LINCOLN PARK — Lincoln Park High School’s newly appointed dean of students is working to create a first-of-its-kind mentorship program for gay and lesbian students that she hopes will be a model for the entire Chicago Public Schools system.
Christy Walker, 28, said she had been at the school for less than a month when she realized the need for the mentor program, which will likely be structured similar to Big Brothers Big Sisters. Walker and Nico Lang, a DePaul University graduate student, hope to have it running by the start of next year.
“There aren’t really other groups that do this in Chicago, especially with high school students,” said Lang, 24, also the associate director of The Civil Rights Agenda. Lang said he's received interest from nearly a dozen members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community who want to help mentor the young students.
“We hear about these issues of bullying and harassment, and people want to step up and do something about it,” he said.
Walker turned to Lang to help launch the program after learning that a gay-straight alliance program fizzled out last year when a student leader graduated and no one stepped up to keep it alive.
“Working at CPS, we are very short on resources, very short on staff,” Walker said. “Unless there is a staff member very interested in this or a student very interested in this, it’s not going to happen.”
While Walker said bullying was an issue at the high school, the overall lack of role models and examples of successful young adults for LGBT students was the real problem.
“There is a lot of tension for students that identify as gay and black,” she said. “I think there might be a general lack of awareness I think even for some of the staff.”
Jon Rhazi, a 14-year-old freshman at the high school, said he had seen some members of the LGBT community get bullied at the high school. He said most of what he had seen was “just a joke here or there.”
By the start of next year, Lang and Sarah Hughes, an intern at the Civil Rights Agenda, plan to host a monthly or bi-weekly meeting with interested students and their mentors to discuss topics that might not come up when talking with their straight friends. The hope is for those friendships with mentors to continue outside of the meetings.
“People just want a community with a place to go to meet people who are like themselves," Lang said. “So much of it is bar focused and because of that you don’t always have that place to go where you can actually have a conversation with other people.”