who give other LGBTQ+ youths space to feel safe, accepted and meet other people like them.

Sowle first got involved with ISSA after the president of her high school's gay-straight alliance asked the club if anyone had interest in joining, and Sowle jumped at the opportunity. Helping kids in similar situations to her was something she looked forward to.

Her experience at ISSA was not only volunteer work—the time she spent with them helped her realize and then understand her trans identity.

"Youth committee meetings, just every other week, really helped me to realize for myself that I am trans," Sowle said. "When I realized it, then I came out to the people at the meetings. Just seeing how happy they were for me for figuring it out and how accepting they just gave me the courage to eventually come out to my family and friends at school."

When she was on her way home for an event with ISSA, she made that decision to come out to her parents after some time talking it over with other youth committee members.

"After my first summit that I helped to plan and even attend, that night I decided to come home and come out to my parents," Sowle said. "Just because I was coming out of such a high of the day and being around similar people and really feeling empowered through the workshops and all of that."

Once Sowle graduated from high school, her life-changing time on ISSA's youth committee came to an end.

"They gave us [the seniors who were leaving] a round of applause, and I just lost it," Sowle said. "Crying my eyes out. It really was like I have a family with these people, and to think that that was coming to an end was really difficult."

Sowle's time she spent with ISSA is a time that she looks back on with great appreciation and admiration at not only her personal growth but with the friendships she made. But she knows it's all just a part of growing up and moving onto bigger things.

"But it is a part of growing up when you have to go off to college and try to do your studies and all of that," Sowle said.

Growing up in Evanston and attending Evanston Township High School prepared Sowle with a good education and the liberal ideology that led her to study women and gender studies and sociology at Connecticut College. But her experience there was a mixed bag.

The adviser for the woman and gender-studies department took Sowle under her wing after a difficult first semester. Once the women and gender studies department suggested the department's name to be changed to "gender, sexuality, and intersectionality studies," Sowle felt this was not a department that reflected that name change. His adviser was the only Black woman working in the department, and one of the few working at the school. This controversy was one of many that prompted Sowle's transfer to Simmons.

"It's just amazing," Sowle said of Simmons. "It's very LGBT-friendly, and it's very trans-friendly. It has a very large population [of LGBTQ+ students] relative to other schools."

Sowle enters her second semester at Simmons in the fall. She plans to continue her studies and graduate within the next few years, studying women and gender studies as well as sociology.

"I want to be a social worker, working with LGBT youth, hopefully as part of a nonprofit or something," Sowle said.


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