Jumping into the leadership of a new yet growing program like IUPUI's LGBTQ+ Center could be equated to drinking from a fire hydrant. Dozens of students utilize the space inside Taylor Hall every day, and events hosted or sponsored this fall by the center are numerous.
Entering its third year, the LGBTQ+ Center has already become a beloved venue for hundreds of students. But the potential for more growth is one of the main issues for new director Andrew "AJ" Young to take on.
Only two months into his new role, Young is relying on a solid decade of academic research and work within student affairs offices at American and Temple universities, where he also earned undergraduate and master's degrees (American) as well as a Ph.D. (Temple).
"Those two tracks are both needed to do this work," said Young, a native of Elgin, Illinois. "We should be a place where folks can walk in and feel welcome and included."
Since October is LGBT History Month, Young has been busy promoting the center's two biggest events of the academic year: Both slated for Oct. 27, the Hoosier Out Together Conference -- also known as HOT Con -- and the annual Harvey Milk Dinner will draw hundreds of people from all over the state.
Question: What are the details of the conference and the dinner?
Andrew Young: This is the second year for the conference. Last year's was at Purdue and was a joint program between our center and the Purdue center. It will be during the day, and the dinner will be a capstone for that event. The conference will be in Hine Hall.
The conference is a space to share information and experiences and stories about the LGBTQ community in terms of the experience of being a LGBTQ+ person in Indiana. Being new to Indiana, I am very much looking forward to this.
Tickets and sponsorships are still available for the dinner, and there's an option to purchase student tickets and then donate them to the LGBTQ+ Student Alliance. The dinner is a celebration. The keynote speaker, Blair Imani, is a fascinating and phenomenal woman who speaks about living and working at the intersections of being a woman, being a person of color, being a Muslim person, being a queer person. She is really emblematic of the history of our community and where the community is going and how we are moving forward. She should be an inspirational, fascinating and challenging speaker.
Q: Who will be attending the conference?
AY: We have community members from off campus. We have members of Indy Pride and some other organizations around the city who will be doing presentations. We've got folks coming from different campuses. We've got a group coming from IU Northwest. We've got students coming from Purdue, from Bloomington. Our keynote speaker for HOT Con is Elle Roberts. She's an Indy local and does a lot of work for women-identified people around Indianapolis by telling their stories and organizing against racism and other oppressions for LGBTQ+ folks, people of color and women. And she does a lot of work with SheHive.
Q: What were your initial impressions of the center when you started here?
AY: It's hard to start a center, and not every place has one. It has been really wonderful to know walking in that the center is here, it's well-established, and it's not in danger of going anywhere. I really appreciate that the community here, from the upper administration down to the students and the Indianapolis community, really is excited that the center is here. That already is a step ahead of a lot of places.
Q: What do you see in the future of the center?
AY: In terms of moving forward, I like to focus on student leadership and resiliency, educational and critical inquiry, and engagement, both on and off campus and in LGBTQ communities and beyond. As a queer person, you don't just have to be involved in things that are explicitly connected to our community. I was just talking to the folks in Study Abroad. That's also a very important thing to be involved in. Volunteering off campus or being in a fraternity or sorority -- those are all really important in addition to doing things within the community.
One way to grow that I feel strongly about is collaboration across campus. Ideologically, I think that's really important in terms of building community, on and off campus. We are stronger together, we do more interesting things, and we have better ideas and diverse experiences when we do them together.
I see the center as a hub, as the center of a wheel.