Northwest Ohio was the only major metro area in Ohio without a chapter of GLSEN (formerly known as the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network). That’s no longer the case, thanks to the efforts of education professor Dr. Kristen K. Williams, who spearheaded the creation of a chapter as part of her sabbatical during the spring semester. After extensive review, the chapter received accreditation in October.
Kristen explained that GLSEN works to create safe and inclusive schools for all K-12 students, regardless of their gender identity, sexual orientation or gender expression. Local GLSEN chapters work at the grassroots level to help end discrimination, harassment and bullying targeted at LGBTQ students in schools. Through its programs, research, policy, training and resource development, GLSEN has built a network of 43 chapters; the northwest Ohio chapter is only the fourth in the state.
The GLSEN of Northwest Ohio is comprised of six counties: Hancock, Lucas, Ottawa, Sandusky, Seneca and Wood. Organization is a big undertaking, but Kristen has some great connections that are committed to incorporating two major initiatives this year: student programming and educator professional development. To that end, GLSEN of Northwest Ohio will work to support the development of gay-straight alliances (GSAs) or provide programming for existing GSAs. Three GLSEN board members – including Kristen – will travel to GLSEN’s New York City headquarters for extensive training in the coming months.
“Although GLSEN’s main mission is focused on K-12, we are doing some things outside of that, too,” Kristen said. She plans to extend the program to campus by offering faculty development sessions and raising awareness through participation in GLSEN’s annual “days of action.”
“I’m really excited to start working with faculty colleagues about ways to be inclusive in the classroom in proactive ways,” Kristen said. “That should become second nature for us.”
Additional work is taking place behind the scenes, too. Kristen will be working with grad student Quinn Sparks, a GA in Residence Life, and graduate counseling professor Dr. Meghan McBride on a project to study the experience of ‘Berg students who live in gender-neutral housing. Kristen also will partner with theatre professor Stephen Svoboda to work with Berg Allies to incorporate GLSEN “days of action” programming such as No Name-Calling Week in January, Day of Silence in April and Ally Week in September.
With GLSEN’s mission as a guide, Kristen’s overarching goal is to ultimately have a positive impact on the climate for LGBTQ students at Heidelberg by creating a welcoming, safe and affirming atmosphere.