For Professor of English Lori Clark, EdD, much of her equity, diversity, and inclusion work takes place behind the scenes, but the outcomes can be seen everywhere on campus. “It’s critical that students, especially students of color and LGBTQ+ students, see themselves reflected both in the campus community and in the course curriculum.”
Clark has led the way on many EDI initiatives related to gender identity and support for the LGBTQ+ community. A recent key initiative was the Gender Management Project, which was introduced in May 2021 and expanded the gender identity, pronoun selection, and chosen name options for students and employees.
“Students being able to choose their pronouns and change their names made a lot of students feel welcome,” Clark says. After learning that some students would drop classes because of a fear of being misgendered, she advocated adding pronoun options like ‘they/them’ and gender options including non-binary, questioning, or cisgender.
Clark’s passion for queer inclusion on campus is reflected in the dissertation for her doctorate, which examined the experiences of trans and gender non-conforming students on community college campuses. She presented an update on her research to the Elgin Community College District 509 Board of Trustees in January 2022.
As part of her dissertation research, Clark spoke to many trans and gender non-conforming students who felt they were not represented in their classes. “They didn’t see themselves, their voice, their history, and I think that’s really important for students,” said Clark.
Also helping expand interest and participation in LGBQT+ options within the curriculum is being approval of courses by the Illinois Articulation Initiative (IAI) The designation is a significant consideration when students are selecting their general education courses. “When students know that a course will transfer within Illinois, they are more interested in taking something different,” said Clark.
The LGBTQ+ literature course was created in 2010, but Clark recalls, “enrollment was always low; some semesters, it wouldn’t run due to low enrollment. Once the course received IAI approval, enrollment increased.” Clark sees this as proof that getting more diverse courses on the IAI list will encourage students to take a broader range of classes. She envisions more diverse courses for general education, some already open at ECC, like Latinx literature and African American history, and others developed by faculty for the future, including an LGBTQ+ history course. She believes it’s also essential for students who are not a part of the LGBTQ+ community or people of color to take these types of courses to broaden their understanding of history and society and “hopefully develop more empathy and be more accepting of different groups.”
Clark also launched the Queer Employee Support Team (QUEST) in the fall of 2021. “As a queer faculty member, I always knew that there were probably other queer people on campus, but I didn’t really know.” She modeled QUEST on another campus employee support team, BEST (Black Employee Support Team), after seeing some of their work in action. Clark envisions QUEST as a place where queer employees can talk together, process challenges on campus, and create community.
Clark’s work in equity at ECC continues to be a priority campus-wide and at the classroom level. From specific course creations bound in EDI to the Gender Management Project to QUEST, any future initiatives from Clark are guaranteed game-changers in creating an environment that enables success for all ECC students.