ISU student finds niche through campus groups

Emily Eppens

Benjamin Spick, a junior in anthropology and religious studies, knows how difficult it can be to be at a complete loss for who you are.

“I grew up feeling like I couldn’t relate to anyone around me,” Spick said.

Coming to Iowa State as a freshman, Spick was determined to find his place. Being from a rural town and Catholic background, he wanted to find a supportive community where he could be involved and started attending the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.

“It was a huge adjustment for me, figuring out that [the fellowship] is someplace that I really do belong,” Spick said. “[The fellowship] is probably the most important part of me being able to be myself and discover who I am.”

The combination of church and religion could have been a controversial obstacle for Spick, who is currently an active member of the LGBTSS. A 2013 statistics survey shows that Christian, Muslim and Mormon religions can be unfriendly to people who identify as LGBT and homosexuals are more likely to be less religious than people who are heterosexual, according to

Instead, the fellowship helped grow him. Unitarian universalist churches have no creed or doctrine set for the members to follow. The goal for congregations is to be a support to people from all backgrounds, cultures and beliefs. At Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, members are put through specialized training to be sensitive to the needs of the LGBT person and surrounding issues.

“[Religion] isn’t always, but it can be unwelcoming,” Spick said. “[The fellowship] is an extremely welcoming community as far as LGBT, issues and identities are concerned.”

Unitarian Universalism has been one of the first church denominations to accept the homosexual community, said Rev. Kent McKusick, the minister at Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.

“We have a quilt made by a homosexual member of the church from thirty years ago,” Mckusick said. “[The church] wants to be present for every member of the community, without excluding anyone.”

Spick did not come out publicly until the fall of his sophomore year, but during that time he came to accept and grow in his identity with the support of the church. Not long after, he joined the LGBTSS community on campus.

“Ben never presented himself as a guarded person, but since coming out I think he is able to move around more comfortably.” McKusick said. “I think [the church] helped Ben to engage the community here and around campus more completely and more authentically.”

Sarah Carlson, a coordinator in human services and the adviser for the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship’s college LGBT group, said that she is happy that Spick has gotten involved in organizations on and off campus.

“[The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship] has people who are Agnostic, Atheist, Muslim and Buddhists attend the church, even Pagans visit,” said Carlson, “I encourage students to contact a welcoming church or group where they will feel supported.”

Spick came out to his family in Sept. 2013, a move he felt would not have been possible without the support from the people at his church. His family is supportive of his identity and has occasionally visited the church.

Since then, Spick has gotten involved with many student organizations on campus; he is the treasurer of the anthropology club, a lay leader at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, involved with the LGBTSS, works at the Parks Library, grades homework for the religion department and is a member of the Student Organic Farm on campus.

“I was very interested to learn my freshman year that there is a gay-straight alliance at the Catholic church here in Ames.” Spick said. “Learning about Catholic theologies and how that combines with LGBT inclusion, that is very interesting to me.”

Starting in the spring, Spick will be an intern for LGBTSS office and create a safe zone curriculum for undergraduate students. After he graduates, he wants to be a networker between the LGBT and religious communities for non-profit organizations and eventually, Spick wants to earn his Ph.D. in religious studies.

“Tapping into spirituality is a very important thing to me,” Spick said. “being involved with [the fellowship] has been a very important place for me to be to realize that.”

Spick encourages new and incoming students to ask themselves what kind of community they want to be a part of and reach out to their professors, advisers, TA’s, other students and organizations.

“Do something that forces you out of your comfort zone,” Spick said. “Don’t be afraid to be involved. You can’t go back and change time, so do what you can during your college career.”