At its June 22 meeting, Wayne State University’s Board of Governors approved the establishment of the Center for Gender and Sexuality. Answering a call made by the Student Senate in 2019 for more academic and student service resources related to gender and sexuality, the center will be located in the Student Center Building on main campus — next to existing student-facing services like the Office of Multicultural Student Engagement, the Center for Latino/a and Latin American Studies, and the new Office for Sexual Violence and Education — and be made available in the fall of 2023.
Supported by the provost since its conception, the center received endorsement from 50 faculty members, 16 departments and five deans.
“The Center for Gender and Sexuality is only possible because of many years of visible and invisible labor by students, faculty and staff,” said Simone Chess, associate professor of English in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and director of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies. Chess also prepared and presented the center’s proposal. “Since arriving at Wayne State in 2008, I have always advocated for more feminist and queer resources on campus; the provost was the one who suggested I might wrap up many of the campus’ needs in one holistic resource, and that was the starting point for the center proposal.”
The center will provide services in five areas: research, teaching, student services, programming and advocacy, and student engagement. Academically, the center will provide a singular space to unify the many scholars who already conduct this work in their own departments. “The center will make a major difference in bridging departmental and college gaps,” added Chess.
Like many other research incubators on campus, one of the goals is for the center to retain and attract research-productive faculty who bring their scholarship to the classroom, developing more diversified leaders in the field of gender and sexuality among both faculty and students.
A welcoming drop-in space with culturally competent staff available as resources, the center will collaborate with existing student-facing units like the Dean of Students Office and the Office of Multicultural Student Engagement to further focus on student services.
Opportunities for student engagement and educational outreach will include support for student organizations and facilitating discussion groups. Examples of programming from this past academic year include crafting events, a Coming Out with Kittens event in collaboration with Detroit Cat Rescue, a Menstruation Station launch with the Students for Reproductive Justice group, and a Queer Horror film screening event at Halloween.
“What’s most exciting to me about the Center for Gender and Sexuality is that it will bring together so many aspects of the university into a single unit, encouraging lots of connection, community building and synergy,” said Chess.
Chess said one thing that makes the center unique is that it’s not solely for interdisciplinary research innovation, curriculum and teaching, student engagement, programming and campus climate initiatives, or community engagement. The idea is for all of those things to happen — together — in one place.
“For students especially, it’s important to see how faculty research and expertise is connected to the classes that we teach, and that what they learn in the classroom is connected to their lives outside of class in student organizations, preparing for careers, exploring the city, and just generally figuring out who they are and who they want to be,” continued Chess. “That’s what a research university is all about.”
She added that the center will strive to show how incredible it is when faculty who are research leaders in their fields are accessible to students and where curriculum and student services overlap, all in the city of Detroit, with proximity to and partnerships with community organizations that share the center’s values.
As fate would have it, the center’s proposal was approved during Pride Month. Considering the long-standing history of Pride Month at WSU, this news serves a special significance to Warriors near and far.
“This is a major recognition that Wayne State is in support of interdisciplinary research and student services related to gender and sexuality, and a major investment in LGBTQIA+ and feminist students, faculty and staff. It is an important way to make the campus values of inclusion and diversity more visible, and a crucial step toward making sure our campus is as welcoming and safe as possible,” noted Chess.
Looking ahead, leaders in this initiative hope the center will be a natural fit on campus, expanding on many of the current elements of LGBTQIA+ and feminist life. Chess believes it will only amplify the impact and reach of those existing efforts. Combining the uniqueness and broad nature of its mission, the center will bring together many different elements of the university.
“At this moment, where both women’s and LGBTQIA+ rights are increasingly under attack, it means a lot for the university to document its commitment to evidence-based research and culturally competent services that will benefit the entire Wayne State community,” said Chess. “We have a lot of work to do, and we are excited to undertake it together with so many allies and advocates on campus, among WSU alumni and in Detroit.”
By Katheryn Kutil