Lincoln Center Student Explores LGBTQ+ Issues and Daily Life


Students from colleges accross the tri-state area apply every year to participate in Writiing Wrongs. (Courtesy of Gillian Russo)

Labor Day weekend is when a lot of students go home or spend time with friends, but this cannot be said for Gillian Russo, FCLC ’21. This past September, Russo traveled to Reading, Pennsylvania to participate in Writing Wrongs 2019.

Writing Wrongs is a weekend-long community journalism program that has been going on for five years. Students from around the Northeast apply to the program. Those who are chosen to travel to Pennsylvania and spend the weekend immersing themselves in a social issue. The 72-hour program results in a published book that is entirely written and designed by students.

The topic of Writing Wrongs 2019 was the LGBTQ+ community. Russo said she was interested in the topic, partially because she is a member of the LGBTQ+ community herself. She said she found out about the project from an email she received from the Observer’s former editor-in-chief.

“I read through the email, and it sounded really cool,” she said. “So I was like, hey, a weekend of doing journalism and getting experience, that you know, it was free, so that was kind of an added plus.”

Russo was one of six staff writers chosen for the program. Only 15 students in total were accepted. Russo said the positions ranged from writers to photographers, designers and social media producers. Russo was also the first student from Fordham to be accepted.

Russo was put up in a hotel for the weekend with the rest of the program’s participants, where they used the hotel’s ballroom as their home base for everything from eating meals to doing work.

As a staff writer, Russo traveled to the LGBTQ+ community center of Reading Pennsylvania, to complete interviews for the articles she was assigned. Russo said she interviewed four people with very different stories and perspectives to offer.

“I think the interviews as a whole, I definitely got a range of different perspectives, because the LGBT community is broad. There’s people with a lot of different identities and different experiences,” she said. “I talked to people with different backgrounds; it was definitely a learning experience for me.”

Russo did interviews both Saturday and Sunday and had to write 1,000+ word articles based on the interviews almost immediately after they ended.

Russo said she worked collaboratively on two of the articles, interviewing and writing with the other students.

“It was an incomparable experience. I’ve never done anything like it,” she said. “This was very rapid-fire, very fast-paced.”

Dawn Heinbach, the founder and program manager of Writing Wrongs, said the writers met the challenge head-on.

“These student journalists eloquently captured and conveyed the LGBT folks’ personal journeys, their experiences, their heartbreaks and happiness, so that readers may gain a better understanding of what it’s like to be LGBTQ+,” Heinbach said. “Each student definitely put a piece of their heart and soul into this book, and I’m in awe of what they accomplished in just one weekend.”

She said that the 15 students at the 2019 Writing Wrongs program should all be proud of the book they created.

Russo said she walked away from the project with new friendships, perspectives from new people that she would not have talked to otherwise and awareness about different issues within the LGBTQ+ community.

She said she also learned about how being part of the LGBTQ community fits into people’s lives. She learned about their journeys and identities, but also about who they are as people.

“I learned about their identities, but also learned about their likes and their dislikes and, you know, just kind of made friends with these people,” she said. “So, like I said, it all comes back to just; I definitely took away some really meaningful personal connections that I’m glad I made.”

The final product is titled “Outgrowing: Stories From the LGBTQ+ Community.”

Russo said the title was her idea, but it came out of a long, collaborative brainstorm session.

She said “out” related to being an open member of the LGBTQ+ community, and “growing” came from a flower motif that a lot of the students liked.

She said it also evoked the idea of growing out of an old self, which is present in many of the stories told in the book.

“A lot of these stories really, really tended to be about us, just people,” she said. “These people just talking about how they went through their lives.”

“Outgrowing: Stories From the LGBTQ+ Community” was released in November and is currently available for purchase on Amazon and at Barnes and Noble.