"I showed up to the GCG at like three o'clock and I ate at the cafe and did homework while I was waiting. I went so early because I love Laverne. She's one of my favorite activists and actresses," says SLU freshman Caroline Frick, who ended up getting a seat in the second row. "I love how she's changing society's views on certain issues from race to transgender awareness and feminism."
Huge banners near the Busch Student Center's entrance and small flyers in the residence halls had been up for weeks leading up to the event. Students knew that Laverne Cox was coming, and they had long awaited her arrival.
Doors were to open at 6:40 for the 7:00 appearance of Laverne Cox, a talented actress, advocate, and artist. The excitement and buzz among students was so elevated that they were arriving and sitting down on the floor of the Center for Global Citizenship hours before the event began.
Members of SLU's Rainbow Alliance executive board, Great Issues Committee, Black Student Alliance, and Una were the only ones allowed in the half of the CGC that Laverne would be speaking in. At 5:30, these group members gathered to set up and block off the entrances, preventing students from entering before 6:40.
(Rainbow Alliance executive board members before Laverne's arrival)
Finally, Laverne walked out onto the stage, a few minutes past 7:00, eliciting cheers and applause. The title of Laverne's speech was "Ain't I A Woman," inspired by Sojourner Truth's speech in 1851. Truth was one of many artists, speakers, writers, and advocates that Cox referenced during her own speech.
Though some members of the audience already had a grasp on this concept, Laverne Cox introduced intersectionality to the student body, defined by Wikipedia as "the study of overlapping or intersecting social identities and related systems of oppression, domination or discrimination."
In Laverne's case, she discussed how her identity as a black, transgender woman contributes to her oppression in various ways.
"Seeing her and hearing her story expands our ideas that we exist outside of any singularities. We can understand that we are never defined by a single identity. We are our genders, our races, our sexual orientations, our romantic orientations, and more at the same time.Through a struggle, we can find ourselves," says Chad Maxwell, junior member of Rainbow Alliance e-board.
Though difficult, Laverne spoke of her childhood experiences of being outcast by classmates, disciplined by teachers for expression, and prohibited from being involved in ballet because it was "too gay," according to her mother. She continued by sharing her experiences as a young adult of being cat called, laughed at, and inaccurately called a man while walking down the street.
Senior Rainbow Alliance executive board member Summer Worthington says, "What I loved the most about Laverne's speech was that she didn't shy away from talking about difficult topics, especially ones that are controversial on a Catholic campus."
Laverne kept the speech light-hearted, and told the audience that sometimes we have to laugh at ourselves and what is said about us as a way of breaking down the power that our bullies and oppressors have. She often referenced that her mother was warned about the possibility of Laverne ending up in New York City wearing a dress. With a sassy flip of her hair, a glance down at her tight pink dress, and a smile on her face, Laverne laughed and shrugged, as a way of saying, "Well, look at me now."
SLU sophomore Brenna Campagna was also sitting in the second row during Laverne's speech, and was personally impacted by her words.
"More than anything, I appreciated and connected to Laverne's message about shame. She referenced Brené Brown, who happens to be my favorite author, which made me realize how deeply connected developing a personal identity and feeling personal shame can be. Too often, I think we become our own worst enemies and become terrified of being ourselves. Laverne reminded me that true love and acceptance from others begins with ourselves; if we don't believe we're worthy of love and belonging, we'll never accept it from others."
(A packed auditorium in anticipation of the presentation)
The enthusiasm, presence, and willingness to learn demonstrated by the general student body and members of the greater non-SLU community are a glimmer of hope for the very issues that Laverne Cox addressed during her speech. Once we can learn to respect, support, and become active with issues of social justice, we can really make a change in our community, and eventually in the world. As Laverne put it, "Justice is love in public."
In the Q and A segment that took place in the end of Laverne's speech, just past 8:00, it became clear that students on campus are incredibly passionate about the subjects that Laverne discussed. Much of what was asked related to how exactly students can get involved and help, what SLU needs to do to foster acceptance and understanding of others, and what governmental policies need to change in order to make a difference in the ever-present system of oppression. Laverne responded warmly to these questions, as they demonstrate hope for future generations and great potential for change.
"I'm glad I was able to listen to her story and hear her calls to action because I can be more supplemental in creating a safe space for others to express themselves in the way that they feel most comfortable,"
says sophomore Haileigh Armbrust.
Once the Q and A segment wrapped up and students began to exit, some stayed behind and had the opportunity to meet Laverne and take a photo with her. She was just as sweet one on one as she was during the presentation, as she greeted students warmly, and often with compliments. After two sessions of meet and greets, students filed out of the building, shortly followed by Laverne.
"I hope that Laverne's speech has taught SLU students to be more accepting and open minded to others who may have to take extra steps to becoming the person that they were meant to be,"
says senior Danielle Limia, who is studying Psychology, Women's and Gender Studies, and African American Studies.
Thank you to all of the student organizations that contributed to making this event happen, and of course, a huge thank you to Laverne for gracing SLU with her presence!