Commencement 2015: URI helps graduating senior find her way

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Gina Kinan to work for City Year in Providence

KINGSTON, R.I. – April 21, 2015 – Gina Kinan knew she was gay in high school, but was too afraid to tell anyone – and her body paid for it. “I felt like a zombie,” she says. “I slept all the time to cope.”

When she arrived at the University of Rhode Island in 2011 she mustered the courage to come out to other students. “They were so supportive and encouraging,” she says. “I felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders.”

In May, she’ll graduate with a double major in psychology and sociology, two fields that will prepare her for a career helping others deal with personal struggles and find their way.

Eventually, she’d like to attend graduate school in psychology, but will first work for City Year in Providence for 10 months, guiding young students in the city’s public schools.

“I’m very excited about the job,” she says. “It’s a great opportunity to help underserved students and their families.”

Kinan, 22, has overcome her own hardships. She grew up in Bridgewater, Mass., the middle child of four girls born to a father who worked as a pharmacist and a pharmacy technician mother.

Her life was uneventful, until her freshman year of high school when other girls were “boy crazy” and she wasn’t. She felt like something was wrong with her, but she kept quiet. “I was afraid of the possible negative reactions.”

By the end of her sophomore year she knew she was gay. Still, she kept it secret, even from her family. Hiding those feelings left her anxious and depressed. She managed by sleeping constantly, sometimes for hours after school. And she cried, privately in her room.

She settled on URI for college to study science, but switched to the social sciences after taking psychology and sociology classes. She liked probing the human condition and trying to understand why people behave in certain ways.

At first, she was reluctant to tell other students she was gay, but didn’t want to live a lie so she opened up. She also disclosed the news to her family.

“Everyone at URI was so positive, I finally had the courage to come out to my family,” she says. “They were very happy for me.”

The Gender and Sexuality Center has been her second home at URI. Director Annie Russell has always been there for her, whether she needed advice on campus activities or wanted to talk about personal problems.

“Annie has done wonders for the center and made it into such a welcoming place,” says Kinan. “I’ve made so many friends. They don’t judge you at all. It’s a nurturing and peaceful environment.”

One of her highlights at URI was a trip to Campus Pride in Nashville, Tenn., where she gathered with other college students to talk about issues involving gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students.

“URI helped turn my life around,” she says. “When I came here I had no idea what I wanted to do. Now I have so many things to look forward to.”

One day, she might turn her attention to teenagers who are searching for their sexual identity, as she did.

“There really is a light at the end,” says Kinan. “Meeting one person like you can have a profound impact on your life – and your happiness.”

Pictured above: Gina Kinan, 22, of Bridgewater, Mass., will graduate in May with a double major in psychology and sociology.

Photo by Nora Lewis.