Hurst staff supports students through LGBTQIA Allies program

Carlena Bressanelli, Staff writer

Mercyhurst has long been considered a place of acceptance for many, and a number of staff members have chosen to show their support and acceptance by becoming LGBTQ Allies.
These staff members have plaques near their offices that say, “LGBTQ Allies” and have rainbow colors around them.
This program has been around since 2012 and was started by the Rev. James Piszker, university chaplain, interim director of Campus Ministry and an adjunct faculty of the Catholic and Religious Studies program.
“The Allies program began in 2012 with the approval of the Diocese of Erie and the Gamble Administration,” Piszker said.
The idea for this program came about because Penn State Behrend and Edinboro had a similar program. After this was brought to Piszker’s attention, he decided it was time to set up a similar program at Mercyhurst.
“I set up a committee consisting of myself, Judy Smith, Greg Baker and at that time Trina Merrero.”
Merrero’s position has since been replaced by Megan McKenna.
“Together we established the curriculum for the training program and invited faculty, staff and administrators to be a part of it. Since then, we have trained over 100 employees and added a second level of training for those who have already been trained,” Pisker said. “All of those currently involved are listed on our Hub site.”
Michael Grasso, assistant director of Residence Life and Student Conduct, has had experiences with programs like this at a different school.
“When I interned in Cleveland State University’s LGBTQ Student Services office back in grad school, I learned a lot about Safe Space programs and even got to help create their program,” Grasso said.
Grasso explained that this was in 2003, when being in the LGBTQ community wasn’t widely accepted.
“It helped establish a sense of belonging,” Grasso said.
Grasso said he is happy to be a part of the program at Mercyhurst.
“To tell you the truth, I have attended, interned or worked for five colleges and universities now and, hands down, Mercyhurst is the school where I have known the most out LGBTQ+ students,” Grasso said.
“I think starting the program here was a way to erase any stigma and to let our LGBTQ+ students know that they are welcome here and that they are a valuable part of our community,” he added.
For students having any bullying issues on campus based on sexuality, the list of participating staff members in this program is on the HUB site.