Plaid Works

Vincent Johnson: Finding Comfort and Community

Big Rapids junior explores liberal arts while getting active socially.

ALMA — When it came time for Vincent Johnson to make his college choice, he chose Alma College, largely because Alma allowed him to study two seemingly divergent subjects at the same time: art and biology.

“It’s a liberal arts college, which means there’s a variety of different subjects you can study at the same time,” said Johnson, a junior originally from Big Rapids. “We have all of the STEM courses, but we also have fine arts, and the professors work really well with each other. I don’t think I would have been able to juggle art and science courses at a big state school.”

Not only has Alma allowed Johnson the opportunities to thrive academically, it’s also been a way to develop socially. Johnson is involved with the Gender and Sexuality Diversity (GSD) Group, a club that is open to all students at Alma College and explores topics surrounding the LGBTQIA+ community. As a transgender man, Johnson said, the GSD has made him feel comfortable at campus, and given him opportunities to meet new people that he wouldn’t have otherwise.

“I appreciate that Alma offers safe spaces to meet other people who are queer,” Johnson said. “Our GSD is really active, too — we might have 10 to 15 people come into our meeting, but then you’ll see 40 people on our Discord server.

“Someone at the GSD took a poll and found that a large portion of students at the college identify within the LGBTQIA+ on some level, so I think it’s important that we have this organization, to have a sense of comfort and community.”

Johnson also found new perspectives through the Alma College Alternative Breaks program, which allowed him to go to Joshua Tree National Park in California this past February. There, he and a group of fellow Alma students helped the U.S. National Park Service with park maintenance, a task that all-too-often falls by the wayside due to funding shortfalls.

On their off-time, Johnson said, students went hiking and bouldering, exploring all Joshua Tree had to offer and building friendships with one another.

“It’s really sparked this new interest in national parks for me. I never knew before how the process works — maintenance, road repair, wildlife, plants and that sort of thing — but now that I know, I think it’s really interesting,” Johnson said. “It was also just great to meet other people and get to know about their experiences. It made me feel less alone.”

Last year, Johnson applied for and received the Ox-Bow Scholarship, which provides two art students with an opportunity to attend a class at the Ox-Bow School of Art and Artists’ Residency, in Saugatuck, free of charge. While at Ox-Bow, Johnson studied wet-plate photography, an early photographic process that involves a number of manual steps and makes heavy use of chemical elements — somewhat similar to the biology labs that he was already familiar with.

“It was kind of like a summer camp, and it was really fun. I also got to learn more about what professional artists do, and I think that was helpful for me in deciding what I would do after I graduate from college,” Johnson said. “I was grateful for the opportunity.”

Johnson is weighing his options for post-graduate life, but his dream is to someday work as a medical illustrator — a job that perfectly overlaps his two passions in life.

Story published on September 29, 2022