Double majoring and finding community as a student who identifies as LGBTQIA+
“I really fell in love with the idea of a [women’s college that’s gender diverse] as a safe place. I really liked that there was a place where I didn’t necessarily have to compete with the male population to be heard.”
Theater aficionado Sami Parazin was out of her mind with worry when she was considering colleges. She’s always had anxiety, she said, and was terrified about leaving her support system to go to college. But during a Massachusetts college tour with her mother, they decided to brave a snowstorm and visit Mount Holyoke.
“The minute I stepped on campus, I just fell in love with it,” Parazin said. “I loved the architecture, which seemed silly, but the aesthetic technical theater person in me really appreciated it … and I really fell in love with the idea of a [women’s college that’s gender diverse] as a safe place because high school was really hard for me with my anxiety. I really liked that there was a place where I didn’t necessarily have to compete, if that makes sense, with the male population to be heard.”
Parazin, who identifies as bisexual, also appreciated the prevalence of the queer community on campus. Now, four years later, she can’t stop extolling the virtues of Mount Holyoke College and how it’s shaped who she is today.
“It’s really easy and so beautiful to experiment and find out who you actually are here.”
Case in point: When Parazin started her first year, she knew she wanted to double major. She has been doing theater since she was in preschool and was in love with the technical aspects of it — stage managing, lighting, costuming and so on. So she knew theater would be one major. But she also wanted to have a backup plan that was a bit more academic, she said.
“My parents loved us as children, but they always told us, ‘You can do whatever you want in the world as long as you make enough money to not sleep in our basement,’” Parazin said.
She imagined her second major being English or perhaps history. But during her first semester at Mount Holyoke — when she was more focused on fulfilling her general education requirements than anything else — she decided to take Introduction to Cultural Anthropology with William Girard. The class read a book that opened her eyes to the world of intercultural anthropology — “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down” — and Parazin was transfixed. She had always been interested in understanding people, and to her, anthropology seemed a gateway to that kind of connection.
“I found it fascinating,” she said. “And it didn't help that Professor Girard had this infectious energy that made me enjoy coming to class.”
And it’s not only the academics that have made Parazin feel at home at Mount Holyoke but also the community. She had no idea she would meet lifelong friends at Mount Holyoke, she said, including her best friend — her randomly selected first-year roommate whom she ended up living with for the next three years. And one of the most special moments, she recalls, is how during her first semester, before the COVID-19 pandemic sent the students home, she went to the student involvement fair and chanced upon a club called Knit Happens.
“I wanted to learn to knit. I wanted to learn in high school. I thought it would help with my anxiety, but I never really got around to it. No one in my family really knew how to knit or crochet, so it wasn’t like I could ask them, and it was really hard to get started,” Parazin said. “I walked to the table, and I was talking about how I wanted to learn, and they said, ‘Yes, come to a meeting, and someone will be willing to teach you.’ And I was like, ‘Excuse me?’”
She was shocked at how welcoming they were despite her having no skills. But when she went to her first meeting two weeks later, she realized she wasn’t the only one who wanted to learn. “I just remember them being so nice and being totally willing to teach me,” she said of the club members. “And this, I think, just really exemplifies what Mount Holyoke is as a community.”
That community is also what Parazin is excited to continue to relish as she finishes her undergraduate career. She adores the College’s rituals and traditions and can’t wait to participate in celebrated Mount Holyoke events like the Lavender Ceremony for students who identify as LGBTQIA+ and the Laurel Parade. A couple of months ago, she and her friend went to the basement laundry room, where her friend gave her Mount Holyoke’s famed MoHo Chop. Others were also in the room washing their clothes, Parazin said, but no one batted an eye.
She credits her friends with helping her maintain the enthusiasm to do something so drastic with her hair. “They were building up my confidence,” Parazin said. “So it’s really easy and so beautiful to experiment and find out who you actually are here.”
And Parazin is the first to admit she’s done plenty of that. After Mount Holyoke, the double major hopes to pursue technical theater more professionally. As much as she loves anthropology, she said, she is motivated to make her passion for theater her career. She did two internships in technical theater over the last two semesters, and she recently submitted applications throughout the country to pursue a yearlong theater apprenticeship, where she hopes to bolster her skills, nurture connections and gain more experience in the field.
When Parazin looks back at how nervous she was before studying at Mount Holyoke, she’s very compassionate.
“People will tell you that college is going to be the best time of your life, and you might not believe them because it's terrifying to leave home and basically provide and survive essentially by yourself, away from what you know,” she said. “And it is true, most likely, that college will be a great time. But it’s OK to be scared. It’s OK to be nervous. But just know that it is worth it.”