By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – When light passes through a prism, a rainbow appears on the other side.
For a University of Nebraska at Kearney student organization, this beautiful transformation symbolizes the idea that people should be proud of themselves and who they are, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
PRISM, formerly Queer Straight Alliance, is an organization that promotes awareness of the LGBTQIA+ community and provides a safe, welcoming space on campus for LGBTQIA+ students and allies.
“Oftentimes, students come out when they get to college, because it was not safe for them to do so in high school,” said Ashley Olivas, the group’s adviser. “PRISM is composed of students who have faced similar issues, and they are able to connect and bond over their journeys.”
Part of the Office of Student Diversity and Inclusion, PRISM creates a sense of belonging for these students, Olivas said, giving them a UNK “family” who serve as an additional support system.
“It’s important for LGBTQIA+ students to have that space where they feel safe, heard and loved,” she said.
PRISM meets at 7 p.m. Thursdays in the Office of Student Diversity and Inclusion on the first floor of the Nebraskan Student Union. Each meeting focuses on a specific subgroup of the LGBTQIA+ community as part of the organization’s educational mission. Topics such as sexual and mental health, suicide prevention, healthy relationships, coming out and transitioning are also addressed.
UNK senior Eduardo Tecla said PRISM is open to anyone who wants to learn more about LGBTQIA+ culture.
As president of the organization, his goal is to change people’s perception of the LGBTQIA+ community and create an environment where all UNK students are viewed the same way.
“The most stereotypical thing you hear is we’re all singing, dancing and artsy,” Tecla said. “But there’s more to it.”
LGBTQIA+ people can be athletes, architects, construction workers and any other profession, he noted.
“We’re just like everyone else,” said Tecla, a family studies major from Lexington who joined PRISM as a freshman, when he “wasn’t wholeheartedly out yet.”
For Shelby Nethercot, a nonbinary student who uses the gender-neutral pronouns they, them and their, joining PRISM was a way to develop connections on campus, establish new relationships and grow as a person.
“This is where I met my best friends,” said Nethercot, a UNK senior studying organizational and relational communication.
Nonbinary refers to a person who identifies with or expresses a gender identity that is neither male nor female.
After joining PRISM as a freshman, Nethercot was more comfortable on campus, giving the Greenwood native the confidence to get involved with other organizations and activities.
“If I didn’t have PRISM or the Office of Student Diversity and Inclusion, I don’t think I’d be where I am today,” said Nethercot, who serves as the organization’s secondary adviser. “I don’t think I’d be here at UNK if I didn’t have this established home and these established friendships and connections to mentors and peers.”
PRISM, which has about 30 members, hosts a variety of activities each year, including an amateur drag show, pride prom, safe zone training and National Coming Out Day event where attendees are invited to share their stories and experiences.
The UNK organization also networks with other LGBTQIA+ groups, such as Kearney PFLAG and OutNebraska, and members hope to establish a partnership with Kearney High School’s Gender Sexuality Alliance.
“We want to be more unified than we are separated,” Tecla said.