Tourism grad exemplifies inclusion in class, research

November 7, 2017
Coltan Fagan

It wasn’t until travelling to Europe in 2010 that Coltan Fagan found the confidence to come out as a gay man. Visiting Amsterdam, a city well known for its inclusive atmosphere, was a transformative experience says the 26-year-old Master of Arts in Tourism Management graduate.

“I didn’t go with anyone I knew so it was a time I could be myself without essentially coming out,” he says. “So it was kind of like a practice run to see how it was.”

Fagan felt inspired by the strength of the LGBTQ community he experienced abroad.

The “gay villages and seeing rainbow flags everywhere gave me a lot of confidence to eventually come out,” he says, adding that his family and friends were nothing but supportive when he did.

Lived experience inspires research

For his graduate research paper, Fagan wanted to know how relevant “gay spaces” were in today’s online world.

Specifically, he investigated how Grindr, a social networking application for gay, bi, curious and queer men, could help build that crucial sense of community in a “heteronormative world.”

“In the past, people were going on these pilgrimages to find self-affirmation and to get that sense of community from the gay villages that often people didn’t get from their homes,” Fagan says.

 “When you pop into a place, if it’s not a specific gay village, everyone is assumed straight until proven otherwise. Whereas if you hop into a gay village or on the app it’s the other way around. So it makes you feel more of your own community with that demographic.”

Eugene Thomlinson, Associate Professor in the School of Tourism and Hospitality Management, says Fagan’s timely paper contributed to a field where little research had been done.

Creating a welcoming atmosphere in class

Beyond his research, what impressed Thomlinson the most was Fagan’s leadership skills in the class.

In a class of largely international students, Thomlinson says Fagan took it upon himself to introduce them to “Canadian ways,” accompany them to events and help them integrate into their experience at Royal Roads.

While Fagan’s research explored inclusion, community and belonging, he exemplified these values in the classroom, Thomlinson says.

“Everyone felt included in the whole [learning] process which is always a terrific experience for everybody and it just opens up the doors for them to learn from each other as well.”

Fagan says the cohort model at Royal Roads allowed him to participate in his peers’ learning.

“The group learning model … was able to open up their eyes a little bit more about the homosexual community which isn’t as relevant in their cultures,” he says.

Fagan has been a strong advocate, both in and outside of the university for LGBTQ rights. During his undergraduate degree at Acadia University, Fagan started the gay-straight alliance, Acadia Pride.

Fagan’s openness, infectious character and leadership initiative made an incredible difference to the learning experience here at Royal Roads as well, Thomlinson says.

For that reason, he nominated Fagan for the Laura and Mike de Jonge Award. The $5,000 prize is awarded annually to an outstanding student for their leadership involvement and contribution to the community.

Thomlinson says international students really appreciate the ability to have free and open discussions at Royal Roads.

“I think that is one of the things they appreciate as much as anything, that they can really be themselves,” he says.

While Fagan graduated last spring, his award will be announced at the university’s fall convocation ceremony Nov. 9.

Gifts from donors like Laura and Mike de Jonge help us to recognize the value of leadership qualities—in the classroom and across our communities—and support Royal Roads’ commitment to education and research that nurtures economic growth, community strength and a sustainable environment. Find out more by contacting the Royal Roads University Advancement team.