UIndy’s Gender Center moves into Esch Hall, gains faculty fellows, student affiliate

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The Gender Center, which debuted in February 2020, has undergone some changes during the Fall 2021-22 semester. Alongside adding faculty fellows and student affiliates, the center has moved from Schwitzer Student Center to Esch Hall in Room 231. The center is able to create long-sustaining changes in places where it needs to grow and have student insight, according to Laura Merrifield Wilson, associate professor of political science and history and Co-director of The Gender Center.

“We have fellows who are committed—they have an expertise and education background—and certainly an interest in those areas [regarding gender]. And they’re committed to helping us re-envision what we do,” Wilson said. “… They are focusing on creating projects that identify how we can do that in their particular fields. With the student affiliates, this is a great opportunity for us to have an individual student perspective.”

Freshman creative writing major Danni Conn is currently the only student affiliate for The Gender Center this semester. According to Wilson, the student affiliate program is used as a scholarship for interested prospective students before they enroll as first-year students, with the hopes of expanding it to more students. Conn said this role allows him to provide resources for those who need support or have questions regarding gender, as well as social media coordinating. The center is meant to create a safe space for students where they can feel comfortable talking about topics surrounding gender, according to Conn.

“We’re not limited to just one specific group of people, or a subgroup of people. We’re there for anybody who has any sort of questions or just needs help in general,” Conn said. “My goal for it is just to let people know that I have a lot of experience dealing with things based on your gender, and then your sexual orientation and everything like that. I want to be able to guide them in a way that lets them know that they’re not alone in anything that they’re going through.”

Wilson said the primary purpose of the center is to serve as a central location that encourages conversations, organizes events and supports students, faculty and staff in conversations surrounding gender, sex and sexual orientation. The center is meant to connect people with resources available, such as UIndy Pride or the counseling center, according to Wilson, and they do not want to replicate services that already exist.  

“We can identify based on what they say like, ‘It sounds like this might be a great place for you, or let me connect you with a couple different people,’” Wilson said. “Serving as that connector, it’s critical for campus vitality but it’s really helpful for student engagement too, because I don’t expect that students know the answers to all their problems …. We can help serve in that way to help identify and address what it is they want to do and who could help them
with that.”

The goal for the future of The Gender Center is to be more involved and recognized on campus by developing new programs and partnerships, according to Wilson. Students should feel a connection with the center in their first year as well as when they leave the school, she said, and have the mission resonate with them. 

“I want incoming students to know what the Gender Center is, what it does and who we are,” Wilson said. “I also want them to feel like it serves them, that there’s a way that they can connect. A lot of people make the erroneous assumption, quite frankly, that ‘Oh, it’s for women’ or it’s for a certain kind of community, right? I don’t benefit from this. But these conversations impact truly everyone. I want everyone to feel a connection and a role in that.”

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