The Kent State University Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality was formally approved by the Board of Trustees on March 9, 2016, and was established in Fall 2016. By the end of the semester, a College of Arts & Sciences search committee selected Molly Merryman, Ph.D. as its founding director.
In the summer of 2015, a Planning Committee for the Establishment of the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality was convened by James Blank, the dean of the College of Arts & Sciences. The committee, comprised of Kent State University faculty, staff, administrators and students, explored the need for and structure of the CSGS. In a 68-page report, the committee stated the Center’s Mission, Vision and Values, and made recommendations for staffing and growth. In the Fall of 2015, Molly Merryman, an associate professor of Sociology and co-founder of LGBTQ Studies, was named as the director of developing the Center.
But the history of the CSGS is rooted in Kent State University’s legacy of Women’s Studies and LGBTQ Studies. The College of Arts and Sciences has offered courses and academic programs in Women’s Studies and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) Studies for decades. Both programs have continually filled their offered courses, attracting students who select Kent State University as their destination university because of these offerings. While the programs continue to attract students, growth and development in the academic study of gender and sexuality has evolved in American institutions of higher education during the past 20 years.
Kent State University has a rich legacy of offering courses and otherwise engaging in the study of gender and sexuality. Courses on women and lesbians were first offered in 1971. The first continually operating LGBTQ student organization and first LGBT Studies program in Ohio were founded at Kent State. Recently, the university has expanded its support and resources for LGBTQ students to include scholarships, an emergency fund to support students who lack parental support and/or face parental alienation and violence, a student resource center with a full-time director, gender-neutral student housing and restrooms, healthcare coverage for transgender students, and more – placing the university at the forefront of LGBTQ-friendly universities. These actions also have increased the recruitment and retention of LGBTQ students, thus growing student demand for courses related to gender and sexuality.
Both Women’s Studies and LGBTQ Studies began by utilizing the volunteer talents of full-time faculty. Both programs remain supported by faculty affiliates who teach in a range of academic disciplines and who are employed in an interdisciplinary collection of Kent State University colleges, schools and campuses. In 2008, Suzanne Holt, Ph.D., was hired as the first full-time professor and coordinator of Women’s Studies, following several years of teaching as an adjunct instructor. Similarly, in 2016, Lauren Vachon, MFA, was hired as an assistant professor and coordinator for LGBTQ Studies, also after teaching as an adjunct instructor.
The Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality is building upon the successes of the existing minor programs and while creating an academic administrative structure that incorporates, expands, and supports opportunities for multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary scholarship, coursework, and degree work. This structure will support the existing minors in LGBT Studies and Women’s Studies and, in the future, work toward developing a multidisciplinary Bachelor of Arts degree in Gender and Sexuality Studies. Faculty and students from multiple academic departments and colleges study, research, and engage in creative activities in the areas of gender and sexuality. Incorporating a Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality will provide a structure of interdisciplinary support for grant-writing, research, and other forms of engaged scholarship conducted by faculty and students. Further, the new Center will be able to provide programs, workshops, outreach, partnerships and continuing education opportunities for law enforcement, government agencies, schools, corporations, and small businesses. Proposed topics include competencies in understanding LGBTQ people and communities, violence against women and sexual minorities, and discrimination in the workplace and schools against gender and sexual minorities.