The Beginning of a Legacy: Eagles for Pride comes to AU

Eagles for Pride shares their tale of gaining a charter at Ashland University

Eagles for Pride members at the Lavender Grad ceremony in 2022

Created with a rich and traumatizing history, unknown to current students on campus. A group made to create a union and a safe space for LGBTQ+ students on the Ashland University campus; once known by several names, we now happily call them, Eagles for Pride [EFP].

Current President Rhiannon Reed expressed, “EFP [Eagles for Pride] is a place for community and celebration, and advocacy for those who don’t have the power to advocate. It’s very much that place of respite, to not deal with the horrors of everyday life.”

Though Eagles for Pride has only recently gained its charter in 2019, the history of LGBTQ+ groups on campus dives deeper than current students will ever know.

When Reed first arrived on campus the group had only just gained the charter in June of 2019, not having experienced a time before EFP but enjoying the future it had created for students.

“It’s cool to think that years down the line, we will be uplifting people,” Reed explained. “The fact that I was a part of a journey that people will tell one day is cool. And to think that I am laying the groundwork for so much. I love the idea of EFP being very casual, and just being treated like any other club without question or controversy.”

Before the group became the famous Eagles for Pride, it first needed to endure the hardships of gaining status with the university and making a stand.

Not much history is known about the 2008 group called RESPECT, a group created to “provide a safe space for LGBTQ students, faculty, staff, and their allies, and work to educate and raise awareness of issues relating to LGBTQ people,” originally run by former AU student William Cochran.

For groups like Eagles for Pride and those that came before it to gain a charter, they could only be seen and identified like other diversity groups on campus at the time.

Those in charge opted not to take the deal. This means the group could not reserve meeting space, request funds, or advertise for meetings.

According to Queerty, Cochran stated, “We have yet to be informed of a specific reason. We were asked to change our mission statement to remove LGBT completely, and replace it with human diversity. We felt that this overlapped with some organizations(Black Student Union, International Club, Ashland Center for Nonviolence). When we get the official letter, I will let you know exactly what happened.”

Despite the changes made to the original mission statement, the club was not granted the charter. Years following different pride groups have continued to appear through the years, each going through the same run-around treatment as RESPECT, and groups before.
In 2014 the Ashland Center for Nonviolence [ACN] began an umbrella safe group for LGBTQ+ students, rather than embracing the group as a potential new organization, they were told to shut the group down.

Craig Hovey, advisor of Eagles for Pride, had to make the hard decision at the time to be the enforcer of the shutdown.

“The board [of trustees] had said that there would be no such group,” he explained. “I knew there would be obstacles to overcome with the board. I never interacted with members of the board up until that point.”

Despite facing heartbreak after heartbreak and continuously being shut down in the past, that never stopped students from wanting to ally.

Two separate students in the spring of 2015, Joe Farber (Kaleidoscope) and Sean Honaker (Eagles for Pride), independently proposed both pride groups at the same time. Since both were fighting for the same cause, they decided to combine their charter proposals leading up to the group known now as Eagles for Pride.

The desire for validation and approval from the university remained, the proposal continuing its way to the board of trustees and President Campo just to be denied again and again. The provisional charter the group had proposed in 2016 was not removed but it did not gain a full charter from the university until years later.

Maura Grady, co-advisor for Eagles for Pride, has worked with the group since before gaining the official charter.

Grady added, “There was one year on the Ashland day of giving, EFP was present on the drop-down menu to donate to, and that was the work of someone in the advancement office, who doesn’t work here anymore.”

Many people were excited to see the group starting to gain standing on campus. According to Grady, apart from athletics, EFP was the biggest recipient of donations that day.

“After that, I think it’s harder for the university to argue when an organization raises $5,000 in one day,” Grady explained.

On May 2, 2019 the AU Board of Trustees passed the “Aligning Traditional University Value Practice” policy, which sparked discussion about whether certain language could be used against EFP: “Clubs that promote activities and belief systems that are incompatible with University values will not be approved for institutional funding or recognition.”

Despite the many changes and amendments to its charter proposal, the fighting spirit was still alive well into the summer when the news finally struck.

Eagles for Pride officially gained their charter in the summer of 2019, the 50 anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in 1969.

“Which [the charter] took a couple of years, and we were officially chartered in 2019,” Reed elaborated. “Now we’ve just been doing things a regular club does.”

The wounds remain from years of being told no by the board of trustees.

“Based on our mission statement, and the way we’ve had to craft what the purpose of our club is very ‘doesn’t talk about the queer community or pride’,” Reed answered with slight hesitation. “Pride itself is an acronym in our group name.”

The mission statement as of right now states, “Our organization is focused on providing a community on campus where individuals who feel left out or ignored due to their gender identity or sexual orientations can feel not only welcome, but appreciated and cared for. Eagles for PRIDE is an LGBTQ+ group, but we do not limit our membership to only queer students. Allies are more than welcome to participate as well. Our organization is about inclusivity, not exclusivity.”

Today the group still faces controversies regarding its beginnings, members’ voices walking on eggshells around the administration to gain more status on campus.

Hard feelings aside, Eagles for Pride is more than appreciative of everyone who supported them along the way through the tedious journey.

“I’m very glad of the process that’s been made and all of the support that we do see on campus,” Reed smiled. “Like even just having this interaction and when we get to be in The Collegian and I get interviewed a lot. There’s a lot of support from people we wouldn’t expect. While we don’t get a lot of support from the places we may need it, like the board of trustees, I am extremely grateful for the support we do get on campus.”