Logan Paiste is a student at The Pennsylvania State University and currently serves as the Community Outreach Intern at the LGBTQA Student Resource Center where he does LGBTQA outreach with other student organizations and community organizations. He is a senior, currently triple majoring in Ancient Languages, Jewish Studies, and Chinese. Through his work at the center, he supports students struggling to reconcile their sexual and/or gender identities with their faith and religious identities. As a gay Christian, his story is one that dives into the complex and often messy intersections of sexual identity and faith. As one who walks in different worlds, he often describes his calling in terms of bridge building.
As higher educational professionals constantly looking for ways to foster and promote diversity, Logan’s story paints a picture of what it can look like to build bridges across differences and promote thriving communities for all students.
What do you do every day?
In my role, I was hired by the LGBTQA Student Resource Center (henceforth, the center) with everyone on the staff knowing I was a Christian. In fact, discussing my faith was a major part of the interview process. Due to some negative prior experiences between Christians and LGBTQA students who visit the center, I had some big shoes to fill in order to establish trust between myself and the other students. I was reminded that the center is designed to be a space where LGBTQA students can feel safer and more comfortable to be themselves. I spent about two and a half years getting to know students and staff at the center, building relationships and supporting their work. This fall, I moved into an official intern position, where my responsibilities will increase.
My day-to-day job is to be the center’s liaison with student and community organizations in the Centre County area. Additionally, I am a listening ear for students who choose to open up about their past negative experiences with family members, and in many cases, with their churches in their hometowns. I have learned that being an empathetic listener is vital for connecting with members of the LGBTQA community. Outside of the center, I inform other people —Christians and other people alike who are interested in building bridges with the community—about the importance of the manner in which you ask questions to the LGBTQA community. It takes building trust and unfortunately, making some mistakes while being a compassionate listener and showing you care. In the center, we have discussion groups. I have been involved with one called Faith Talks, which is a place where students of different faiths—Jewish, Buddhist, Christian, Muslim, and Atheist—can come to talk about their faith background and, in some cases, have a safe space to discuss negative experiences in their faith tradition. Also I work at the reception desk, welcoming and greeting students when they arrive, and connect them with resources or staff.
What inspires you to do this work?
Throughout my time in college, I have been blessed with making friends with people of different, diverse backgrounds. For example, during my freshman year, I lived with a Saudi Arabian male who came from a conservative Muslim background, a Taiwanese student with a multicultural religious background, and an Atheist who was born and raised in Pennsylvania. Though the four of us are very different people, we would start to have really interesting conversations about our differences. We each had, to more or less of a degree, lived in our own bubble, so each of us had a lot to contribute and much to learn from each other. Towards the end of my sophomore year, I became friends with a woman from Liberia who is an advocate for ending slave trafficking; being more conscious of ethically produced coffees and chocolates; environmentally-friendly packaging and recycling. Before my senior year, I became friends with a Jewish vegan woman who is very passionate about advocating for the end of consuming and purchasing items made from animals. These experiences grew and I found myself in a place where I had so many experiences with people of all backgrounds, people who were all so wonderfully different from me.
I started to feel this incredible calling to be a bridge for other people and to be a voice for people whose voices are not heard on the same level. As a Caucasian; a Christian; an educated, middle-to-upper class male; who is a native speaker of English, I began to wonder if there are ways that I can use these societal privileges in order to be a voice for the marginalized?
What keeps you going during times of frustration and challenge?
My relationship with God has been the greatest thing which keeps me going in both, the good times and the challenging times. Through the last three years of being connected with the center, God has become so real to me. When I started to follow Christ, my view of who God is had radically changed. When I get frustrated, I sense God reminding me of how long He waited for me. And I remember that loving people is my lifelong work. I also draw strength from the people in my life. In May of 2016, I attended the Oriented to Love dialogue, which was a rich experience, bringing together people from the LGBTQA community, as well as the Christian community, in order to build bridges by compassionately listening to each other and understanding where each person is coming from. Often times, I can become frustrated because I do not sense that there are many Christians in my city who are interested in making an investment with the students at the center and the LGBTQA community at large. I can become impatient by having to inform the same people again and again about the importance of being sensitive with your language when speaking with or describing the LGBTQA community. Generally speaking, however, I have found that most people outside of the LGBTQA community who I interact with are willing to take my advice and it means a lot that they listen to what I have to say. I have found that there are people—including Christians—who want to build bridges and want to love. There are a lot of people who want to invest in the lives of the LGBTQA community and create a safer space for them. Whether we agree or disagree, we are community together and pursuing unity in Christ.
