Lori Clark, a newly minted EdD, is beginning her seventeenth year of teaching English at Elgin Community College. She started as an adjunct in the English Department at several colleges but quickly found that ECC was the most welcoming campus.
Her passion for equity and inclusivity amongst students is reflected in her dissertation, which was specific to the experiences of trans* and gender non-conforming students who attend community colleges. Her entire doctoral program and research focused on LGBTQ+ students in the community.
"My dissertation allowed me to talk to students at community colleges across the country and to learn their experiences," she said. "What I learned is that community colleges are not doing enough to support the trans* and gender non-conforming community on our campus. We are not listening to their voices."
Read more about Clark below to find out how she strives to live her most authentic life, even if it means revealing a deep secret about her musical tastes:
In your words, what do you do at ECC? What do you want others to know about your job? Or what would help others understand your job?
I mainly teach composition, where I help students improve their writing to prepare for their classes as they continue their education. In my ENG102 classes, we focus a lot on research and finding credible sources. In the time we are living in, being able to discern a reliable source from one that contains fallacies and falsities is critical.
In the literature and journalism courses I teach, we focus on analyzing different types of texts, discussing the historical context in which they were written, and having really great conversations.
What is your greatest accomplishment since you've been at ECC?
I think my greatest accomplishment was establishing the LGBTQ+ Literature course in 2009. This is a marginalized community on our campus that is very often neglected, making them feel alienated. For many students, this was the first time they had seen their identities reflected in a class, which made them feel like they belonged. I am very proud of being able to give this community a sense of belongingness and a voice.
Name a job or role at ECC that you would like to try for one day and explain why.
I think I would choose to be part of the custodial staff. This group of people on campus is the most overlooked yet most important people keeping the campus running. That experience would serve as a reminder of how important every single group on campus is.
If you could instantly be an expert in one thing, what would you choose?
This is a tough question. My initial answer was math because I have always struggled with math and would love to be able to help my kids more with their math homework. My second choice would be Spanish. I took Spanish in high school, but most of it has escaped me. I could reach a lot more of my students and other people in society if I could speak Spanish—or multiple languages.
What do you enjoy doing outside of work (i.e., hobbies/interests)?
I enjoy reading. I am a big Stephen King fan and love getting lost in his stories. I also enjoy movies, and I watch anything with Meryl Streep and Viola Davis, as they are both exceptional performers. My absolute favorite (and addictive) hobby is musical theatre. I love seeing musicals and listening to Broadway soundtracks. I feel such joy and contentment immersing myself in the story on the stage. It is a way of escape for me. Also, something is welcoming and comforting about seeing live theatre. It is a community where I feel like I belong.
If you could live in a TV show, which show would it be and why?
I would say Grey's Anatomy. I am fascinated with medicine and surgery, and had my math skills been stronger, I probably would have gone into the medical field. I always fashioned myself as a hard-core surgeon like Christina Yang on Grey's.
Where is the best place you've traveled? Or where would you like to visit?
My two favorite places to travel are London and New York. I love London for the history, art, and architecture. They have an incredible diversity of cultures and ethnicities in the city, which I find fascinating because I love learning about different people. I also love New York City. When I am in New York, I feel like I belong there. I've even had people comment on how I must be a native New Yorker on previous trips. I never correct them when they assume that. Of course, I love New York because of its theatre scene. I have been known to see a matinee, an evening show, and then top it off with a cabaret show at 54 Below (formerly part of Studio 54). I love music, and immersing myself in music for an entire day is rejuvenating and uplifting for me.
You have to wear a t-shirt with just one word on it for an entire year. What would that word be, and why?
I think the word on my t-shirt would be "Authentic." It would be a reminder for me to live and present my authentic self all the time and not be afraid of what people are going to think and say. Even at 45-years-old, there are times when I get caught up in what other people think, and I hide who I am. After my dissertation work and hearing the stories of trans* and gender non-conforming students living their authentic selves - or being denied the opportunity to live their authentic selves - this is an important message for me and everyone else who lives on the margins of society.
Share a fact about you that might surprise people to learn.
I'm having a hard time choosing, so. I will share two. The first one is that when I travel, I love taking mass transportation, specifically the subway. My best friend likes to tease me about this. I remember when I was in Boston, and I was about to ride the subway there for the first time, and I was so excited. I texted her to tell her about my upcoming adventure, and I'm pretty sure she called me a dork. I am okay with being a dork because riding the subway is a great way to get around a city, and it is an excellent opportunity to people-watch. I have seen some interesting characters while riding the subway.
The second thing is probably more embarrassing, but I don't think people would ever guess it. I love dance music; I especially love DISCO. I know many people will sneer at that, but there is just something about the beat of the music and the freeness that comes along with it that I enjoy. Plus, disco music set the stage for hip-hop music development, so you will sometimes hear overlapping of the two.
What job have you held (besides ECC) that was the most fun, interesting, or difficult? Explain why.
For a brief moment in time, I wanted to be a veterinarian (I call this my pre-mid-life crisis). I had spent ten years working as a journalist, and I wanted to do something with animals. So, I quit my job as an editor at a trade magazine and started working as a veterinary technician. It was probably the most emotionally challenging job I have ever had. It was also a very physically demanding job, and I have the bad hip to prove it. On the bright side, it was very rewarding, and we always managed to find the positive in the bad. I also met my best friend there, so I'd call that a win.
Name someone you admire and explain why.
I have had many important people in my life, but I think the one who had the most significant impact on me is my grandma, Pauline. I spent a lot of time after school and during the summer with my grandparents. My grandma taught my siblings and me the importance of knowing what's going on in the world and learning as much as you could about things. We watched the news every day with my grandmother, so I became interested in collecting information and reporting information very young. I think it's why I became a journalist. Her emphasis on education and learning is what led me to have a second career in education. And probably the most important lesson my grandma taught me was to accept everyone—no matter their race, religion, culture, sexual orientation, etc. She was a role model for me, and she supported me no matter what.
What was your most valuable life lesson?
When I was a kid, my mom always encouraged us to expand our worldview and experience new places and cultures. That support let me know that I could go anywhere I wanted to, and I didn't have to wait for someone to be willing to go with me. I have been lucky enough that I have been able to travel to many different places (Moscow, London, New York, Warsaw, Prague, and others), and I did it by myself, which is shocking to a lot of people. You don't have to wait for someone to tell you it's okay, and you don't have to be scared to do things on your own. This independence has allowed me to do many things that I probably would have never done if I had to wait for someone to go with me.
Complete this sentence: "I enjoy working at ECC because … "
I have great colleagues who are always willing to offer advice or talk me off a ledge—depending on the day. I also enjoy the students and the uniqueness and multiculturalism that they bring into our classrooms.