Supporting Gay Rights at NJIT: Meet Spectrum

Spectrum members Billy Barry and Nick Yacullo stand before the Wall of Support, a rainbow-shaped montage made from hundreds of pledges to Stamp out Homophobia.

If you were openly gay, would you feel safe at NJIT?

That question was recently put to passersby in the NJIT Campus Center.  The survey was done by Spectrum, a campus club that promotes the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people, known collectively as LGBT.  

Spectrum’s members were delighted with the survey’s results.  Nearly 9 out of 10 respondents said yes, they would feel safe at NJIT if they were openly gay.  

“Spectrum’s goal is to promote tolerance for all people here, no matter their sexuality,” said Billy Barry, a sophomore majoring in Computing and Business who is Spectrum’s treasurer.  “So it was great to see that the vast majority of those surveyed perceive NJIT to be a tolerant place.”

Spectrum members, moreover, recently set up a table in the campus center and asked people to sign a pledge to “Stamp out Homophobia.” In one day, Barry said, more than 250 people signed pledges.  Spectrum members used the multicolored pledge cards to create a Wall of Support in the campus center -- a rainbow-shaped montage of tolerance.

“It was a nice show of support for us from NJIT,” said Nick Yacullo, a sophomore majoring in information technology who is the webmaster for Spectrum. “We hope to do it again and get 500 pledges.”

Gay students are accepted at NJIT, Yacullo added, but most still have haunting memories from high school, where a hostile glance or a garbled obscenity would keep them closeted.  

When Yacullo was a senior in high school, for instance, he told a few friends that he was gay, but that was it.  And Barry waited till the summer after his senior year in high school to come out. He, too, didn’t feel at ease being openly gay in high school.  

Both Yacullo and Barry love being part of a university that’s tolerant.   But both know that homophobia still pervades American culture and has become a problem recently at other universities. And that’s why they’re working to revitalize Spectrum, a club that for the last few years, they say, has not risen to its potential.  Now, though, the club has an active executive board and new members -- a total of 30 -- who are eagerly hosting on-campus events, some of which are fun and some serious.

Spectrum recently sponsored a rollicking Rocky Horror Shadow cast in the Jim Wise Theater.  And later this semester, the club will sponsor a campus dance and co-sponsor a safe-sex talk.  Next semester, Spectrum intends to unite gays and straights in an Ally campaign to combat homophobia.

Janki Pandya, a sophomore majoring in chemical engineering, belongs to Spectrum’s executive board.  She’s also a club historian. She’s not gay – she’s straight -- but after her close friend Barry joined Spectrum, she too decided to join. The members of the club, she says, are some of kindest and most humane students on campus. And she can’t abide intolerance.

Once in high school, Pandya recalled, one of her gay friends was punched in the face.  He was standing outside of school when another student who was walking by punched him.  Pandya saw the punch, was sickened by it, and has never forgotten its senseless brutality. 

“Bullying someone because of his or her sexuality is so unnecessary,” says Pandya, as she stands behind the counter of the campus bookstore, waiting on customers. “Everyone should just get along.”

And that’s precisely the point of Spectrum.

“Spectrum serves as a safe haven for all NJIT students, no matter their sexuality,” says Yacullo.  “Everyone is welcome to join us and, of course, everyone is invited to support us.”  

(By Robert Florida, University Web Services)