Address: 2109 Webb University Center Norfolk, VA
Coming from a mind-altering experience of being outed during his undergraduate year’s, founder of the LGBTQIA+ Peer Mentor Program (PMP), Dexter Gore, came to ODU as a graduate student with hopes to implement an LGBTQIA+ program that his undergraduate school lacked. He piloted the program alongside Jasmine Omorogbe, who previously worked with a LGBTQIA+ program before, and the Office of Intercultural Relations (OIR) by holding interviews in spring 2016. Unfortunately, he finished his graduate studies before the program could launch entirely in the fall semester of 2016, in his stead Ericka Smith took over the program. Of course the process of founding a program based around LGBTQIA+ in an office that once dealt with people of color and international relations was an arduous task but Dexter prospered with hopes that after he wrapped up his graduate degree the program would be able to strive.
The foundations of the PMP were created based on Dexter’s experience throughout his life. He grew up not realizing his privilege as a young white male, and after being outed his knowledge on what privilege meant, and how he viewed his own privilege changed. While being out he found it difficult to find queer resources on campus, or organizations that would accept him for who he was. This is where the change within himself started, as he transitioned to starting ODU’s LGBTQIA+ Peer Mentor Program. While drafting the program, he, and the OIR team, reviewed other successful LGBTQIA+ programs at other universities to set the criteria, interviewed the first LGBTQIA+ program in Virginia. According to current GA Ericka Smith, she looks for “an understanding of what it means to be a mentor, good interpersonal communication skills, empathy, resourcefulness, openness, compassion, and also a knowledge of the ODU campus, local community, and an ability to committed and accountable to the process.” As for the criteria for mentees, she states, “I am just checking for need and willingness to participate; the program is intended for first year transfer students and freshman, but not everyone is “out” at that moment in their life, so looking at what the person will gain from the program, regardless of status or age, is a major determining factor.” The PMP is also composed of requirements for selected mentors/mentees such as attending two (2) events outside of their own identity, establishing boundaries, and attending large group to name a few. These help to promote and expand their identities, meet others in the community, and give larger scale resources. Chris, who was a mentee in 2016 and is currently a mentor, said his reason for staying in the program, “sounds really minor but it made me feel more comfortable being in the community. I felt more confident expressing my identity and I wanted to help other people that are still in school.” Another 2016/2017 mentor states “it becomes more than just a mentor/mentee relationship, it’s a friendship that impacts both side. As a mentor, I was not just there as her [their mentee] mentor but as a friend to assist with any needs and resources on campus. She impacted me more than I expected.” The LGBTQIA+ PMP at ODU, even in its second term has made a massive impact on the ODU LGBTQIA+ community more than imagined.
Upon a simple search of “LGBTQIA+ Peer Mentor Programs” on Google to see what came up and surprisingly these forms of mentorship are forming at many campuses. It was also interesting to note that many programs said “LGBT Peer Mentor Program” without the QIA+ which, to me, says that there is still some way to go with the progression of the community and efforts of inclusion. This expands into the community on, and around campuses. Old Dominion University’s score of CampusPride.com, a website that rates schools based on their LGBTQIA+ school population that is effected by LGBTQIA+ policy, support, academics, student life/ organizations, housing, safety, counseling services, and retention was a 3.5/5 in 2015 and with initiatives like Dexter’s I’m sure our rating will improve.
Lastly, the impact and development of local/communal LGBTQIA+ programs throughout Norfolk. There’s an LGBT Life Center close to ODU and we had a liaison of the center in our class who I asked if the center had one, she told me they did not but I was not the first person to ask. The impact of a mentor program could benefit many people because some people may have a harder time “coming out” than others and it’s easier to open up in a space where someone is assisting you in resources or lending an ear while that transition is taking place or for general purposes. For example, LGBTQIA+ community center that she went ODU’s own, Vanessa Panfil, speaks on her local to when she was younger as an initial start to her book, “The Gang’s All Queer,” or as Ericka said “not everyone is ‘out’ at that moment in their life,” which can make it difficult to be a part of strictly student mentor programs. Interestingly, Dexter and Ericka were opposed to the idea of a local mentorship because of their past histories of coming into their identities, they both benefitted from their pasts and acknowledging their identities in different ways. Overall, this is something to consider as the impact of the PMP expands.