CORVALLIS, Ore. – On the morning news broke that a Rutgers University student killed himself after he was filmed having sex with another man, Oregon State University student Craig Bidiman was awakened by a phone call.
On the other end of the line was Michael Henthorne, director of the Memorial Union. He asked Bidiman, the current president of the Memorial Union, how soon he could get to the MU. Within an hour, Bidiman and Henthorne were discussing how OSU students could respond to the tragedy.
“I have an idea, but you’re going to have to be the one to run with it,” Henthorne told him.
What Henthorne suggested was something that had been weighing on Bidiman’s mind for some time. Oregon State often makes claims about being a welcoming university to people of all backgrounds. This was the perfect time to prove it.
Bidiman began talking to mentors on campus, including Larry Roper, Vice Provost for Student Affairs, and Mamta Accapadi, Dean of Student Life. Accapadi suggested that Bidiman take a look at OSU’s statement of shared student values, which Bidiman had never seen before. Two phrases from the document struck him – Be inclusive and be courageous.
“Students shouldn’t have to fear coming out here,” Bidiman said.
Focused on that goal, Bidiman created the “Campaign for Understanding.” It’s an effort to get OSU students and others to sign a pledge (on Facebook or in person) to never discriminate against someone due to their identity. Bidiman hopes to get 5,000 signatures by Oct. 11, which is National Coming Out Day.
“We hope to create a campus in which anyone and everyone feels welcome and free of fear of being discriminated for who they are,” he said.
Bidiman’s own recent experiences coming out as a bisexual man have made him especially aware of the bias faced by young people as they begin to discover and then discuss their sexual preferences. Bidiman is a Christian, and his family had a difficult time after he decided to come out.
He holds out the tattoo on his right arm to demonstrate his feelings about his faith and his sexual identity. The words “God is Love” are printed on his bicep.
He doesn’t regret coming out, even though his parents are still struggling with the concept. “I needed to come to terms with who I was,” he said.
Bidiman appreciates that in general, his friends have been incredibly supportive of his orientation, and he wants to make sure that other young people on campus who are in the midst of their own struggles find support.
“I want to hold our campus accountable,” Bidiman said. Even though hate crimes and attacks on queer students haven’t made headlines locally, Bidiman said there’s plenty of hidden prejudice, and some students make derogatory comments without even intending to do so.
“I hear people say ‘That’s so gay.’ You’re making that term a put-down,” he said. “You’re turning someone’s sexual identity into something negative.”
Bidiman is working with a number of student-led organizations including the MUPC, ASOSU, the Pride Center, SLI, ISOSU, Team Liberation and many others. So far 630 people have signed the pledge on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/#!/event.php?eid=159178554110136) and plenty more are signing pledges on campus. Bidiman plans to visit classrooms, set up a table in the MU Quad and do everything else he can to spread the word about the Campaign for Understanding.
“My goal is to prove that our campus is a beautiful, welcoming place,” he said, and he hopes that the Campaign for Understanding compels people like Clementi’s roommate, who are conflicted or confused about different sexual orientations, to not react in fear, but educate themselves.
“No one should fear who they are.”