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Current Scholars

Connor Henderson

Class of: 2016
Hometown: Alton, IL
School: College of Arts and Science
Major(s): Social Justice and Human Rights

Connor’s motivation for community engagement comes from a sense of personal responsibility. He grew up in an affluent, homogeneous community where many opportunities were presented to him. On a tour in Chicago with a local youth ministry, Connor realized for the first time that not everyone has the same privileges as him. There, he was serving food in a shelter for people who were homeless when a woman walked up to get her food. Her sweatshirt read, “God is so good to me”. He remembers feeling shocked at those words because he didn’t understand why that woman thought she had a reason to be grateful.

In his first year at Vanderbilt, Connor worked with a service-learning tutoring program through the Spanish Department aimed at helping first generation Latino immigrants in the Nashville community. Through that program, he tutored a Mexican-American sixth-grader named Christopher in his home and in his language, Spanish, and helped him prepare for the state exams, which are given only in English. The Vanderbilt Initiative for Scholarship and Global Engagement (VISAGE) study abroad program, gave Connor the opportunity to study social justice and serve alongside Costa Ricans on projects in their communities in partnership with local nonprofit organizations. Among his projects there were working to reforest national parks and to lead grassroots projects in high schools to improve student welfare in the education system. In the Vanderbilt community, Connor led a controversial project through the Women’s and Gender Studies Department to better understand the current prejudices that exist against gay men in fraternity life and to find solutions to dissolve homophobia for future rushing and pledging processes. To Connor’s amazement, the story of the project made the front page of one of the campus newspapers.

In August 2013, Connor applied to the inaugural year of the Students of Stonewall program at the Oasis Center. This group is composed of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) high school students and college mentors who are committed to promoting positive social climate change in Middle Tennessee for LGBT citizens. One of their major accomplishments was securing a contract with Metro Nashville Public Schools mandating LGBT competency training for all public school educators. Later, in January 2014, at the Oasis Center, he began as an interim Program Coordinator for the Just Us program. This program aims to promote community for LGBT high school students in Middle Tennessee.

Connor continued his work with the Oasis Center, working with the Students of Stonewall and the Just Us programs, throughout the summer of 2014 for his Ingram Summer Project. One major objective of this project was to produce a curriculum for LGBT high school students to promote a sense of self-esteem and community among other LGBT young people. As a pioneer of this work, this curriculum was to be copyrighted for international use by groups that engaged LGBT youth in their communities. The second major objective was to produce a short film, funded by the Ingram Alumni Fund, documenting the experiences of the LGBT young people in his programs at the Oasis Center in order to recruit more participants and to persuade funders of the programs’ efficacies. Finally, he served as a full time staff member, giving presentations to state representatives regarding the urgency of public intervention in anti-LGBT bullying policies and building bridges among organizations in order to effectively engage LGBT homeless populations in Nashville, among other responsibilities.

Connor has designed his own major in Social Justice and Human Rights and intends to take his studies abroad to Denmark in Fall 2014. There, he will study human rights and LGBT studies in order to gain an international perspective on his community engagement in Nashville. He also plans to work with an organization in Copenhagen named LGBT asylum, which works to provide advocacy services for LGBT asylees seeking refuge from governmental and societal persecution.

After Vanderbilt, Connor intends to work in communal efforts to define, seek, and secure justice for people who are continually marginalized in their communities. Whether that is law school or otherwise, for the rest of his life, Connor intends to reflect on the sense of personal responsibility for community engagement he learned as a young man from a woman in a sweater in a Chicago homeless shelter.

Connor would like to thank the Ingram family for the continued support of his community engagement efforts. Without their warmth, generosity, and inspiration, none of his work could be possible.