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MSU Gender and Sexuality Campus Center celebrates, affirms, and supports Queer and Trans individuals and communities

MSU alumna Grace Wojcik is the director of Michigan State University's Gender and Sexuality Campus Center.

Where did your original interest in and passion for advocating for the LGBTQIA+ community come from?

“I started my path as an advocate for the community in high school. That was around the time of the 2004 marriage amendment in the state of Michigan. And I was also really active in trying to get a gay/straight alliance started at my high school at Lapeer East High School. So we had a joint one with the crosstown high school, Lapeer West, and that was rough. We had some pushback from administration. It's the early 2000s and so there wasn't the same openness that we have now. And from there, coming to Michigan State, I got involved with some of the LGBT caucuses and student organizations on campus and later the LGBT Resource Center, The LBGT Resource Center as it was known. And that really set me on the path of advocating for the LGBTQ+ community and making sure folks have access to the support resources they need and are entitled to.”

Why MSU? Why did you choose to return now?

Grace Wojcik
Grace Wojcik

“It's funny, I applied for this position a number of times previously, but I had left higher education. A former student of mine from Oakland University sent me the posting, and she works here, shout out to Kara. And she sent me the posting saying, ‘I know you're kind of done, but I think you'd be great. We need you here at MSU. We need you to come home’ kind of thing. I applied and am so happy to finally get this job. This is kind of the dream job of mine after being in higher education for the better part of a decade. This is kind of like the ultimate position for me. I'm excited to come back home.”

Talk about the mission of the center and how it's evolving. Who you advocate for and how you go about it?

“We are primarily student focused, and we're here to make sure that our LGBTQIA+ students feel seen, advocated for, and empowered while they're on campus. We also do a lot of consulting with faculty and staff and the administration to make sure our students are included across campus, however that looks, whether that is in policies and procedures, housing assignments, or a wide variety of ways.

“Ultimately what we're here to do is to make sure our LGBTQIA+ students are supported, and they make it to graduation. They can be successful here no matter their sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression. I think a lot of times people think we're just for LGBTQIA+ students, but really anybody is welcome to stop by the center. We have a family room area where students tend to socialize and study. It’s just a good place to wind down, take a load off in between classes, meet other students, and find connections. A lot of times people stop by and say, ‘I have questions. I want to learn more about the community because I'm doing this project.’ We're all happy to engage with that work as well.”

Do you have some short-term goals and then have you had time to even think of some longer term ones yet?

“I feel like I'm a little bit more aware of some of the connections that haven't been able to be fostered. I'm really looking forward to connecting with alums who want to support the office and who have their time, talent, and treasure to give back to the students. I know a lot of folks who are passionate about getting connected and supporting this next generation of students. That's a really big goal of mine.

“I also am in the very early stages of a strategic planning process for the center. I would really like for us to make sure that what we're offering is still what students need and want and that we're meeting the mark for those different areas. I want to see us become one of the most LGBTQ inclusive campuses in the State of Michigan on the Campus Pride Index. And while there are problems and things that we can talk about with that index because no assessment is perfect, what we know is that that assessment is backed by research for best practices for LGBTQ+ resource centers. I would really like for us to be one of the top ranked universities. At my previous institution, I was able to do that, and I don't see any reason why I can't do it here.”

What about some challenges and opportunities as you pursue those goals?

“The pandemic really did a number on our student engagement. Our student orgs across campus have been struggling with students understanding the reason why it's important to get engaged or even just what it looks like for these student orgs and what they have the power to do. And that's no criticism of the students. It's hard to come to a campus of this size and be in a virtual setting or to be a freshman and then go virtual.

“We're in a serious rebuilding stage across campus. Everybody's experiencing this is what I've come to understand. We really want to make sure the students know what they're capable of doing as student activists. And we're really here to support that advocacy as best as we can. But we also want to foster connection between the groups because we know that with a campus of 55,000 students, there's no way that one office with three full-time staff members can reach all of those students. That's really where these student orgs come into a critical position. They have a big role to play and we know that they're important. Students may find them first and then find us just based on comfort and proximity. We really want to make sure folks know that the center and these student orgs are here to support students. That's critical.”

You've said it a couple different ways. I said LGBTQIA+. Is that right?

“Yes. Everybody uses a different acronym. In our mission statements we use LGBTQIA2S+. Other institutions just use the LGBTQIA or LGBTQ+. We're all saying pretty much the same thing. There are various acronyms in play all over.”

That leads me into a question about the pronouns. Why is it important to honor people the way they want to be honored? People want to do the right thing, but sometimes they're overly careful and say nothing.

“That's typically what I've experienced, too. The fear stops people from doing anything. It becomes almost paralyzing. For pronouns, the easiest way to approach it is just to understand when you see someone sharing their pronouns on their name badge, their email signature, or even in an introduction in a group setting, they're really trying to set the stage for inclusion for everybody to be able to share pronouns rather than the onus only being on the people who maybe use pronouns that quote, unquote, ‘don't match their appearance’ or don't match what we would assume them to be. That's one way for us to create a more inclusive campus environment.

