Commencement 2024: English, political science graduate eager to explore history of LGBTQ activism

Milo Heard will start work this summer on R.I. Foundation-funded research project

KINGSTON, R.I. – May 15, 2024 – As his final semester slips away, Milo Heard has been walking around campus snapping photos of people and places that have meant a lot to him in his two and a half years at the University of Rhode Island.

There are photos of the 193 Coffeehouse in the Memorial Union, his “home base,” where he was a barista and took part in poetry readings. There are also a lot of candids with friends.

“I’ve been spending a lot of time trying to take in every last little moment,” said Heard, who graduates this week with bachelor’s degrees in English literature and political science. “I’ve brought my little old digital camera and I’ve been taking photos all the time, spending time with friends, and just trying to soak it all in.”

Heard, a Cranston native, transferred to URI from Syracuse University in spring 2022 to be closer to home. At URI, Heard, an avid potter since high school, has found little time to make mugs and bowls, or other functional pieces. But his other passions – writing, reading and research – have gotten a good workout. 

Along with being a blogger for URI Campus Recreation, Heard has expanded his scholarly writing at URI. He’s explored research projects on topics that have looked at the intersection of conspiracy thinking and the rise of authoritarianism, and people’s reaction to transgender inclusion in athletics. 

“I’m very invested in social justice issues and transformative justice issues and advocacy,” he said. “The research on trans athletics is very important to me because I’m transgender and I did sports all through high school. I wasn’t out as trans then but I know sports are helpful for mental health and for keeping kids in school.”

That independent study project with political science professor Emily Lynch gave him great experience, developing his own research questions and learning how to do a survey. It also earned him an invitation to the New England Political Science Association Conference.

Instrumental in helping him navigate URI and connect with people around campus has been philosophy and political science professor Cheryl Foster. Heard has taken two political theory classes with her, including a capstone class in which his final research project was selected by the department’s Curriculum Assessment Committee as emblematic of the highest level of student achievement.

“It was a very intense class, requiring a lot of reading in political philosophy every night,” said Heard, a Dean’s List student and member Pi Sigma Alpha, the political science honor society. “But I had such great academic conversations with her. She really pushed me to explore things outside of class. It’s nice to have a teacher who is genuinely excited about your academic progress.”

“Milo has been the indisputable thought leader among his peers, offering nuanced yet inclusively framed insights about an impressive spectrum of political philosophers from the early Enlightenment forward,” said Foster. “He is nothing if not inventive, as capable of lighthearted originality as incisive interpretations.”

While Heard is chronicling his recent past at URI, he is ready to get out into the world and explore. 

Specifically, Heard is eager to start on new research – the history of LGBTQ+ activism. The project is being supported by a grant from the Michael P. Metcalf Memorial Fund and Christine T. Grinavic Adventurer’s Fund, which are administered by the Rhode Island Foundation. The grant will help him travel to San Francisco to explore the Dr. John P. De Cecco Archives and Special Collections of the GLBT Historical Society, one of the largest holdings in the world of materials pertaining to LGBTQ people.

Heard’s interests are in community organizing and the preservation of archival materials – along with the impact of the AIDS epidemic on oral storytelling and preserved knowledge.

“I strongly feel that my generation has lost some of that information and history of queer organizing because we’ve lost so many people to the AIDS epidemic,” he said. “There’s so much incredible organizing that happened during that era.”

Eventually, he would like to create a similar archive in Rhode Island, including looking into the history of the 193 Coffeehouse, which was established in the 1990s by gay and lesbian activists. “There are queer organizers in Rhode Island whose work is important,” he said. “Who’s documenting that?”

Eventually, Heard plans to return to school to pursue a Master of Library and Information Studies, which would allow him to combine his interests in reading, writing and research.

“I want to be someone who can make a difference in a community and I think librarians do that,” said Heard. “Libraries are incredible resources for people. I’ve gone to the library my entire life and there are amazing things you can find if you work with a librarian. They’re so dedicated.”