After over a year without a permanent director, the LGBT Resource Center welcomed Dr. Clare Lemke to the role in February. At the time, the center was well into planning two of their largest events: Lavender Graduation and participation in the Utah Pride Festival and they were about to lose two members of their team.
“Coming mid-spring semester was a sprint,” said Lemke. “We had things that we needed to make sure happened and we said goodbye to some fantastic student staff that graduated.”
With just three full-time and three student-staff members on their team, losing two felt like a major change. Fortunately, Lemke said she came into a healthy, well-functioning office with an incredibly welcoming staff that made it an overall soft landing for her. Now, five months in, Lemke has already overseen several successful events and made two new hires.
In the interim
The former director, Kai Medina-Martinez, left the center in December 2017 after about 11 years with the LGBT Resource Center. After that, Education and Outreach Coordinator Gabrielle Blanchard filled in as interim director for more than a year.
“Ella’s leadership at that time was crucial to making sure, not only that we were maintaining programs we were doing, but really growing and focusing on critical populations that were being underserved and making important changes to our educations programs,” said Lemke.
Still, there were certain things that just couldn’t move forward until a permanent director was in place. Right away, Lemke set a clear goal for her first year at the U.
“I’m really trying to focus this year on making connections across campus and just letting people get a chance to know me and for me to know them,” said Lemke. “I’m a very relationship-driven person, so I want to spend as much time as I can with students and other student organizations. It’s important to me to start with that foundation of getting to be in the space and letting people learn a little bit about me and how I like to work.”
Changes and challenges
After many years in the Midwest, Lemke said Utah has been a big change. She grew up in Wisconsin, and most recently worked as the assistant director at the Center for LGBTQ+ Student Success at Iowa State University.
“It was a very similar mission of the type of work they’re doing but I was in a more support role and the campuses are very different,” said Lemke. “Where I was coming from was very much a residential campus in a small college town, and I was ready to be in a more city environment and to take on some of the nuances of serving a more urban campus.”
Lemke recognizes that each campus comes with unique challenges, such as ensuring that all LGBTQ+ students know the center exists and are aware of the resources available to them.
“I want to keep focusing on building relationships, communicating what the office is doing, telling our story to people both on and off campus, and enhancing the way we’re reaching out to students so we’re making sure we truly are reaching students across campus and across all academic disciplines,” said Lemke.
Oftentimes, Lemke said, university students are coming into a cultural identity as LGBTQ+ individuals for the first time in their lives.
“It’s hugely impactful to talk about LGBTQ+ histories, cultures and how different identities intersect with gender and sexuality when many of the students we’re serving have never had the chance to think about who they are as a queer or trans person, or what it means to be in relationship and in healthy community with other queer and trans people,” said Lemke.
While they do serve a specific population, Lemke stresses the importance of their work to engage all of campus. They organize events throughout the year for anyone who is interested in learning about queer and trans history or culture.
“That’s rewarding too because I think for a lot of folks, this may be something that didn’t come up for them in their K-12 schooling,” said Lemke. “This is a really great opportunity for them to get involved, to learn and to think differently.”
Lemke said she feels honored to be doing this work and can’t wait to get to know even more campus partners at the U.
“I’m excited to be here and I’m really looking forward to connecting with more people on campus,” she said. “I would love it, as folks want to talk about any dreams they have for the center and good or bad experiences they’ve had, to let me know. We really want to keep that communication open and make sure that what we’re doing responds to the needs of our campus.”
LGBT Resource Center Welcome Event
Aug. 23, 2019 | 1-3 p.m.
Panorama East, Union
Gay-la and Silent Auction
Sept. 27, 2019
Pride Week 2019: Queeroes
Sept. 30-Oct. 4, 2019