By Anthony Costello, September 2015 Issue.
While college courses are designed to educate, the broader experience offers students the opportunity to follow their passion, take on leadership roles, discover more about themselves and others and, in some cases, gain a better sense of community.
But for Yuma resident and Arizona Western College student Kellsey Jane, none of these concepts are entirely new. In fact, they’re part of the every fiber of her being.
Jane’s personality is so contagious that she easily won over the QU Foundation whose panel presented her with a $10,000 scholarship at this one n ten’s Fresh Brunch earlier this year.
So, what is it about Jane that leaves such a profound impression on anyone she comes in contact with? After even a brief interaction with her, you’ll find that she has a levelheaded, affable, yet direct, personality with a distinguishing ability to put herself in other peoples’ shoes. And that compassion has opened many doors for her.
For Jane, the road to leadership and community began after she attended one n ten’s Camp OUTdoors! program six years ago.
“Ever since that weekend I found my calling; I found family, support and love apart from my own initial family,” she said.
Jane’s moving camp experience led her to become involved with OUTscouts, a year-round program, through one n ten, that teaches leadership and wilderness survival skills through group camping trips and hikes.
“Being an OUTscout is important to me because it’s like having mini Camp OUTdoors! sessions throughout the year,” Jane said. “Living in Yuma, where we don’t have much of an LGBT community, it’s important that I have those connections with my peers.”
Additionally, Jane said she loves having a group of friends that are passionate about camping and being in the wilderness, and are also passionate about being a part of the LGBT community in a leadership role.
In turn, OUTscouts take the skills they’ve learned and teach them to other youth – especially at camp.
“Campers say ‘oh this is someone who knows what they’re doing’ it’s about showing how to be a responsible part of this community,” Jane said.
Jane’s skills as an OUTscout and a leader were put to the test while serving as a counselor in training one summer at camp.
“When I was a counselor in training I was partnered with a younger cabin,” Jane recalled. “I overheard that a camper was planning on sneaking out to meet up with someone from another cabin for an ‘encounter.’”
Using intuitive thinking, Jane was able to dissuade the camper from breaking the rules.
“I decided to take the route the camper would understand more and told them the consequences of going out. I could’ve gone to the camp counselors and higher-ups, but I didn’t want to go that far and make it a bigger deal than it needed to be,” she said. “I talked to them like an adult at a time when they weren’t … they later thanked me for sitting down and speaking with them …”
Another highlight of camp each year, according to Jane, is seeing people from Yuma experience Camp OUTdoors! for the first time.
“I get to see their eyes fill with wonder and their hearts fill with love as they make new family members in a matter of days and friendships that will last a lifetime,” she said. “I know that over the years I have made friends and family that will be in my heart for all my life.”
While Jane has already earned an associates degree in English from Arizona Western College, she is currently finishing up another associates in American Indian studies.
Despite a pleasant coming out experience in high school, where she helped form her high school’s first gay-straight alliance, she found herself facing discrimination where she would least expect it: college.
On her first day of English 101, a core class of her major that aligns with her passion for creative writing, Jane recalled her instructor’s scoff in response to her mentioning she wanted to pursue an LGBT major during the class introduction exercise.
“She scoffed at me and told me ‘That major doesn’t exist,’” Jane said. “Later on when she discussed essay topics that we’d cover later in the semester she looked directly at me and basically said, ‘Oh and no LGBT topics either.’”
Jane, taken aback by her instructor’s rudeness, took the issue to the college dean at her mother’s behest.
Although the dean sided with Jane, with the option of firing the teacher on the table, Jane urged a more empathetic route.
“She made a mistake … she has her views. It wouldn’t have changed her if I did that, and I don’t think that’s a good experience to have,” Jane explained. “I didn’t want her to hold a grudge against the community.”
Through this experience, Jane said she learned, not only that her mom is her biggest ally, but also that there are always people above the one bullying you and often times those higher ups are allies.
“Any time I come across a person with negative views about me being a lesbian, I don’t hold it against them,” she said. “They have the right to hold their beliefs, as I do about them. It’s about mutual respect.”
It’s these aspects of Jane’s character that made her such a strong candidate for QU co-founder and chairman of the QU Scholarship Selection Committee Shel-Don J. Legarreta and other co-panelists during the QU Scholarship interviews.
“She was very impressive from the get-go, her personality is larger than life and full of positivity,” Legarreta said. “Just her whole vibe was everything that we were looking for; people who are young, out and proud advocates for the community.”
According to Legarreta, he personally chose Jane based on her ideas and personality.
“She’s a breath of fresh air and [she] brightens the room when she walks in,” Legarreta said. “She has great ideas and is well spoken and driven.”
Jane is currently putting the scholarship toward furthering her education at Northern Arizona University, where she plans to double major in English and women and gender studies. And if that wasn’t enough poetic justice on its own, Jane has even bigger aspirations of taking her experience full circle by becoming an English professor.
Although Jane has been busy taking 19 credit hours, she plans on giving more time back to the LGBT community and the Yuma community at large.
“In Yuma we don’t exactly have a strong LGBT community, a lot of people are quietly LGBT because [it’s] such a conservative town, which means youth like me don’t have many role models,” she said.
This is a void Jane hopes to fill – at least until she relocates to Flagstaff next fall.
“I feel like there’s so many people, especially youth, that don’t believe we have importance in the world and many in our community don’t have broad opportunities to go to school,” Jane said. “There’s always ways you can find your education and better your life. We need to show them the possibilities [that] an education offers.”
While Jane is leading by example as she returns to the classroom, as well as her sixth annual Camp OUTdoors! with one n ten, she has a broader message for LGBT youth everywhere.
“I was the first openly lesbian student at my school. After I came out, several other students came out to me in turn,” she said. “I got to help people with their own coming out and it was a wonderful experience helping people become comfortable with who they are. I want to be able to show everyone that it’s not just about education, but you can be a bright, happy person and have a good life as an LGBT person.”
For more information on the QU scholarship Fund, visit quscholarship.org.