CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (UTC/ The Loop)- Entering a college classroom and facing your peers for the first time is a nerve racking experience for anyone, but imagine already being judged and stereotyped before you even take your seat. That is exactly what happens every time Will Scruggs, an 18 year-old freshman, enters a classroom; Will is openly gay.
Will Scruggs grew up in the Chattanooga area and during his high school years hid a very large, defining part of himself- his sexuality. Entering college gave Will the chance to be true to himself and open up about his sexual orientation to his peers and family.
Not everyone was excited about Will’s “new-found” lifestyle and some of his former high school classmates have had no problem letting him know that. Scruggs said that he has had fellow college classmates with previous connections from high school stop talking to him on a regular basis, or completely ignore him all together after discovering he is gay.
Aside from encountering peers from his past, Will also faces the daily challenge of meeting new peers. Although Will feels that most people he meets will be polite and accepting, he said that it is still nerve racking meeting new people at school because he doesn’t know how they perceive him as well as the “gay community.”
Scruggs said, ” I have never experienced a teacher taking a personal prejudice against me being gay or have that reflected on the grades I receive in their class, but I would definitely say that it does present a very strong challenge in assimilating in with your peers and your classmates. You don’t know who is accepting of you and who isn’t.”
Will ran into such an instance in his Anthropology class. He was selected to work in a group with fellow classmates to discuss religion. Throughout the discussion Will came to realize that the students in his group had very strong religious upbringings and still firmly held onto those beliefs.
Scruggs said that because the classmates in his group did not agree with his lifestyle they strongly excluded him from the group’s discussions and completely disregarded what his views on the topic of religion were.
Fortunately, not all students have treated Will the same way as the students in his Anthropology class. Lizzy Casey, a 20 year-old junior, said, “I have grown up in a very religous family and still attend church myself, but your lifestyle is your choice and dosen’t affect me or the way I treat someone.”
Stephanie Raulston, a 20 year-old junior, said that being in classes and interacting with gay people doesn’t make her feel uncomfortable at all. She feels people don’t realize that discriminating against a gay person for their lifestyle is the same thing as being racist and should be treated as an equally sensitive topic.
Raulston said, “That’s your lifestyle, that’s who you are and there is no reason to discriminate against someone who is just oriented differently…It’s just like making a racist joke; it’s awkward if your offending someone.”
Will said he is thankful for people who choose to place their own biases aside or willingly accept him without thinking twice and only wishes everyone could do the same.
When asked if he had any advice for fellow gay students facing the same challenges, Scruggs said, “So long as teachers don’t dock your grades because of a personal opinion against homosexuality and it’s simply having problems with interacting with your peers and having them accept you sometimes in life you just kinda have to suck it up. You have to move on and you have to do your best to succeed academically.”