LGBTQ Student Center opens semester with kick-off event


Keynote speaker Molly Merryman and assistant professor of LGBTQ studies Lauren Vochon listen to the conclusion of the LGBTQ Student Center Spring Kick Off in the Nest on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2017. “The most radical act you can have when you feel unwelcome is to succeed,” said Merryman. Merryman’s speech encouraged the LGBTQ community to find their support systems and to continue to succeed in the face of adversity.

Cameron Hoover

Kent State’s LGBTQ Student Center kicked off their spring semester with a social gathering and presentation Tuesday night at The Nest in the Student Center.

The celebration filled up quickly prior to its 6 p.m. start time, as students and faculty members mingled over cookies and beverages. The presentation opened with Ken Ditlevson, the director of the LGBTQ Student Center, giving attendees an agenda for upcoming events throughout the semester. These included such events as Battle for the Wagon Heel, a drag competition between members of Kent State and the University of Akron, and a prom event being held in the Student Center.

“We’ve got some graduation, pre-commencement celebrations, so that’s how we end the year,” Ditlevson said. “We’re bringing a big keynote speaker in, Ronni Sanlo, who was blocked from her own child’s graduation because she was a lesbian. Having her on campus brings us more into the history, so that’s definitely one of the big ones.”

“We have a mentorship program, which is something I’m really excited about,” he continued. “We partner students who are newly coming out with alumni who has made it through those bumps in the road. We’re also in the process of expanding our space. This year we were really focused on expanding our budget and our staffing, and both of those things happened. So now the last piece is expanding our physical space.”

The speeches continued with presidents from many LGBTQ organizations on campus speaking about their missions and goals. These speakers included PRIDE! Kent’s Gabrielle Gooch Cooper and Trans*Fusion’s Alice Freitas.

The final participant was the night’s keynote speaker, Dr. Molly Merryman. Merryman, the director for the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality, gave a 15-minute-long, passionate speech to the room about proving naysayers wrong by succeeding.

“I want you to realize that you are in a place and time when far too many people want and expect queer people to fail,” Merryman, who is also an associate professor of sociology, said to the students. “And that sometimes the most revolutionary thing you can do as a queer person is to look at whoever expects you to fail and demonstrate that, through your behavior, they will see that your life is a success.”

After Merryman’s speech concluded to a round of applause, the room began to mingle again as people from all different walks of life began to interact with one another.

“I feel like this is a good, inclusive safe space,” Brien Thompson, a third-year psychology major, said. “I feel like I can really be myself here and feel welcome with other people like me.”

“I come to these events because I love my connection with the LGBTQ community, especially in times like these where we have people in power who want to take rights away from us,” Emily Grubb, a third-year geography major, said. “It’s kind of nice to have a community I feel I can connect to where I feel that no matter what happens, I’m going to have a place where everyone is going to accept me for who I am.”

Staff member Mason Branham saw the event as a possible teaching opportunity for others around him.

“In a perfect world, the best thing to do would’ve been to bring others with me,” Branham said. “I think meeting another human being that you think is very different from you only to find out that they’re really not is probably the most powerful thing.”

Ditlevson wanted to make it known that the LGBTQ Student Center was open to all students, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

“Not just gay, lesbian, and queer people come to our events. We have a lot of allies who come,” he said. “We have people who just really believe in the cause of equality and social justice, so just coming to an event doesn’t mean that you’re gay. That’s cool to me, so we want everyone to know that they are welcome here.”

Cameron Hoover is a general assignment reporter. Contact her at [email protected].