“I know that pronouns are kind of getting a bad rap politically. There's a lot of pushback towards the transgender community and gender-nonconforming community. And I think a lot of that is based on preying on people's fear and misunderstanding or the fear of the unknown. Most of the time people do want to treat others with respect and dignity. And I think that's one way to do it.

“If I'm just meeting someone, I'll say, ‘Hey, I'm Grace, I use she/her pronouns. What pronouns do you use?’ Or ‘Can you remind me of your pronouns?’ There are really easy ways to ask it in a respectful way. And then of course, you may have folks that'll just say, ‘Oh, by the way, that person uses this set of pronouns.’ Again, it's all about respect. It's not about making anybody feel like they need to be, quote, unquote, ‘canceled.’ Most of the time people will gently and respectfully correct someone else when they've misused a pronoun. But again, it's just about treating each other how they would like to be treated, let alone how we would want to be treated. It's a really easy way for us to show that everybody has a place here at MSU.”

Over your time in this advocacy, what other changes have you seen? Progress has been made and there is still work to do, right? Just your overall assessment.

“We've really come light years since when I first became involved with advocacy for the community. Now there are equal marriage rights. People have access to gender-affirming care. There are more doctors who are aware of it. In the medical profession itself, you're seeing more medical colleges engage in training their physicians or future physicians on what it means to be an inclusive practitioner. And I was engaged in that work at Oakland University as coordinator there. But I think we're at a really big precipice where we're seeing so much progress over the last 20 or so years, and now it's time for the backlash to that progress. And even though we're lucky to live in a state like Michigan, which if you would've asked me 20 years ago if this would've been as affirming of a place to live for LGBTQ+ people, I don't know if I would've answered the way I would have today. It's been a huge journey.

“However, we know that all it takes is for an election to go another way, and things could be totally undone, unfortunately. There are forces out there preying on fear and misunderstanding. And the fact of the matter is transgender and LGBTQ people at large have been around for millennia. This is not new. We've always been here. And I think that's part of the misconception is that this is something new, strange, and different. It's just not factual. The queer and trans communities have been here forever, and we'll continue to be because, by nature, we've had to be resilient. If you're not resilient, you will perish. And we've seen that time and time again. We're in an exciting time as a state to finally be open and accepting to all. I'm hopeful that that doesn't reverse anytime soon.”

And are there other facts about the community you'd like to reinforce or some myths to dispel?

“Again, with all the progress we've seen, folks maybe don't understand that over the last several years we've seen an uptick in hate crimes towards the LGBTQ community, predominantly against transgender people. That's scary because there is a lot of hatred out there. There's not a willingness of understanding all the time because folks are hearing little sound bites somewhere and then getting whipped up over it. We know that we've got some work to do on campus with the Know More Survey that came out recently. We know that a lot of students who are trans or non-binary indicated that they've been experiencing quite a lot of harassment in that space. That is some of the work that the GSCC is engaged in improving with some of our partners across campus.

“People often don't understand that when we don't accept someone's name or pronouns, that has real effects on someone. It's correlated to suicidal ideation and lesser mental health. If you really think about it, it makes sense. If you don't have the support of people around you or even your identity affirmed or respected on a basic level, of course that's going to make you feel isolated, lonely, depressed, and sad.

“Coming out of the pandemic, we are going to see some of this mental health impact because we may have students who have had to live in environments that were not accepting. They've had to almost go back into the closet, so to speak, because they had to go live at home where their parents were not supportive of them or where they weren't allowed to be themselves for fear of being punished or harassed in some way. It's important for us to remember that we play a huge part in that, no matter what role we play on campus. This work is everybody's job. Even if you're not involved in DEIB work specifically.

“We’re at an exciting point right now. I want to encourage everybody to visit our website, which is gscc.msu.edu. From there, you can actually learn more about pronouns and all the different educational programs and resources we provide to campus. If you're moved to support our students, I would really encourage you to donate to our Unconditional Love Fund. That is where we give financial support to students who may not have family resources to fall back on due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. Unfortunately, since the events of February 13th, we have seen an increased number of requests, simply because people are really experiencing a great deal of trauma stemming from that event. And as such, they may not be able to work as they once did or have the resources to pay for rent and food and things like that.”

When you were choosing a college, why was MSU the place for you?

“I grew up in a smaller town, and I went to a high school of a thousand people total. I wanted something bigger. I wanted the quintessential college experience of football Saturdays and the big old ivy-covered buildings, really everything that we think of when we think of MSU. And when I got here, it felt like home immediately. I did know folks, but it was nice to be able to start fresh in a way at a bigger school and be around people who are totally different. You have folks who are from different countries, different religious backgrounds, and different ethnic and racial backgrounds. There were many opportunities to learn from folks different from myself. And that was really what moved me to come to East Lansing and specifically Michigan State.”

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