Seeds of Change and Growth: My UMBC Years

Eric Anthony Grollman ’07, sociology and psychology, is a PhD candidate at Indiana University.  He will begin teaching at the University of Richmond in August.

Eric Anthony GrollmanRecently, I watched Dr. Freeman Hrabowski’s TED talk on the key initiatives needed to help all students to be successful. As usual, I was inspired by his passion, creative vision, and ideas. To share his message, I wrote about his talk in my blog, and reflected a little on my time at UMBC. “Wow,” I thought, “I hadn’t realized just how much UMBC set the stage for my career as a researcher, teacher, and advocate.”

At the start of college, I was an outspoken, know-it-all 18-year-old, struggling as a Meyerhoff Scholar. I was a math major, frustrated by what felt like a disconnect between my passion to make a difference in the world and calculus. I had immediately taken on a leadership position in the Freedom Alliance, the university’s group for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students. Thanks to some tough love from my parents and the Meyerhoff staff, I decided to “get it together,” which meant leaving the program to pursue a major in sociology. That was probably the hardest, yet best decision I have made in life thus far.

Concert prep with UMBC's Student Events Board

Quadmania concert prep with UMBC’s Student Events Board

As I made this detour in my studies, I also became involved in the Student Events Board (SEB). Also, having made great connections at UMBC LeaderShape (UMBC’s student leadership retreat before STRiVE), I became one of the founders of the First Year Council.  My college life improved tremendously because I was beginning to feel that my studies complemented my extracurricular activities well. I felt supported enough by my friends and advisors to do even more, to go beyond the existing formal groups and events.

With the support of students, staff, and faculty, I co-organized a group that advocated for more campus resources and services for LGBT students. Just imagine it: a junior, just 20 years old, calling together professors, staff from all over the campus, and other students to brainstorm how to create change on campus. And, the university (including Dr. Hrabowski) was responsive! But creating change is a slow, difficult process. At times, I learned hard lessons about navigating advocacy within an institution.

Things came to a bit of a standstill when a group of staff was selected to conduct a needs assessment for UMBC’s LGBT students. At the time, I felt this was essentially an attempt to stop our efforts, to show concern without actually changing anything. So, I turned my attention to finishing up school and applying to PhD programs. I decided to complete an honors thesis in sociology to impress graduate schools. When deciding on a topic for my thesis, I realized I could use it as an opportunity to continue my advocacy. With the guidance of Professors Fred Pincus and Ilsa Lottes, I chose to conduct a survey of UMBC students’ attitudes toward lesbians and gay men. What better way to supplement the appointed staff group’s needs assessment than to highlight whether prejudice existed on campus?

GrollmanThese and subsequent experiences have demonstrated to me the importance of tying together efforts across each aspect of your life. Rather than feeling I should give up on advocacy and pursue research instead, I decided to conduct research as well. I presented my thesis at Undergraduate Research and Creative Achievement Day (URCAD) in 2007, and published it in the UMBC Review: Journal of Undergraduate Research the following year. My advisor, Ilsa Lottes, continued to work with me after I graduated, helping to turn the thesis into a publication at the International Journal of Sexual Health. I helped to shed light on campus life for LGBT students and advanced research on homophobia. Now, because of the seeds I planted at UMBC, I am not deterred when I sometimes face resistance to my advocacy. I draw strength and motivation from the synergistic relationships among my research, teaching, and advocacy. And it turns out that my research relies heavily on quantitative methods and statistics, so I never actually made a “detour” from math!

And, I am not the only one who has grown over the years. I am so proud to see that UMBC’s commitment to community engagement and creating well-rounded leaders of tomorrow has expanded further since I graduated. BreakingGround is a perfect model: bringing together students, staff, and faculty; emphasizing diversity; and maximizing the synergy from advocacy in service, teaching, and research.  I cannot wait to see what (and who) else grows from the seeds being planted each day at UMBC!

Contact the author, Eric Anthony Grollman, at egrollma@indiana.edu.

