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By Dawn Wolfe Gutterman
ROCHESTER – Two naturally-allied groups will come together this fall at Oakland University, when the school opens its first student center serving both women and LGBT students.
The Gender and Sexuality Center was first conceived by two OU student activists, Duane Hurt, who graduated this year, and Kay Livingston, an officer with the Women’s Issues Forum at the school.
Hurt and Livingston “sat down last July and wrote a mission statement for what the center would do,” Hurt said.
The two then started a grassroots student movement to get the center approved. Events included an equal rights rally, a showing of “The Vagina Monologues,” a letter writing campaign to the student newspaper and a postcard campaign that allowed students to express their desire for the center to the OU administration.
The students found a receptive ear in Dean of Students Glen McIntosh. The center was approved after a February meeting between the students and McIntosh, Hurt said.
As for the wisdom of setting up a combined women’s/LGBT student center, Hurt said, “The people organizing the center saw women’s and LGBT issues as really linked. We just saw them as being oppressions that are linked. There was a really active LGBT community on campus, the women’s side wanted a women’s center, and a lot of people fighting the cause were equally passionate about both issues. What better way to show unity than combining both issues?”
“There are some natural alliances to be built by combining gender and sexual orientation programming at a college campus,” said Sean Kosofsky, director of policy for the Triangle Foundation and an OU graduate. “Homophobia and sexism are completely tied together, so work on gender and sexuality issues are critical to both communities. There’s power in numbers.”
Steven Leider, assistant to the director of the University of California/Los Angeles LGBT campus center, said that it’s not unusual for women’s and LGBT centers to be combined on college campuses.
“There seem to be as many ways to form them as there are centers themselves, but that is one common pattern,” he said.
According to Hurt, the new center needs the wider community’s help getting started.
“Part of the problem is that at this point we’re lacking funding, so at this point we’re looking for donations so that the administration can see that this is worthwhile and will sustain itself,” he said. Donations of furniture, office technology and cash are welcome.