LEMONT FURNACE, Pa. — Brandon Demchak, a student at Penn State Fayette, The Eberly Campus, came out to his community at the end of his freshman year.
Demchak, a student leader on campus, serves on the campus Student Government Association and as special events caption for THON at Penn State Fayette — “but at the time, there wasn’t a club exclusively for the LGBTQ+ community and allies," he said. "I knew that I wanted a safe place on campus, a place to relate to others.”
In 2018, Demchak, a psychology student who aspires to pursue graduate studies or enter the counseling field, began collaborating with the Office of Student Affairs and campus Mental Health Counselor Amanda Collins to establish a new student organization: Pride Alliance Working for Students (PAWS).
“We worked closely with Brandon to generate interest in the student organization, assist in developing a constitution and provide grant funding for programming,” said Penn State Fayette Director of Student Services Chad Long.
Today Demchak serves as president of PAWS, delegating duties between eight members, including vice-president Jace Dennison. The group held its first event on National Coming Out Day on Oct. 11, with financial support from the campus Student Government Association. Their informational booth on campus—with sidewalk-chalk art, free t-shirts, and music—was greeted enthusiastically by the campus community.
“Data from the CDC suggests that having LGBTQ+ support groups in schools and on college campuses can lead to fewer incidents of violence and suicide attempts. PAWS will promote diversity, inclusion and equity at Penn State Fayette."
- Penn State Fayette Mental Heatlh Counselor Amanda Collins
“I would like to see PAWS establish the celebration of National Coming Out Day as an annual campus tradition,” Demchak said. PAWS also hopes to feature LGBTQ+ speakers in a Penn State LGBT Pride Month showcase in April. They will facilitate a fundraiser sale of grilled sticky buns, from University Park, to collect funds for future endeavors.
PAWS has made progress on several other projects, including the installation of new signage for seven all-gender restrooms on campus. Additionally, the group has encouraged professors to introduce themselves with identifying pronouns and invite students to do the same, which normalizes a more inclusive, affirming environment.
“Data from the CDC suggests that having LGBTQ+ support groups in schools and on college campuses can lead to fewer incidents of violence and suicide attempts,” said Collins, who is the staff adviser for the group. “PAWS will promote diversity, inclusion and equity at Penn State Fayette by welcoming all individuals who identify within the LGBTQ+ spectrum, as well as allies who work to support the community and challenge microaggressions, homophobia, transphobia and biphobia.”
The Care, Concern & Counseling Center at Penn State Fayette currently provides individual treatment for individuals of all sexual and gender identities, as well as specialized resources for the LGBTQ+ community.
“We want to offer a safe place to the Penn State Fayette LGBTQ+ community, whether you’re out or questioning or an ally, to express yourself freely.”
-PAWS President Brandon Demchak
Additionally, the Center of Gender and Sexual Diversity at University Park offers university-wide “Safer People, Safer Places” trainings, which educates and designates faculty and staff members as reliable contact points for the LGBTQ+ community. The training is held annually by the Fayette Office of Student Affairs.
“We want to offer a safe place to the Penn State Fayette LGBTQ+ community, whether you’re out or questioning or an ally, to express yourself freely,” said Demchak. “We’re already hearing from students who are relieved and glad to have PAWS on campus.”
PAWS invites interested students to attend meetings on Wednesdays at 12:15 p.m. in the Student Club Room on the lower level of the Williams building. The group also posts updates to @PAWSfe on Instagram.