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Comments

  1. Jack Neumeier says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your story! It’s well-received and appreciated.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Where does this silence come from?  I recently reread a letter I wrote to myself, “A Letter to an Activist,” in which I reflected on my life and upbringing, my values, and my social justice-informed agenda as a scholar.  In it, I noted that I have been outspoken, challenging stereotypes, exclusion, and silences since the age of 5.  My first attempt at activism was demanding that my kindergarten teacher explain why I could only select one racial identity on a form for school.  That multiracial activism flourished, including challenging fellow students who insisted on using the term “mulatto” (possibly a derivative of mule, implying that interracial marriage is equivalent to cross-species breeding), and participating on forums for multiracial and multiethnic people.  Not even three months after coming out of the closet, I was organizing my high school’s National Day of Silence, which also flourished into bigger activism during college. […]

  2. […] it was them who had to adjust.  As I excelled in college, after taking a leap of faith in leaving a full scholarship in math with the hopes of one for any major (which I got), my parents found peace that I would be […]

  3. […] Where does this silence come from?  I recently reread a letter I wrote to myself, “A Letter to an Activist,” in which I reflected on my life and upbringing, my values, and my social justice-informed agenda as a scholar.  In it, I noted that I have been outspoken, challenging stereotypes, exclusion, and silences since the age of 5.  My first attempt at activism was demanding that my kindergarten teacher explain why I could only select one racial identity on a form for school.  That multiracial activism flourished, including challenging fellow students who insisted on using the term “mulatto” (possibly a derivative of mule, implying that interracial marriage is equivalent to cross-species breeding), and participating on forums for multiracial and multiethnic people.  Not even three months after coming out of the closet, I was organizing my high school’s National Day of Silence, which also flourished into bigger activism during my time in college. […]

  4. […] Hadfield, Elan Schnitzer, April Lewis, Rachel Artiss, Winona Caesar, Jennifer White-Johnson. The seeds that were planted during my days at UMBC are now […]

  5. […] the student affairs side of the college.  As my participation in LGBTQ activities shifted into LGBTQ activism, these mentors and allies supported me and provided me opportunities to advance my initiatives.  […]

  6. […] with me all of these years.  Previously, I have reflected on how Dr. Hrabowksi’s mentorship and leadership has touched my life; and, I wrote about the support and encouragement I received from the late […]

  7. […] Hadfield, Elan Schnitzer, April Lewis, Rachel Artiss, Winona Caesar, Jennifer White-Johnson. The seeds that were planted during my days at UMBC are now […]

  8. […] kind of tough love helped to propel me as a scholar and activist.  Initially, it forced me to stop making excuses and to begin taking responsibility for my own […]

  9. […] But, it has taken some time to recognize how professors, mentors, friends, and family supported and encouraged me to subvert, resist, demand change, speak up, and pave my own […]

  10. […] someone like me. It has taken some time to recognize how professors, mentors, friends, and family supported and encouraged me to subvert, resist, demand change, speak up, and pave my own […]

  11. […] I have always felt most comfortable pushing for change in academic settings.  And, from my senior honor thesis onward, I have felt my niche is in pushing for change via research and teaching.  But, as I sit before […]

  12. […] Though I moved on to the student events planning group – a much bigger budget, more clout – I began advocating for the creation of a campus resource center for LGBTQ students, as well as other LGBTQ […]

  13. […] As a student activist, I was deterred by the slow, bureaucratic response, especially after receiving support from so many people on campus – including a petition to start the Rainbow Center that was signed by over 400 people. So, I turned my attention to applying for graduate schools, including taking on an honors thesis to make me a stronger candidate in the eyes of admissions committees. My honors thesis advisors, Dr. Ilsa Lottes and Dr. Fred Pincus, encouraged me to use my research to advance my LGBTQ activism. I decided to study attitudes toward lesbians and gay men on campus, offering further evidence of the need for the campus resource center. Ideally, this would contribute to the needs assessment that was being carried out. And, I would later be able to publish from the survey data, including a co-authored peer-reviewed article, to advance LGBTQ research. This was my first exposure to intellectual activism, though I didn’t yet know the name for what I was doing. At the time, it seemed quite natural to me that research would speak to activism, and vice versa. […]

  14. […] As a student activist, I was deterred by the slow, bureaucratic response, especially after receiving support from so many people on campus – including a petition to start the Rainbow Center that was signed by over 400 people. So, I turned my attention to applying for graduate schools, including taking on an honors thesis to make me a stronger candidate in the eyes of admissions committees. My honors thesis advisors, Dr. Ilsa Lottes and Dr. Fred Pincus, encouraged me to use my research to advance my LGBTQ activism. I decided to study attitudes toward lesbians and gay men on campus, offering further evidence of the need for the campus resource center. Ideally, this would contribute to the needs assessment that was being carried out. And, I would later be able to publish from the survey data, including a co-authored peer-reviewed article, to advance LGBTQ research. This was my first exposure to intellectual activism, though I didn’t yet know the name for what I was doing. At the time, it seemed quite natural to me that research would speak to activism, and vice versa. […]

  15. […] have difficult conversations. My alma matter, University of Maryland Baltimore County, is where the seeds of my intellectual activism began to blossom. Undergrad did not, however, prepare me for the reality of oppression in higher […]

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