The fight for inclusion for LGBTQ+ people is long, hard, and ongoing. Efforts at creating inclusive spaces often begin and end with acknowledging LGBTQ+ identities. With the addition of LGBTQ+ advisor Rain Garant to the Knox staff—he will also serve as the assistant director of intercultural life—inclusion at Knox will go deeper, enabling students to thrive in new ways.
Garant was drawn to this position because of its dual role. He said, “I've worked in LGBT offices and I've worked in multicultural offices before, so being able to combine both of them and be really intersectional in my work was a real draw. And then, when I came to campus and toured on my interview day, I really felt like I could see a lot of my personal values being lived out professionally.”
Garant has an undergraduate degree in gender and women’s studies and a master’s degree in education, both from James Madison University. “I realized my freshman year of undergrad that I really wanted to do advocacy-based work.” He has been a member of LGBTQ+ and multicultural offices, both as a student and as a supervisor, “so I get a sense of what it feels like to be the person presenting on these issues from the student point of view.”
Garant said he wants “to do some programs that are very intersectionally focused. So, working with our Black and Brown students of color, seeing if we can do any sort of programming on Indigenous and Two Spirit queer identities, and then looking at things like ableism or fat phobia in the queer community—what are some of the stigmas that we as queer folks need to be looking within ourselves and interrogating, and how can we best be loving and caring for the people around us.”
For Garant, his work starts, happens, and ends with Knox students. This means connecting with the LGBTQ+-focused student organizations QTPOC and Common Ground, as well as getting to know students who aren’t in these organizations. Garant said, “We're at such an up-in-the-air time with the pandemic that I really have to wait and see where the pulse of the institution is and what the students are going to need from me.”
Another of Garant’s priorities is ensuring that LGBTQ+ students feel safe in the larger Galesburg community. Particularly considering the experiential learning opportunities throughout Galesburg, Garant aims to pursue “the different ways that we can make sure students’ queerness or their LGBT identity feels really seen and loved when they exist in our community, not just on our campus.”
In addition to his passion for LGBTQ+ and multicultural advocacy, Garant hopes to include other facets of his life in his work at Knox, including his love of food, as well as his pet dog, a pit bull-terrier mix named Corona. (“I named her before the coronavirus hit,” he observed.)
He describes himself as a “big food nerd,” and has every intention of making the most of the kitchen in the HOPE Center, where his office is. “I feel like food is a really great transmitter of culture. It's a really big community-builder. And then it's also, like, gathering around food is a space where we are able to more easily engage in really hard conversations.” Garant would love to explore the potential for the HOPE Center kitchen to be a resource for students who might be facing food insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Garant is also interested in “antiracism-based sustainability.” He wants to explore new ways to distance mainstream discussions of sustainability from the “elitism and idealism that's often just perpetuated by whiteness and by a lot of the systemic wealth that white people have that allows us access to sustainability resources. How can we honor but not appropriate Indigenous wisdom about how we should be relating to the Earth and to each other, and how can we engage in closed-loop economies and promote low-waste living in a way that isn't elitist or based on new forms of consumerism?”
As he enters his new role, Garant has been thinking about this time as an opportunity for system-wide changes. “The pandemic has shown us that the systems at play nationally and globally have not worked. It kind of exposed the cracks in our healthcare system, in our economy, in the ways that we have handled systemic racism and continue to perpetuate it,” he said. For Knox students, Garant is hopeful that the deep societal changes that people are undertaking during the COVID-19 pandemic can leave LGBTQ+ students with a community “that truly supported you and truly empowered you and truly saw all of the different parts of you and cared for them.”