Skip to Main Content

’shOUT Fostering Relationships with Local LGBTQ+ Teens

The transition from high school to college can be challenging for anyone, but even more so for students who may not have someone to look up to for direction.

Luis Rivera ’25, president of ’shOUT, Wabash’s LGBTQ+ student organization, says he experienced some of those feelings three years ago.

’shOUT President Luis Rivera ’25 (left) joined his peers in Lilly Library during LGBTQ+ History Month and made buttons that represent inclusion and support for queer cultures.

As a gay man, the Wake Forest, North Carolina native worried that he might not fit in.

At that time, he didn’t have an older queer role model to help guide him through the process—the only representation he saw on a regular basis was shown in the media, and even then, he still felt like he didn’t quite have the insight needed to navigate higher education.

“I feel like I would have been a lot more comfortable in my skin if I saw other older, confident queer students succeeding,” said Rivera, who also serves as the student body vice president.

“It took me some time to find my people and to find my confidence with being my authentic self at Wabash,” he said. “It would have been really cool to have that right off the bat.”

Now, Rivera and other members of ’shOUT are hoping to give those opportunities to others in the community by connecting with Indiana Youth Group (IYG).

IYG is an organization that has served young people who self-identify as LGBTQ+ and their peer allies since 1987, in hopes of providing mentorship to middle and high school-aged queer youth in Montgomery County.

“Historically, ’shOUT has focused on Wabash students,” Rivera explained. “When IYG reached out to us with this opportunity to connect with local teens, we were so excited to focus on the next generation.”

The Indianapolis-based organization picked Crawfordsville as its first-ever satellite location. IYG Director of Engagement Zoe O’Haillin-Berne said the process started when a local pediatrician contacted the IYG asking for help.

“(The doctor) was working with a lot of youth in the community and was tired of losing patients to suicide because they felt that was the only way for them to escape isolation and lack of connectedness,” O’Haillin-Berne said. “That was heartbreaking. We knew we needed to provide help for these youth.”

LGBTQ+ young people are not inherently prone to suicide risk because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, but rather placed at higher risk because of how they are mistreated and stigmatized in society, according to The Trevor Project, the leading suicide prevention organization for LGBTQ+ young people.

’shOUT has opened up their office space in Pioneer Chapel to the members of IYG, inviting teens to come to fun events hosted throughout the school year.

A 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ+ Youth Mental Health conducted by The Trevor Project reported that 45% of LGBTQ+ youth in Indiana seriously considered suicide in the past year and 15% attempted suicide. Additionally, 62% of LGBTQ+ youth in Indiana reported wanting mental health care in the past year but were not able to get it.

IYG officials partnered with the Montgomery County Youth Services Bureau (YSB). An office inside the Bureau officially opened in June on Pike Street in Crawfordsville.

“We saw an amazing opportunity to partner,” O’Haillin-Berne explained. “It’s helped us advance our mission to get out there and help kids in rural communities, while at the same time helping the Youth Services Bureau further their mission of supporting all youth in Montgomery County.”

O’Haillin-Berne said the number of youth ages 12 to 18 and families taking advantage of IYG’s resources in Crawfordsville has grown rapidly. IYG programs focus on five primary areas: education and career development, character and leadership development, personal development, social development, and information and referral services.

Elan Justice “EJ” Pavlinich, English professor and ’shOUT faculty advisor, said he was thrilled when he heard the news about IYG serving Montgomery County and wanting to connect with the College.

“There’s a sense of responsibility that becomes more immediate when you have real people to connect it to,” Pavlinich said. “It’s wonderful to recognize the supportive parents who are invested in their children’s future and loving them for who they are rather than who they expect them to be. But also, for our students to connect with them and see that we have a responsibility to these youths as well, especially because they are the ones who are coming of age in this really harsh cultural climate that is seeing a significant uptick in anti-LGBTQ+ legislation.

“That sense of civic responsibility is so essential for a small, tightly knit community that is not only Wabash, but Crawfordsville, too,” he continued. “It’s about facilitating those deeper social connections that hopefully students will carry out into the world beyond Wabash. This kind of work is training our students to go out and be leaders in their communities.”

Although most Wabash students don’t meet the age requirement to be able to volunteer directly with youth at IYG (must be 25 or older) they have found other ways to connect with LGBTQ+ teens.

’shOUT has opened up their office space in Pioneer Chapel to the organization, inviting teens to come to fun events like the annual open house and Halloween costume party. Student leaders have also attended local events, including the Celebration of Unity, where they set up information tables to network and educate the community about LGBTQ+ issues and rights.

“The goal is to show these kids that there is a safe space for you in most higher education institutions, including Wabash,” said ’shOUT faculty advisor EJ Pavlinich. “The goal is to show these kids that there is a safe space for you in most higher education institutions, including Wabash, and to establish those relationships with mentors who they can look up to,” Pavlinich said. “When you can see an out, queer college student, it’s like all of a sudden, the future is more palpable and in reach, and you can envision your own self succeeding.”

If teens connect with groups like ’shOUT and see that queer students do have a place on campus, O’Haillin-Berne believes it will bring reassurance and ultimately help build confidence. She’s looking forward to seeing the two groups continue to grow together. 

“Universities and colleges are the next generation of support, the next generation of leaders in our community,” she said. “By making these connections, we’re able to facilitate a safer community from the ground up.”