photo Hilary Griffith

Class of 2010
Letters, Arts, and Sciences
Penn State Fayette, the Eberly Campus
Nominated by Susan Crampton-Frenchik

Standing up for your beliefs often requires courage and commitment.  Hilary Griffith rose to the challenge, and inspired others to appreciate and respect difference.

When a friend approached Hilary and offered to organize a free professional performance at the Penn State Fayette campus to help raise money for THON, she embraced his idea.  You might wonder why supporting a charity performance would require courage or conviction. In this case it had to do with negative reactions from students and staff.  You see, Hilary’s friend is a professional drag queen and the performance would be a drag king and queen show.

As soon as word got out that Hilary was proposing a charity drag show, she faced hostility from her campus community.  Some people were offended by the very idea of a drag show on campus.  Even those who were sympathetic urged her to rename the event and call it a “talent show” or a “fashion show.” But Hilary held her ground.  She knew that it would be disrespectful to the men and women who performed to mask the event’s nature with an ambiguous title. “Why,” Hilary insisted, “do we have to call it something other than what it is, and why do we have to hide what we are doing?”

Hilary remained calm and professional and followed Penn State protocol for student-run activities.  She spoke with compassion and conviction about the importance of respecting diversity.  Her leadership encouraged others to take a stand.  “I found a group of people I did not even know were there,” Hilary explained.  “The campus LGBT community rallied behind me.  And I now knew what it was like to be in their shoes, not knowing who to trust.”

Hilary reached out to university officials to make a difference.  “College is a time to be yourself,” she explained, “but it is hard to be yourself when you are faced with intolerance on campus.” Hilary committed herself to “opening people’s eyes,” to raising awareness about the LGBT community, and thinking of ways to help people accept others despite differences.

Hilary is working on creating what she calls a “Diversity Task Force” and is dedicating her time to convincing faculty who are teaching Freshman Seminars to incorporate curriculum designed to encourage students to examine their biases and appreciate the impact of their actions.

Hilary’s ethical principle is simple.  She believes that we can identify with others if we realize that every life has value.  Her leadership is helping to ensure that Penn State Fayette is a respectful community that encourages students to appreciate and learn from their differences.  Thanks to Hilary, we all more clearly recognize the value of the first Penn State Principle: “I will respect the dignity of all individuals within the Penn State community.”

 

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