Illinois State will host the 2015 Midwest Bisexual Lesbian Gay Transgender Ally College Conference (MBLGTACC) from February 13–15. The three-day conference is expected to draw 2,700 attendees from 13 states to educate and unify the LGBTQIA community in an open and welcoming environment.
Senior social work major Robert Alberts is leading 20 of his peers in planning and executing this massive event. STATEside caught up with Roberts to get an inside look at the conference.
What is the MBLGTACC?
Alberts: For any student in the minority demographic, they are always the “other” student. They’re always “that one LGBT student.” They’re always “that one student of color in the classroom.” So you’re always “othered” no matter where you go. It’s not anything that forces you to feel insecure or unsafe, but it definitely weighs on you.
Walking into this environment and knowing that while people may identify differently than you, they’re all a part of the same community is one of the most incredible feelings. You feel like you have a sense of purpose and you belong. And you don’t feel worried that you’re going to be this other person because you’re standing in a group of people who have so much in common with you. So it’s empowering to stand there and know that all of these people are there not only to learn but also to form a community.
What can attendees expect from the conference?
I’m a huge social justice advocate, but I think that a lot of our society has shifted toward looking at the big picture. They’ve moved away from the individuals, but I think what we forget is that individual people are the reasons progress is made. I want to reframe this conference because in the past couple of years it has held an overarching ideology of how can we as a group make change, and I think we lose sight of the fact that individuals just being here starts that process. We should honor that, because at a point in time that wasn’t a possibility.
So that’s the way I want to go, shifting away from a big group dynamic and focusing on how each individual makes their own movement.
The theme for this year is “Narrating the New Normal.” Why is this fitting?
We couldn’t not use “Normal” in the title! That was part of it. “Narrating” talks about telling your own story, so it goes back to the individual approach I really wanted to give. If people know someone and they know your story, people become more attached to the movement as a whole. Really understanding the power of each individual’s own story and being able to share it with others makes a huge difference. When you don’t have that, you miss out on the human aspect of social justice work.
Why is this conference significant for Illinois State?
In Educating Illinois there is a big push toward diversity. I think that this is something where ISU really shows its commitment to diversity—that Illinois State is not just saying the words, but putting them into action and standing behind them.
What is your role in this conference?
I’m like Charles Xavier from X-Men! I bring all of these wonderful people together and give them the training they need. I am there to help them whenever they have questions, but they’re the ones who are doing all of the work. In a million years I would never have imagined I’d be sitting in a room with 20 people who want to do whatever they can and give hours of their free time to do this.
How did you become involved in this conference?
Like everything else I fell into it! I went as a freshman to the conference with a group from Pride when it was hosted by Iowa State University and had literally never been in a space like that before. The only thing I could think to myself is our school could do this, and we could do an amazing job. I came back and said I wanted to do this. Then it was a matter of molding it into something ISU can do.
Why should people come to the conference?
There’s a lot of hesitation in asking questions about identity. It’s a topic we’re starting to talk about, but there are still little parts of it that people either don’t know how to phrase, or they don’t know how to ask, or they’re just ignorant of the whole concept—not in a negative way—they just don’t need to know about it.
Ninety-seven wonderful students have put together conference presentations because they are passionate about the topic, so they are the most knowledgeable. Peer-to-peer learning is the best experience, plus you have all of the people in the room to learn from as well. You just have to listen.
To learn more about the MBLGTACC or to register, visit www.mblgtacc2015.org. Volunteer opportunities are still available. Learn more on the conference website.
Steven Barcus can be reached at srbarcu@IllinoisState.edu.