UM students on celebrating their pride at the university

With hateful legislation circulating Florida’s Supreme Court and limiting the voices of queer students in educational settings, it’s important to celebrate strong, impactful ones. Pride is something that many UM students have, celebrate and feel should not be silenced.

Blaise Ciarrocchi, a senior business management and Spanish major from Philadelphia, opened up about his experience coming to UM and craving openness.

“I’ve changed a lot since coming here,” Ciarrocchi said. “I wasn’t fully out, but when I came here I decided that I wanted to be out. In my first semester, I was very gay and finding who I am, but I guess I never found any good queer spaces.”

Photo credit: Isabelle Dino

Ciarrocchi elaborated on how his inability to find comfortable queer spaces hurt his openness.

“When second semester came around and it was time to rush a fraternity, I found myself retracting and was seeking validation from the heterosexual society,” Ciarrocchi said. “It was detrimental to my mental health. I became more internally homophobic than I was when I first came.”

Luckily, UM’s array of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ+) friendly electives, specifically a course centered on queer activism, lead Ciarrocchi to more comfort with exploring his identity.

“After the pandemic, I took a class for my Spanish major that was about LGBTQIA+ activism,” Ciarrocchi said. “It changed my whole perspective. I realized that I was trying to seek heterosexual validation. That’s when I started changing everything.”

The course on queer activism introduced Ciarrocchi to positive political activism of his own, giving back to the Miami gay community.

“Since then, I’ve been exploring more and getting involved in queer organizations around Miami,” Ciarrocchi said. “I volunteer for Save LGBT, which is an organization in South Beach. I distribute food and canvas for them for different elections.”

Blaise Ciarrocchi attends Miami Beach Pride in Sept. 2021
Blaise Ciarrocchi attends Miami Beach Pride in Sept. 2021 Photo credit: Blaise Ciarrocchi

Ciarrocchi’s story is like many others, with queer students seeing college as an opportunity to break free and celebrate their identity. Noah Jaccard, a senior computer science major from Severna Park, Maryland, echoed how the environment at UM helped him grow for the better.

“There’s a lot of people here who are blossoming queer men, so it helped me realize who I needed to be to be a good person,” Jaccard said.

Jaccard, like Ciarrocchi, sought out UM’s clubs and organizations to find like-minded, supportive people. For Jaccard, his experiences were overwhelmingly positive.

“I have had extreme luck with joining clubs,” Jaccard said. “I am a pretty heavily involved person on campus. In every single group, whether I’m still in it or not, was great. I’m in a social frat and I’m in a business frat. I work for the coffee company BrewBike and all of these places are super accepting. Even in computer science I’m open in front of my professors. If I have my nails painted, that’s not something that they even glance at.”

Despite this broad acceptance in campus organizations, both Ciarrocchi and Jaccard mentioned various roadblocks they’ve faced to full acceptance. Ciarrocchi specifically referenced how information he was taught in class was detrimental to his goals as an openly gay professional.

“In the business school freshman year, you’re told not to mention your sexuality or whatever in an interview until later on, however now that’s one of the first things that I’m figuring out a way to bring up in conversation,” Ciarrocchi said. “I want to be in a place that is going to accept me for that and not try to hide that first.”

In conjunction with this, Ciarrocchi wished that more of UM’s opportunities for new queer students were highly publicized.

“Getting to campus there’s only one or two organizations you’re exposed to as a freshman at activities fairs,” Ciarrocchi said. “They don’t do too much of a good job getting people involved anyway. Students not as involved don’t really know what’s going on. I know that now there’s a floor in the dorms that is all LGBTQ. I wish that was an option for me. I feel like if I was on that floor my life would be completely different.”

Jaccard cited a difficult time embracing the dating culture in Miami, a concern multiple students have echoed.

“Dating here generally isn’t always flawless or amazing,” Jaccard said. “I met a bunch of good people through that process, you know and some horrible people too, but I’m kind of loving myself first now. If we don’t vibe the same way, then it’s okay. I’m vibing as a single person.”

Noah Jaccard (left) attends a frat formal event in Biscayne Bay in Fall 2021 with his best friend Savannah Harpster (right)
Noah Jaccard (left) attends a frat formal event in Biscayne Bay in Fall 2021 with his best friend Savannah Harpster (right) Photo credit: Noah Jaccard

Additionally, Jaccard sadly commented on the lack of togetherness that UM’s gay population has, wishing for a less fake and more inviting environment.

“The gays here will be ‘nice’ to each other I guess,” Jaccard said. “UM gays can be nice and supportive, since we all go through challenging things. But, you know when someone’s being fake nice to you. UM gays aren’t subtle, they’ll make you feel like sh*t sometimes while saying nice words. I feel like yes, the culture at UM is nice, but behind the scenes it’s not.”

Despite these bumps in the road, both agreed that UM was important in celebrating their pride.

“Now I don’t worry about what other people have to say about me,” Ciarrocchi said. “I make it apparent in everything I do that I am gay and that I’m happy to be here, a part of this community. That’s who I’m trying to be, not hiding it anymore.”

Ciarrocchi again referenced the importance of having queer history courses as representation and an introduction to the gay community.

“The fact that UM offers so many queer courses, not even just in the majors of gender and sexuality studies, but outside of that having the opportunity to take these courses is such an awesome experience,” Ciarrocchi said.

Jaccard left incoming queer students with some quality advice, urging them to maintain their individuality and celebrate that.

“Don’t listen to the crowds,” Jaccard said. “Do your own thing. That scares people the most. I absolutely thought about every way I presented myself freshman and sophomore year, but once I was really able to let go I found more confidence in fashion. I realized I was successful on campus too. I’m doing awesome things.”

“At the end of the day, I think I’m hot. I think I’m smart and I don’t care if other people don’t. These are all the things you should be telling yourself every day to survive. You can’t compare yourself to everyone. It’s exhausting. It gets worse when you have no energy to take care of yourself.”