Coffee with a Purpose: Dalton State Student Gray Addresses Hot Button Issues
February 11, 2015
Before Montana Gray graduates from Dalton State, he plans to leave a legacy.
He got a head start on that legacy when he became the Cultural Awareness Programming Coordinator for the Campus Activities Board (CAB) last year, and wasted no time in creating an entirely new awareness program, “Roasted.”
“Roasted,” what Gray calls his “pride and joy,” is a coffeehouse program geared towards bringing students together to talk about hot button issues.
“One night I was lying in bed, thinking about a program we could do, and I got to thinking about coffee, and how it’s a universal bond between all walks of life,” said Gray. “People all around the world come together over coffee. They celebrate with coffee, they mourn with coffee, they go on dates over coffee, so why not talk about sensitive issues that college students face over coffee?
“So I created ‘Roasted,’ and that really gave me a purpose here,” he continued.
The program now meets once a month. For the inaugural meeting last year, Gray and the rest of the CAB didn’t expect many students to participate.
“We were expecting maybe 15 people,” said Gray. “At that point, it was such an abstract concept.”
Much to their surprise, around 70 students showed up.
“We actually ran out of coffee that first time, which was a great problem to have,” he said.
Now, “Roasted” has an average of around 35 students participating in every meeting.
Esther Lovingood, a fellow student and attendee of “Roasted,” touts Gray for his professionalism and dedication to Dalton State.
“Roasted is one of the best campus events to happen here,” she said. “I have attended multiple times and I always leave intellectually satisfied. Each event has a different theme, which attracts more diverse participation every time.”
“A salon-style program is extremely important in colleges because it allows young people to speak their minds and see how others view the world, while at the same time presenting interesting social and political topics to chew on,” Lovingood continued. “Roasted promotes a thinking culture, and that is critical in places of learning such as Dalton State. Without Montana's efforts, the program would not be as successful as it is now.”
The group prides itself on discussing sensitive issues that college students face. In the past, they have talked about LGBT equality, Hispanic heritage, body image issues, and suicide awareness.
“Montana has blossomed into an exceptional young man who has done great things on our campus, ‘Roasted’ being one of them,” said Jami Hall, Director of the Office of Student Life at Dalton State. “Coffee has helped our students address many topics that might otherwise be seen as challenging and/or taboo.”
“Roasted” has been recognized both at the state level and nationally. Gray was invited to the Georgia Collegiate Leadership Conference of 2014, where he was recognized for the “Most Innovative Program” and the “Program Most Likely to be Stolen.”
Gray also presented at the National Conference for the Association for the Promotion of Campus Activities, where he was named the APCA National Student Programmer of the Year.
Gray currently serves as Executive Director of the CAB. In addition, he serves as the Student Government Association’s Senator of the Office of Student Life. In this capacity, he represents CAB, Students Advocating for Volunteer Efforts, and the New Student Orientation team. He is also the Director of Camps and Conferences for orientation. And he was elected Homecoming Prince this year by the student body.
Gray was born in Dalton and grew up in Chatsworth, where he attended Murray County High School. His penchant for student involvement stems from his experiences in high school in the drama program, the student council, and as Homecoming King in the fall of 2010.
Soon after he graduated in 2011, he set out for Valdosta State University, a whopping 302 miles from his home.
Unfortunately, due to the large size of Valdosta State and the unfamiliar atmosphere in South Georgia, he did not feel very connected with the campus.
Gray made the decision to return to Dalton after two semesters, and started classes at Dalton State College in the fall of 2012.
“As soon as I came back up here, I immediately found a support system,” he said.
After taking a semester to assimilate and readjust to life back at home, he was encouraged to get involved on campus by a friend on the Campus Activities Board in the spring of 2013, and easily found his place.
Gray also finds time to juggle schoolwork and campus involvement with community theater.
“I don’t like to sit around and not do anything,” he said. “It kills me.”
In his time as a college student, he has played roles such as Donkey in “Shrek the Musical” and the title role in “Aladdin” at the Colonnade in Ringgold.
He also played the title role in “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” at Dalton Little Theatre around Christmastime.
Gray plans to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in history in May of 2016. He says he has enjoyed every second of being a history major.
“It’s a great department,” Gray said. “We have great professors and we do a lot of great research. The options that we have for classes are amazing.”
“One of my goals on campus is to make Dalton State somewhere that you’re proud to be,” he said. “The entire time that I have left here is devoted to making it into an institution that people want to be at. I’m working very hard to develop new programs, a new atmosphere, and a new attitude on campus.”
“I also want to bring a greater LGBT presence to campus,” Gray continued. “I’m currently working with other students to bring about a new Registered Student Organization to bring in resources for LGBT students from the community from places like the Nooga Diversity Center [in Chattanooga], and just bringing a new level of appreciation and awareness to the LGBT community and to Dalton State.”
His plans don’t stop there, however.
Immediately after graduating, Gray plans to go straight into graduate school to study higher education administration and student affairs. One of his dreams is to work his way up to a position such as vice president of an institution.
Beyond that, Gray has dreams of eventually entering into politics.
“I’ve come to realize that local government is where it’s at,” he said. “It’s where you have the most direct effect on people. The laws people complain about the most are traffic laws, ordinances in their neighborhoods and communities. You can have the most effect on your constituents by being their local representative on the city council, as mayor, as a commissioner of some sort. That’s what I really want to get involved in.”
“Who knows, I may hop into Congress someday,” he said.
Gray maintains that Dalton State has fostered his imagination and encouraged him to work toward these long-term plans.
“Dalton State really helped me decide to go for my dreams,” he said. “All of my experiences here have truly helped develop my communication skills and made me realize that I’m most comfortable when in a crowd or helping others.”
“Montana has been a superstar at Dalton State,” said Hall. “Student Life has continued to challenge him with leadership opportunities, and every time, he has risen to the occasion, putting Dalton State in the limelight. He is a true gem.”