New Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality in early planning stages

Victoria Manenti

Kent State is seeking to establish a Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality to grow the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender as well as the Women’s Studies programs, according to an April 22 joint statement from James Blank, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and associate professor of sociology Molly Merryman.

“While the mission and exact structure are still to be developed over the next several weeks by an advisory group of faculty and students, it can be said that the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality will bring Kent State University to the forefront of gender and sexuality research and scholarship, and it will create new undergraduate and graduate courses and curriculum that will offer an interdisciplinary perspective for the exploration and understanding of constructions of gender and sexuality,” the joint statement said.

The announcement follows Merryman’s decision to resign as coordinator of LGBT Studies. Merryman formally stated her resignation on April 17 through a public letter. Her decision was based on a lack of administrative and financial support from the university, she said.

“Molly knew that her resignation was going to be the perfect sound-off for, quite frankly, the disservice that Kent State was doing to the community,” said Brandon Stephens, president of People Respecting Identity, Diversity and Equality (PRIDE! Kent).

LGBT Studies provides an interdisciplinary minor program that educates students about sexual orientation and gender identity. Merryman and two other faculty members began the program in 2001. University administration told the founders that if the program proved to be sustainable, it would receive financial support in the future, Merryman said.

Fourteen years later, university budget allocations have not allowed faculty members who teach in the LGBT Studies program to receive additional compensation or time allocation for work outside of their home departments. Merryman said all faculty member contributions to the program continue to be voluntary.

Merryman took over as coordinator of the program in 2010 and pushed for increased support. Today, the LGBT Studies program does not have enough faculty members to teach all of its courses, which has led to an overall decrease of student participation in the minor program. However, Merryman said enrollment in the LGBT Studies introductory course has increased.

“In stepping down, I am imploring university administration to do what’s right and support the scholarly lives of LGBTQ students and the lives of other students interested in learning about LGBTQ lives,” Merryman said in her resignation letter. “In other words, if Kent State University administration cares about LGBTQ students and LGBT Studies students, it is up to them to demonstrate that commitment by offering a tiny budget amount so that the LGBT Studies program can continue.”

University administration received an outpouring of positive feedback from the Kent community about the LGBT program after she stepped down from her position. Merryman said she believes this external support motivated administration to improve the program.

“I think Kent State finally recognized the importance of these two programs (LGBT and Women’s Studies) out of necessity,” Stephens said.

Blank contacted Merryman after reading her resignation email and began discussing the future of the LGBT and Women’s Studies programs with her. During a meeting, Blank and Merryman agreed on developing the new Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality. Merryman rescinded her resignation and will serve as one of the leaders of the initiative, along with director of the Women’s Studies program Suzanne Holt, Blank said.

“Let’s quit talking, and let’s start doing,” Blank said.

The new center will be an academic unit that integrates LGBT and Women’s Studies programs. Funding for the programs will now primarily come from the College of Arts and Sciences resources, Blank said.

Faculty members will be compensated in terms of time. Faculty members teaching in the interdisciplinary programs will receive time release, similar to research release for full-time tenure track faculty, from their home academic departments. The College of Arts and Sciences will compensate home departments, as well, Blank said.

Blank said many decisions, such as location, about the new center are still unknown. Blank, Merryman and a group of faculty members will put together a curricular proposal for the center. The proposal will then go through various university committees, before the center can be formally established. Blank said he expects the center to be established by Fall 2015.  

“I think the assumption often is that it’s only the small percentage of people that benefit from these programs, and I think what came through so clearly, particularly from our students, was that this isn’t just about a handful of people and that people across the spectrum really care about LGTBQ students,” Merryman said. “This is bigger than simply being about a small group.”

Contact Victoria Manenti at [email protected]