Like a brook
Life experiences shape who students become and how they act on those experiences. That’s true for John Kennedy ’67 and his husband, Bill Baird.
“When we were in school, there wasn’t any kind of support for being LGBT,” Baird said. “You’re uncomfortable or even afraid of being who you are, and so anything that can be done to mitigate that and give students an opportunity to express themselves is very positive.”
These experiences motivated Kennedy and Baird to support the University’s efforts toward the holistic development of all students in the Marianist spirit of valuing the dignity of each person.
Their donations help fund the newly established Brook Center for Empowerment and Wellbeing, which houses LGBTQ+ Student Services and is located in Gosiger Hall on campus. Four years ago, the Division of Student Development formed LGBTQ+ Student Services in response to a call for more resources for the campus LGBTQ+ community.
Students led the initiative, with the SGA in 2014 requesting more student resources. A task force convened, and staff and intern positions helped support student outreach and services. Laura Gentner Hutchinson ’06 was hired as the first graduate assistant, and then coordinator, of LGBTQ+ Student Services.
“Since 2016, we really have seen students wanting more visibility,” Hutchinson said, “not only of their identities but of the resources themselves. We are able to go into classrooms to connect with students and peer educators to create more understanding and awareness of what it means to be an LGBTQ+ college student.”
In 2019, LGBTQ+ Student Services joined Health Education and Wellbeing and Sexual Violence Prevention Education to form the Brook Center. The name “Brook Center” comes from a famous quote by Society of Mary co-founder Father William Joseph Chaminade: “I am like a brook that makes no effort to overcome obstacles in its way. All the obstacles can do is hold me up for a while, as a brook is held up; but during that time it grows broader and deeper and after a while it overflows the obstruction and flows along again. This is how I am going to work.”
Hutchinson explained, “That quote speaks to what we are trying to build and help students build for themselves of coming up against obstacles but being able to find ways above and around — focusing on how we can help students empower themselves and help them empower each other.”
Kennedy and Baird said they have maintained an affinity and fondness for the Marianists since Kennedy’s days on campus. After attending a retreat entitled Christian Ministry for Homosexuals in 1974 at the Marianist Bergamo Center in Dayton, Baird said he was inspired to explore issues of faith and sexuality. He later attended a retreat in Colorado Springs with retreat leaders who he at met at Bergamo.
Baird reminisced, “I knew it would be a positive experience, but that was also where I met John. If it wouldn’t have been for the Bergamo experience, we would not have been brought together.” The couple has been together for more than 40 years.
Gifts, such as those from Kennedy and Baird, assist in providing opportunities for Brook Center students to attend a yearly leadership conference. After attending the conference, students participate in a 100-hour internship during which they spread awareness of what they learned and develop ways to implement new programming around campus.