Kent’s Gender and Sexuality Center hosts open forum

LGBT+studies+coordinator%2C+Molly+Merryman+talks+with+students+at+the+meeting+for+the+emerging+Center+for+the+Study+of+Gender+and+Sexuality+on+Wednesday%2C+Sept.+9%2C+2015.

LGBT studies coordinator, Molly Merryman talks with students at the meeting for the emerging Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2015.

Cameron Gorman

The creation of Kent State’s Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality is moving forward with newly unveiled visions, programs and values paving the way.

Over the summer, several changes and decisions were made regarding the center’s new outlook, goals and available services. On Wednesday, some of the advisory planning group for the project met in the Student Center for a public unveiling of the Gender Center’s work and plans.  

As a group, the committee has decided to implement four primary areas of focus: curriculum, academic student services, research and grant writing, and public scholarship.

The committee designed this to share these ideas with the community. Molly Merryman, coordinator of LGBT studies at Kent State, headlined the forum, which explained to a room of interested community members and faculty the new guidelines of the program. Merryman said, public interest is key to the development of the center.

“Bring us your ideas. Why we wanted to have this forum now is that we want to hear from you,” Merryman said. “This is the Center. Us in this room right now.”

Community members and faculty asked questions of the panel, which was made up of of Merryman and associate dean of arts and sciences David Odell-Scott, including inquiries about the purpose and plans for the center.

Suggestions were also open and ranged from faculty ideas about marketing the programs in connection to other national programs, to community queries about plans for publishing.

When asked if research had been in connection to other college’s courses, Merryman said, “With the changes that we’re making, we will be in the top tier of LGBT programs. We looked at things nationally, not just regionally.”

The public forum was the last event that the planning committee, which consisted of both faculty members and students, including graduate and undergraduate students, will organize as a whole.

One of these faculty members is political science associate professor Joshua Stacher.

“Rather than (the group) being a teacher-mentor relationship, it was more of an organic approach,” he said. “There was a lot of student input.”

Already, progress on actualizing these goals is beginning to take place.

“We’re strengthening the current curriculum for LGBT studies and women’s studies,” Merryman said.

Both areas of study will continue to be available as minors, but the center is also creating a new bachelor’s degree in gender and sexuality studies. The new curriculum will be presented this fall, meaning most of the courses will not be available for students until next year.

However, this year, women’s and LGBT studies will be added to the bachelor’s of integrated studies degree, giving students a taste of what’s to come.

In an important decision for off-campus students, Merryman also announced that all of the new available courses will be offered in both classroom and online settings.

“We are committed to our regional campus students having complete and total access,” she said.

Along with a focus on student involvement, the center’s core importance will lie in research.

“What we really want is for Kent State to become the hub of research and grant work that pertains to gender and sexuality”, Merryman said.

In this vein, the center is bringing in Susan Stryker, the founder of the Journal of Transgender Studies, among other influential speakers, to provide a public education opportunity.

Merryman said she hopes that the center can be at the forefront of creating a more accepting and informed community through the center’s research.

“The hope is that we would be providing our expertise to help  business leaders and community leaders respond to this (LGBT issues), as well as reach out to educators to help them develop a cultural competency in the LGBTQ community,” she said.

“Our aim really is to take academics out into the public sphere so that we can become discourse leaders in the area of gender and sexuality but also to demonstrate deep commitment to global human rights,” Stacher said.

The center is moving forward with this vision of teaching by hiring a full-time faculty member to teach LGBT studies. The hiring search will begin in the fall, with the intention of the selected member to begin in the spring.

In the meantime, there are several new developments as the center moves forward.

A new course this year, Democracy and Desire: Gender and Sexuality in Greek Culture, will count toward the future major implemented by the center and will be fulfilled by a study abroad program in Greece.

There will be scholarships available to students wanting to join the trip, which runs from March 19 to March 26, 2016.  The 5k on Saturday will allow students to earn money which can be applied towards studying abroad.

“One of the things that I’m most excited about is having the opportunity to bring Kent State’s academic programs into a leadership role nationally,” Merryman said. “I’m really confident that with this new model for the center, combined with the support we have from the Women’s Resource Center, the LGBTQ Student Center, and the dynamic student organizations we have that we’re going to be the best place in the United States when it comes to gender and sexuality.”

For more information on upcoming events, visit the LGBTQ Student Center or email at [email protected].

Cameron Gorman is a general assignment reporter for The Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected]