What began as creative conference organizing became, for Heidi Stanton, an introduction to some marvelously open people.  And a course in  exhibit planning. And an unexpected dissertation topic.

Heidi Stanton's "Power of One" portrait

Heidi is the Washington State University employee and education doctoral student behind “The Power of One” exhibit at Pullman’s Compton Union Building Gallery.  It features poster-sized photos of 30 students, faculty, staff and community members, all paired with handwritten observations about their lives or the role of diversity.

You can see some of the posters in the WSU Today article published last spring, when Heidi expected them to be displayed in connection with Northwest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) student leadership conference.  The project took longer than expected, however, and the CUB display has only now gone up.

Heidi directs the Gender Identity/Expression and Sexual Orientation Resource Center. When planning the conference, she wanted to bring the “Shared Heart” poster project by photographer Adam Mastoon, which features gay teenagers.  That wasn’t available, but Mastoon suggested he create a project for the WSU community.  Heidi loved the idea. She  sought participants via the LGBT e-mail list and the general campus announcements.

“I started getting interest from people who I would never have thought to invite, and it ended up being a really rich sampling of the community:  administrators, community members, parents, youth, gay, straight … all different kinds of people, all excited about telling their stories,” said Heidi.

Adam flew from his Rhode Island home to Pullman, where he introduced himself to participants by describing his own journey from out-of-place gay teen to happily partnered professional.  That session was the start of much labor on his part, and Heidi’s.

Meanwhile, Heidi planned the conference, ran the resource center, and continued working toward her Ph.D. in higher education administration.  She was struggling to find a focus for her dissertation on campus climate.  (“Administrators tend to think that the campus is safe and inclusive, and the students have a different perspective,” she explained. “Both sides are true.”)

One day, she mentioned to Associate Professor Paula Groves Price that the portrait project would someday be a good research topic.

“Paula said ‘No, that’s your dissertation. That’s something you’re passionate about,’ ” Heidi said. “When I talked with my committee, they were all on board with that. ”

Her dissertation title:  “Writing in the Margins: How participants in the Power of One Project perceive campus climate.”

“I think there is an assumption that the portrait project is about gay and lesbian people, but it is really about how these 30 people experience campus climate.  It really isn’t about sexual orientation, it is about visibility and mattering,” she said. “Fewer than half of the participants identify as something other than heterosexual. Each one was remarkably open.”

“The Power of One” (which includes the EduCoug blogger among its subjects) will be on display in the first-floor CUB Gallery until Sept. 10, when it will close with a 1 p.m. reception.