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Our community is engaged in an important effort to create a community of belonging. This exhibition illustrates belonging through the recorded, unrehearsed, personal stories of eleven, self-selected and local participants. They were asked to share their understandings and experiences of belonging.

Voices of Belonging - Aiden and J

"It’s always a little scary... are you going to be embraced? Are you going to be welcomed?"

I'm J. I work over in Social Justice Education. I'm the Assistant Director over there. I've been saying this is sort of my sophomore year. I started in June of last year. So, I joined NIU mid-pandemic. But now I'm here and I'm back on campus. And while on campus for the first time, I suppose people are nicer here, I would say. I think generally, people are a little bit more friendly than what I'm used to. We have a much better relationship with our neighbors than we did in Maine, which is nice. We do miss the lobster. We do miss the seafood and the blueberries and all of that, yeah. But there's plenty of corn. I have felt really at home on campus.

Honestly, I felt like a lot of warmth and support, especially as a queer person coming to NIU and coming to the Midwest, it's always a little scary, you know. Are you going to be embraced? Are you going to be welcomed? And so far, that's been the case. I think, actually, I feel most at home in our home. We've really worked hard to create a space where people are just welcome there. And we try to sort of live the values that we talk about. In both of our jobs. We're both pretty equity minded people. And so, our home is our welcome. It literally says “all are welcome here.” And we try really hard to live the kind of way that we want. We want to model those values for other people. And we have a whole range of wonderful folks who have come through and shared our space with us. And I've been very grateful for that.

Our house actually is on a street that has I think three other visible pride things all summer long. Ours are up year-round, actually, because we have zero chill. So, we have some real visible things. And actually, something that we really love is being able to see young folks, so we'll have like teenagers or kids, local kids riding their bikes down the street. And every once in a while, you get one who looks at our house and they just like light up and you can see their eyes just like get really big. They see themselves in a neighborhood and that's really important. And that visibility is really what you know... sometimes especially in the last year, there were some scary moments where we were like, ‘do we take down the flags like how visible do we want to be?’

Actually, our first month here we had our flag up, and it was a Sunday morning. We went to go get groceries. We came back- we were gone for like an hour and a half broad daylight Sunday morning- and someone had taken the flagpole and all right off our house, right off the front of our house and we were like, ‘okay...’ And then literally that afternoon we had another pride flag, because obviously. And then we also we went out and bought another poll and ring doorbell and we put up a little sign that was like, ‘Okay, well it's kind of the cowards move to steal somebody's flags, but we're still here. We're still gay. So, I don't know what you want from us.’ I think that being able to just like, to lean in and say no, it just kind of made me want to be here even more. Like it just like kind of fueled me to keep going and keep being who we are.

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