Pride Perspectives: Andrea Welsh on Grad Pride, Friendships, Feeling Connected
June is Pride Month, a special time to celebrate the LGBTQIA community and honor the 1969 Stonewall Uprising in Manhattan. This month, the College of Sciences is sharing stories and experiences about what Pride Month means to students and campus leaders who are active in LGBTQIA organizations at Georgia Tech.
"Although we must be apart this summer, we are thrilled to join in celebrating Pride Month together online, this year,” says Susan Lozier, College of Sciences dean and Betsy Middleton and John Clark Sutherland Chair. “Through listening and lifting up these perspectives, resources, and ideas, we connect in allyship and celebration with our vibrant LGBTQIA+ community across campus, the city of Atlanta, and beyond."
More 2020 Pride Perspectives:
Andrea Welsh (she/her/hers) is originally from Long Island, New York, and graduated from Boston University in 2011 with her bachelor's in physics and math. As a graduate student in physics at Georgia Tech, she defended her thesis in July 2019, and graduated with her doctorate in December 2019. She currently serves as the vice president of Georgia Tech Grad Pride, and is an active advocate in the LGBTQIA community.
Q: What can people within the College of Sciences, and Georgia Tech as a whole, do to support LGBTQIA students?
One main thing would be to acknowledge that we, LGBTQIA people, exist and it's important to listen to us. It sounds very basic but it is still hard for many people. An argument I have seen from many students at Georgia Tech is that identity doesn’t belong in STEM, which is dehumanizing and ignores that, while the math and theories may seem objective (they aren’t), we still exist as humans in a community doing this work — and so if we are still fighting to exist and have rights, we cannot do our own work and [the] science that we came here to do. We are not robots and we do not live in a vacuum. All of our words and interactions have meaning and effects on others, even when we are focusing on STEM work.
Furthermore, Georgia Tech and the College of Sciences could offer annual scholarships for oSTEM, a conference led by a non-profit professional association for LGBTQIA people in the STEM community. As a grad student I didn't want to take money from the Pride Alliance for attending the conference, but many advisors don't want their grad students and post docs going to conferences that aren't their typical in-field conferences. They may not want to pay for the travel. Some advisors are just not so supportive, and students can't always pay out of pocket, so money set aside to give a few students funding to attend the oSTEM conference would be great.
In February, the College of Sciences Faculty Diversity Council prioritized travel awards for students via Institute Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (IDEI) funding, along with several other focus areas. Learn more here.
Q: What has your experience within Georgia Tech Grad Pride been like? What encouraged you to become vice president?
Grad Pride was the first time I was really out with a group of people around me and it felt really good. It felt nice to not hide, to have an understanding, to talk science and experiences as grad students, but also feel welcomed without being afraid how someone would react. I ended up being vice president of Grad Pride because the organization dissolved for a little bit after I started at Georgia Tech, and many of the LGBTQIA events on campus were aimed at undergraduates. After trying to do a few informal dinners, one of the leaders of the Men’s Queer Chats reached out to me about restarting the group. The two of us found a few more people interested, and figured out what we would [want] this new group to look like, and how to help more graduate students. It was great to give back, but also to form that closer community with graduate students who are also queer.
Q: Why is it important to celebrate Pride Month? What does the month mean to you?
Pride Month is about acceptance and being comfortable with yourself. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who may not be able to feel either of these, still depending on their home, social, or work life. So, having a month to focus on our identities helps show those who can’t be “out” see that there is a better way to live, and there is hope that they, too, can be themselves, one day, as well. It gives us a time to feel connected, even if we are in a position where we may be pretty alone.
Q: How would you describe the environment within the College of Sciences as it relates to supporting LGBTQIA students?
Unfortunately, I don’t know many of the LGBTQIA students in the College of Sciences. There were a few students I knew, but there weren’t a lot of events for us to get together, and so I didn’t know them very well. I am not sure if events for LGBTQIA students in CoS just weren’t advertised or if they didn’t exist, but I didn’t feel any sense of LGBTQIA community in CoS. There were a few queer undergraduate and graduate students who I knew in my own department, but we didn’t have any sort of event for us. I think in my own department, the environment is hit or miss — it definitely depends on who you are working with and have classes with. While there are a few people who were openly antagonistic, there wasn’t much inclusion either. I don’t remember any sort of statement from the CoS or my department after the Pulse shooting in 2016, when I know many queer students were feeling very alone and depressed.
Q: Which Georgia Tech faculty members have inspired and supported you?
I am grateful for Professor Kate Fu who was my mentor the last few months I was a Ph.D. student at Georgia Tech. She is just overall a positive and supportive person, and talked me through some hard times towards the end of my Ph.D and when I was looking for jobs. I only wish I got to know her a few years earlier. She is someone I definitely will be keeping in contact with throughout my career.
I am also grateful for Professor Elisabetta Matsumoto who I have gotten to know since she joined the School of Physics. She has also helped me in a lot of ways and has spoken up for many of the injustices she sees that can happen to students. She has been a mentor and friend, and an amazing scientist mixing art and science together. She has inspired me to be unapologetically myself in my work.
Q: Do you have anything else you would like to mention?
Support for LGBTQIA students in the Georgia Tech CoS needs to come from all directions. It should be normalized for departments in CoS to have representation from the Resource Center meet with new undergraduate and graduate students every year, and help advise the departments on how to be supportive for their queer students. Students should be given these sorts of resources at orientation instead of having to seek it out. Students shouldn’t have to ask what bathroom they can use, or how to go about name changes in class.
There is a lot of work, from down to up: students helping other students via organizations and seeking policy change, but I would like to see more top down: the dean, department chairs, graduate and undergraduate advisors stepping up, educating themselves, incorporating how professors can support LGBTQIA students in hiring practices, faculty meetings, department seminars, and more. It is important to also acknowledge when major events happen, such as the Pulse shooting or the shooting of Scout Schultz on our very own campus, and how that affects our LGBTQIA students. Being "not transphobic" and "not homophobic" is not enough.
Read more about Andrea Welsh's experiences as a student at Tech, and why she decided to pursue a Ph.D. in physics in the College of Sciences.
Meet Tegra Myanna, Georgia Tech LGBTQIA Resource Center's new director.
Interested in learning more about Pride Month and how to be an ally? Visit the LGBTQ+ Experiment Website (external link, recommended by a current Georgia Tech student).
More Pride Month Features: