UCO’s “BGLTQ+” Student Center and Gender Studies program built from the ground up
by Sara Ritsch
Issues of sexual health, gender equality and a need to address these on a curriculum on campus have inspired a new program called “The Center” at the University of Central Oklahoma. Its focus is on Gender Studies, including Sexuality and Women’s Studies – as well as a BGLTQ+ Student Center and community center. Harvard and Dartmouth are some of the universities who feature this “BGLTQ+” program, and this will be the only one of its kind in Oklahoma, as it is modeled, in part, after Harvard’s design.
The two arms of The Center are the BGLTQ+ Student Center and the Women’s Research Center. Classes in the BGLTQ+ and Women’s areas of study will officially gain the support of the Center in August of 2016. But the Center needs an actual shelter; it needs a home for its classes and for the people who will use it as more than a scholarly source, but as a community center.
Dr. Lindsey Churchill, Director and one of the founders of the Center, urges students to sign up for classes in the fields of Gender Studies, Sexuality Studies and Women’s Studies at UCO. “When I came to UCO, there seemed to be a need for academic and social activities for people interested in gender issues, and I found many students asking for them. There’s definitely a need and a strong interest there.”
The BGLTQ+ Student Center’s mission statement outlines their support for bisexual, gay, lesbian, transgender, intersex, asexual, queer, questioning and allied students by hosting educational and social programs that address issues of concern in the BGLTQ+ community. The rest of their mission is to sponsor student BGLTQ+ organizations and to provide leadership opportunities for BGLTQ+ students.
“UCO has one of the highest BGLTQ+ student populations in the state. They’re very BGLTQ+ friendly by protecting people and through anti-discrimination advocacy,” Churchill explains.
Meanwhile, the Women’s Research Center mission statement touches on scholarly, creative and pedagogical projects in the fields of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies by promoting intellectual engagement with women’s and gender issues. They hold the Gender and Sexuality Studies minor while hosting conferences about women’s issues. They also make materials relevant to women’s health available to students, model good health practices and support the development of campus childcare services and student grassroots initiatives.
Programs like these can be the only way some students learn to address their gender identity or sexual orientation. Churchill reminds The Gayly that an important thing to remember is the threat of “gender policing”. This program highlights situations such as these and many others.
“For example, in a business meeting, if someone who presents as a woman says something, she has to say it this-many-times to be believed in the same way that a man is. It also applies to rape culture. Sometimes it seems we don’t believe BLGTQ+ or women when they say something, or like a [cisgender] man has to say it for it to be accepted in the same way.
“Being believed while speaking the truth versus having someone back you or repeating yourself – that’s a big thing." And this is an area of focus that can be addressed at the Center, which you could learn more about this fall.
The Center is always accepting support, whether it be by volunteering or through donations. “We need an actual building,” Churchill says. “We don’t want to be ‘in a closet,’ but we want our own space to show that these are valid fields of inquiry, which they have been for a long time.”
The Center is hosting their First Annual Gender and Sexuality Studies Conference at UCO on September 26, 27 and 28. Admissions for the conference by way of presentation proposals are welcome now and due by April 20.
These proposals must address issues of gender and sexuality in social sciences, humanities, natural sciences or fine arts. Anyone interested may propose papers, panels, roundtable discussions and poster presentations for the conference. Welcome proposals also include any form of creative work, including creative writing, drama, music and visual art. A 250 to 350-word abstract about the project will be due by April 20 and can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Center is also holding a gala at 7 p.m. on Monday, September 26 at the Boathouse in Oklahoma City. For more information, visit The Center at UCO on Facebook or Twitter. Information regarding the conference and The Center can also be found at www.uco.edu.
The Gayly- 4/1/2016 @ 9:47 AM CDT