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W&M participates in 'It Gets Better' project

  • It Gets Better
    It Gets Better  Kim Green '13 helped lead dozens of William & Mary students, faculty and staff in participating in the "It Gets Better Project," a worldwide effort to encourage LGBTQ youth about what the future can hold.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
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Kim Green ’13 was hanging out in William & Mary’s Center for Student Diversity when she noticed post after post on Facebook about young, gay people across the country who had taken their own lives as the result of bullying. Feeling numb by the onslaught of deaths, she walked into Assistant Director Margie Cook’s office and asked what could be done.

As a result of that conversation, Green soon found herself leading dozens of William & Mary students, faculty and staff in participating in the “It Gets Better Project,” a worldwide effort to encourage LGBTQ youth about what the future can hold.

“I was tremendously impressed with the students who were just so brave and courageous in sharing really personal experiences about how their lives have been impacted,” said Cook. “They were just compelling and passionate and poignant, and I was proud to be associated with them in terms of the message they were sending through this video.”

The It Gets Better project began in September 2010 when author and columnist Dan Savage created a YouTube video with his partner in an effort to “inspire hope for young people facing harassment,” according to the project’s website. Since that first video was posted, more than 5,000 videos have been submitted to the project, including videos from politicians, celebrities and everyday citizens.

“For us, every video changes a life. It doesn’t matter who makes it,” the website says.

{{youtube:medium:left|hQk7ZHPTcQI}}Green thought of making a personal video for the project, but, after her conversation with Cook, decided to invite others at William & Mary to participate. At the time, no other colleges had submitted videos to the project, Green said.

As a member of Lambda Alliance, undersecretary of LGBTQ Affairs and co-president of the NAACP, Green was able to get word out about her idea to many people rather quickly. She also posted information on Facebook, where fellow students, faculty and staff were helping to spread the word.

“People were really into it,” said Green, a women’s studies major. “I didn’t know how many people to expect. It kind of just happened.”

Roman Dent ’12, who has worked as a professional filmmaker, volunteered to shoot and edit the video. The shoot took place in the Sadler Center’s Commonwealth Auditorium.

Green didn’t know quite what to expect when filming began. She had an overall vision of having a large group of people say “It gets better,” but wasn’t sure what people would share during their individual interviews.

“I had no idea that people were going to share such personal stories,” she said. “I knew that some of my classmates had been through a lot.”

She sat in on a friend’s interview, and his story made her cry.

“That’s when I knew it would be big,” she said.

In the end, approximately 27 people shared their stories on camera and even more participated in the group shots. After the video was edited and placed on YouTube, word about the 14-minute piece leaked out. The first night the video was posted, it received 500-600 views. Green didn’t even have to upload the video to the project’s website. Someone from the project found out about the video and uploaded it.

It turns out that person is William & Mary alumnus J.P. Brandt ’09, who is in charge of reviewing all of the video submissions for the It Gets Better project as well as responding to questions and numerous other duties. Brandt, a case manager for a mental health agency in Washington D.C., has been involved with the project from the beginning. He and the others on the project’s small staff work on the project pro bono. Brandt said he often reviews videos on his iPhone while commuting around D.C. He and his fellow project staff members have also launched versions of the website in other countries, worked on subtitling for the videos, are in the process of compiling a book based on some of the most compelling videos and done extensive fundraising to benefit The Trevor Project and the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN).

Brandt contacted a friend of his at William & Mary to inquire about the College doing a video. It was then that he learned that a video had already been created. Only about 20 colleges and universities have submitted videos to the project thus far, he said.

“I was very, very proud of the campus,” Brandt said. “William & Mary has always been great at instilling a sense of community and this is just another example of that.”

Green said she’s been amazed by the positive response the video has gotten both from alumni like Brandt and the people in the William & Mary community.

“It means a lot,” she said.

Although the overall project focuses on LGBTQ youth, Green said she sees the William & Mary video as something that is meant to encourage everyone.

In fact, when she was asking people to participate in the video, she told them how she was picked on as a child for having dirty shoe strings.

“If you’ve been in any situation where you’ve been picked at and you can attest to the fact that it gets better then come out and tell your story,” she told potential participants.

Green said she hopes the video, now with more than 6,000 views, will continue to touch many people.

“I hope the video will bring the community together more and help people realize that we walk by each other every day but don’t realize what others are going through,” she said. “Just that little bit of encouragement at any moment helps because you never really know.”

Cook said she was amazed at how many people participated and on such short notice.

“I feel like the end product is such a profound representation of the spirit of community that exists at William & Mary,” she said. “I think it says something about the community here. I hear people say that William & Mary is a special place. I think that is captured in this video."