How does your work contribute to the flourishing of students and the university?
When I meet with students in the center and ask whether their faith community has been a safe space for them, oftentimes they answer with a resounding “no.” And that breaks my heart. I want to change that. Many of these students desire a deeper connection with their faith background and desire a deeper sense of community and belonging.
On the university level, I want to work with those who want to come together, even if they disagree and to help them listen to the concerns of each other. What I am hoping to pass on at Penn State is making Penn State one community and not different communities; not just different ethnic communities, different religious communities or different LGBTQA communities, but rather, a community reflecting unity and community across difference, reflecting not just a superficial diversity but a deeper trust and investment in each other’s lives.
The first favorite moment that comes to mind involves my friend Diamond. She is the woman I mentioned earlier who is from Liberia who is an advocate for ending slave trafficking. I remember sitting down with her one day and simply apologized to her that, as a white person, I am so sorry for: all the wrongs committed by my ancestors, by all the atrocities of slavery caused by European and American influence, and for all the bad blood between our people. As uncomfortable as I felt in expressing my feelings, I shared what was in my heart because I didn’t really know what to do in order to build bridges between our communities. As soon as I asked her what she thought about this apology. She was almost taken aback. Not one white person had ever said that to her before. And she encouraged me—heartfelt encouraged me—to keep engaging in these types of conversations, to keep doing what I was doing, including talking about issues like race.
Sometimes I feel inadequate because I am not an expert, but her words touched me so much. They were a reminder that we don’t have to be experts in race relations or the history of LGBTQA community in order to build bridges.
Making the effort to have these conversations and connect with her meant so much to Diamond. This memory is very special to me because God was showing me the value of going out of my comfort zone in order to build a bridge with someone different from me. Diamond became one of my best friends. It doesn’t always happen like that, for example sometimes the other person is not comfortable or ready to build that bridge back and connect further. But when those connections happen, the outcome is pretty special.
Tidbits & Takeaways
As I [Erin] listened to Logan’s story, it was a powerful picture of the potential of our students to lead the way in navigating issues around diversity. Sometimes we think the issues run too deep or the divisions are too steep to cross, they are nothing compared to the power of genuine friendship. As a student life professional, I wonder how we best cultivate environments where those genuine friendships can blossom and grow. How do we bring together students from different backgrounds, religions, and/or identities? As I ponder that question, I think about the value of programs like StoryCorps, that focus on listening and sharing our stories or the Ask Big Questions initiative that provides conversation starters that touch on the pieces of our lives that give meaning and purpose. As I ponder that question, I think about the importance of relationship and community, the call for us to provide space for students to live and to thrive together.
This post is a part of Callings & Conversations, a collection of conversations with administrators and champions of higher education about the work that we do and why it matters. If you would like to share your story, I welcome the opportunity to hear from you. Feel free to connect with me @LearnForwardHE.
Links of Interest
About the Author: Erin Payseur is the Associate Director of Civic Learning Initiatives at Baylor University. She has ten years of experience in civic engagement and higher education. As part of the Office of Community Engagement & Service, she develops sustainable frameworks for co-curricular service & social justice initiatives to guide students in considering their roles as leaders and citizens. She currently serves as the institutional contact for the NASPA Civic Learning & Democratic Engagement Lead Initiative. She has authored several articles and presented nationally on civic engagement, service, and leadership. In addition to her civic engagement work, she also serves as adjunct faculty for the leadership minor. She has a B.A. degree in Religion/ Philosophy from Presbyterian College and a M.Ed. in Higher Education & Student Affairs from the University of South Carolina.