On Nov. 14, University of Tennessee, Knoxville students gathered in the Student Union for the continuation of the Rocky Topics series. This time students discussed the topic “The Intersection of Sexuality and Religion.”
Since Rocky Topics began in the spring of 2019 it has rapidly grown in popularity. So much so, that the next session will have to be held in a larger venue.
“Rocky Topics is a program that we started in the spring of 2019 to really be a continued dialogue series on campus issues that were timely that students faculty and staff can really dig into,” Abigail Brumfield, a coordinator in the Office of the Dean of Students and veteran of Rocky Topics, said.
Assistant Vice-Chancellor and Dean of Students Shea Kidd Houze led the discussion alongside Christine Shepardson a professor and head of the Department of Religious Studies and Joe Miles an associate professor in the Department of Psychology.
Miles and Shepardson began the session with an informative discussion on religion and sexuality. Students then took the lead with conversation and broke into small groups to dissect the topic even further. Many students shared their different ideas and experiences with the topic which led to abundant conversation.
“It was inspiring in a way,” Skylar White, a sophomore majoring in Computer Science at UT, said. “I just feel like a lot of people that I’m around, in general, don’t have a knowledge of this topic and being around them I’m just trying to find a way- how can I really express this to them to where they’re accepting of the information and also honoring the people that it is affecting.”
At UT, conversations like these are important in understanding and representing the diverse religious groups and LGBTQ+ students on campus.
According to The Princeton Review, UT ranked third on the list of unfriendly colleges for LGBTQ+ students. UT has attempted to make strides in improving this through the “Vol is a Verb” and the “Mattering and Belonging” campaigns.
Rocky Topics, also affiliated with the “Vol is a Verb” campaign, creates a “brave” and safe space for students to speak on issues affecting our campus.
“Students shared that they hadn’t had a chance to talk about topics before and I think that they hadn’t had a place to have those conversations before,” Brumfield said. “I think creating a space where people can dig into topics is really what Rocky Topics is all about and when we created the space tonight people came out and to have that discussion was really important.”
At the conclusion of the session students and Dean Kidd Houze shared resources for students facing trouble with the topic or just seeking more information. Among those listed were The Pride Center, student organizations and religious groups, the counseling center and professors like Miles and Shepardson who are well versed in the topics.
Rocky Topic sessions will continue in 2020 on Jan. 22 with the discussion of disability and visuality.
Edited by Maddie Torres and Grace Goodacre
Featured image courtesy of Gracie Strange