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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

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Panelists discuss tolerating differences

Student Government Association Diversity sponsored a symposium featuring a guest speaker and panel discussion, and Thursday was the seventh annual symposium, “Shaking Ground.”
SGAD began in 2001 to provide a welcoming environment for diverse campus interaction, to facilitate effective communication on issues and to inspire public awareness on the importance of diversity.
“One of our organization’s influential events is our annual diversity symposium, which brings in panelists from across the nation to discuss current diversity issues within the campus community, as well as globally,” said Denise Alex, director of people development.
This year’s symposium featured the openly gay former NFL player, Esera Tuaolo, whose football career included stints with the Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings and the Atlanta Falcons.
Tuaolo is the third NFL player in the organization’s history to ever publicly come out as gay. He began his speech at the symposium by sharing his story and experiences in a hyper-masculine and hyper-heterosexual world in which he was forced hide his sexuality.
“For 35 years I was locked in a closet – in a state of fear,” Tuaolo said. “Once I said those words, it was amazing because I finally could be me.”
Tuaolo first came out in a story on HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, who described Tuaolo as “a big man with an even bigger secret, and it was tearing him apart.”
In the clips shown, the interviewer said that no professional player had ever come out while still on the team and then asked Tuaolo why he retired when he did.
“I wanted to be happy. I wanted to be the true me,” he said. “I feel like I’ve taken off the costume I’ve been wearing all my life.”
After the clips, Tuaolo began filling in the background that the feature did not reveal. When he was 5 years old, he remembered seeing his friends tease and beat up a kid on the playground, calling him a “sissy” for playing with his sister’s dolls.
It was in that moment that Tuaolo realized he was different.
“I saw a little bit of myself in that boy – I saw hate,” he said. “It was then that I realized I had to be bigger, stronger and faster so no one would ever know I was different.”
Growing up the youngest of eight children in the banana plantations of Hawaii, Tuaolo said he pursued football, as it was a way to give back to his family and get out of the “banana ghetto.”
After sharing his difficulties of moving from Hawaii to college to pro, Tuaolo said that it had become necessary to use humor because it was so difficult to talk about his life.
“We are living in a society that really doesn’t like us, especially when we’re doing good,” he said.
Along with locker room jokes, the hardest situation for Tuaolo to endure was the attitude of other players towards homosexuality.
“We could accept someone who does drugs, someone who beats their wife, but not homosexuals,” said Tuaolo, before sharing examples of hiding his relationships from his teammates.
After concluding his story, he accepted questions from the audience and was asked why he decided to finally come out and reveal his secret.
“It wasn’t the publicity, but it was for my children,” Tuaolo said. “We don’t live in the time of the Cleavers. There are different types of families out there – my children will grow up knowing that.”
Tuaolo added, “You are the future, and I pray and hope you will take and apply these lessons from life to yours and remember that hate in any form is wrong, no matter how you sugarcoat it.”
Following Tuaolo, SGAD arranged a panel of professors to discuss the importance of student activism for social justice and how it has changed their own lives and those of others.
Moderator and professor Craig Rotter, who teaches a leadership development course, posed the first question: “What are feasible actions for activism on campus?”
“You must educate your mind before you open your mouth,” said professor Carol Albrecht, senior lecturer from the sociology department.
Then, borrowing from Tuaolo, Albrecht restated: “Hate in any form is wrong. It is important to treat all people as individuals not as a member of some group.”
Fred Bonner, a professor of higher education administration, said that resistance to social change comes from people who are not educated out of fear, which is how stereotypes and judgment can grow.
“Placing people in boxes is easy,” he said.
He asked the audience to think about what it means to “not be able to bring all of yourself.”
“What if you were to take a piece of yourself and put it on the shelf? What kind of damage and hurt that would cause?”
In following, Rotter asked, “What would you say is the greatest way students can be advocates for social change?”
“It’s a process,” Albrecht said. “First you must learn as much about every issue that you can, learn and listen to others to understand, identify problems and find a common ground. You must be committed for the long-run. Remember that the path to nowhere is paved with good intentions.”
Bonner shared that he grew up holding true to what his grandmother’s words: “If you come in pieces, you won’t depart whole.” He said students must have a true sense of the self and their role in many of the issues that hinder social change.
“Change is painful, and pain is changeful,” said Henry Musoma, assistant lecturer in agricultural leadership education. He added, “You can never bring change when you are offended.”
In addition, he said that the feeling of offense builds a wall between the individual and others and stops both, which is good and which is bad.
The final question asked was about why students should care about making changes in their society. Albrecht said that it is vital that students look at the complexity of these issues to realize their participation in their continuance.
“We need to recognize our prejudices,” she said. “If we are not actively fighting them, then we are moving closer to them.”
Musoma said similarly that students need to recognize that though these issues may not directly affect their daily lives, they are not free from them.
Bonner said it is imperative that students construct identities based on true information, and not just from media representations and sound bytes.
After thanking the hosts, guest speaker and panelists, Rotter asked, “Why are there so many empty seats? Where are the other people, those that needed to hear these stories tonight?
“It is a Thursday night, and there are many things you could have chosen to do, but you came here, you stopped to listen. So, take away what you have learned tonight and reach out to others so that they too can stop and listen.”

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