The founding director of Binghamton University’s new LGBTQ Center officially assumed her role on April 4.
Kelly Clark previously served as a counselor at the Gay Alliance of the Genesee Valley and as the director of multicultural affairs at SUNY Geneseo. Over an almost 30-year career, she has worked to create diversity-related programming on college campuses from scratch and has seen LGBTQ advocacy come into fruition starting in the 1990s through to the current day. Before starting at BU, she completed her Ph.D. at St. John Fisher College with a degree in executive leadership.
To make BU more inclusive and supportive, Clark said she wants to focus on the academic, cultural and social needs that are specific to the LGBTQ community.
“I watched LGBTQ students try to sit around the diversity table and enter into discussions, and continued to be elbowed out by the faculty,” Clark said. “They weren’t hearing what the LGBTQ students had to say.”
According to Nicole Sirju-Johnson, associate chief diversity officer at the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (ODEI), the center will provide specialized advocacy and support for the community.
“Even though we have LGBTQ students organizations here, there was something missing,” Sirju-Johnson said. “We needed someone to lobby for them in a way that we couldn’t necessarily understand because I don’t have that experience.”
According to Sirju-Johnson, the ODEI worked with students, Residential Life, the Office of the Dean of Students and the women, gender and sexuality studies program to choose the right person for the job. She said they were looking for a candidate that had familiarity with theories and approaches needed to serve LGBTQ communities, programming expertise, leadership experience and a record working with diverse LGBTQ communities.
Clark said she is excited about the opportunities her new position will provide and believes having this center will allow BU to focus on issues unique to the LGBTQ community. One of these tasks includes working with international students who come from countries with oppressive LGBTQ laws, where sexual education may have not been taught.
She said her future plans for the center include support for faculty and staff, facilitating undergraduate research in LGBTQ-related fields and assisting LGBTQ students navigating study abroad programs. The office will be located inside the Multicultural Resource Center.
“There’s got to be a point person on campus,” Clark said. “You have to have somebody who knows what the best practices to implement, knowing the history and the cultural competency for some of the more entrenched issues that college campuses face.”
Reaction from the existing LGBTQ student groups has been positive. Ryan Hogan, president of Rainbow Pride Union (RPU) and a senior triple-majoring in French, linguistics and integrative neuroscience, said he was relieved LGBTQ groups would have more administrative guidance in organizing and planning events.
“RPU is thrilled that BU has decided to join the growing number of colleges and universities around the country establishing LGBTQ centers,” Hogan wrote in an email. “Until now LGBTQ students have borne the responsibility of both organizing fun and engaging programming but also fighting for changes and progress at an institutional level.”
According to Clark, having visible spaces like the center can educate targeted groups as well as the campus as a whole. She said academic research shows that these spaces do not encourage self-segregation, but rather have the exact opposite effect.
“Having an LGBTQ Center sends out a huge message and when you do that it helps those who might otherwise not speak up,” Clark said. “It says the campus welcomes me and it gives students a chance to regenerate and go back out and really be active on campus.”
Clark would also like her center to be a safe space for LGBTQ students to come and ask questions or even hang out. She said if there is one thing she wants students to know, it is to call her by her first name.
“Two things: please call me Kelly,” Clark said. “And my big goal is to make sure when students come by, they don’t find the center locked and there will always be someone here.”