The Rainbow Gathering, a new LGBTQ+ support group at Canisius

Madilynn Rutherford and Alison Smith start a new LGBTQ+ support group on campus encouraging students to share, express and support each other while discussing their experiences. They hope these students can learn from each other while also feeling comfortable with sharing their own stories.

Doctoral Intern Therapist, Madilynn Rutherford and Canisius College Counselor, Alison Smith plan on changing the LGBTQ+ community for the better.

Madilynn Rutherford and Alison Smith in the counseling center team up to start a new support group on campus

Coming out can be difficult for some students, especially for students who are still questioning or discovering their sexual orientation or gender identity. The Rainbow Gathering, a support group started by Doctoral Intern Therapist, Madilynn Rutherford and Canisius College Counselor, Alison Smith, is meant to allow students to meet with others and discuss their experience as a LGBTQ+ member. 

Rutherford is a counseling psychology student receiving her P.H.D. at the University at Buffalo, and started working at Canisius in January. She is passionate about working with the LGBTQ+ community, and found out that Canisius does not have an LGBTQ+ support group. Smith became her supervisor for this group. Smith started a couple of groups in the past, including a grief support group as well as an art journaling group that she called “Perfectly Imperfect,” which dealt with channeling perfectionism through a creative outlet like journaling. 

Smith plans on continuing with these two support groups in the upcoming semester, but is leaving her primary focus for this semester on The Rainbow Gathering. Rutherford requested that students who are interested in joining the group meet with them ahead of time for about 10 minutes to allow the two of them to get to know the student and explain to them their intentions for the group. 

They plan on having different themes each week to help stimulate discussion of topics like coming out stories, family dynamics, safety and relationships. The two of them hope that once the students are more comfortable sharing amongst each other they will begin to suggest their own topics. 

Rutherford and Smith ask that students pre-register for the group. They have had seven students pre-register so far, and were talking to a few others. They feel that the ideal number of students for a support group such as this one would be somewhere between eight and ten students. If they don’t already have 10 members, they plan on leaving the group open to new members until next Wednesday. 

They plan on continuing the group next semester. The same members from this semester are welcome to stay, but any new members are also required to pre-register. If their number of group members exceeds ten, they would consider having two separate groups. “I think that would be a good problem to have, if people wanted to stay together to get that support,” Smith said. 

The meetings will be held weekly, on Wednesdays from 5-6 p.m. in the counseling center, Bosch 105. Their first meeting was this past Wednesday. Rutherford and Smith will help students facilitate conversation, especially because they understand students may not feel comfortable sharing their stories at first; however, they would like students to take over the discussion so that they are able to bond over their similar or even different experiences. 

“My primary goal is wanting students to have a space where they feel comfortable to be themselves and comfortable to talk about sensitive topics they just might not talk about in their everyday lives,” Rutherford said. “There’s so much power in community, in bonding with people that have had similar experiences to you or have similar identities to you, and there’s a lot of healing power in being able to connect with others.” Rutherford and Smith both agree that a lot of healing can derive from group therapy. “To do [group therapy] in a small setting can feel a lot safer and more comfortable,” Smith stated. This is what they are both hoping to provide to students. 

If students are interested in joining this support group, they can contact Madilynn Rutherford at or can call the counseling center at (716) 888-2620.

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