Exposure – 5/3/2020 – TRANSCRIPT for MSU LBGT Resource Center

Connie Rahbany

Interview Transcript

Connie Rahbany: Hello and welcome to Exposure. I’m your host, Connie Rahbany, and today I’m interviewing with Jessie Beal from the LGBT Resource Center at MSU. Thank you for joining me today.

Jesse Beal:  Thanks so much. I’m so excited to be here with you.

Connie Rahbany:  Yeah. So can I have you introduce yourself and tell me a little bit about you?

Jesse Beal: Sure. So my name is Jesse Beal. I’m the director of the LBGT Resource. Center. All things that you’ve already said. Um, I use they/them pronouns. And I’ve been at MSU since May 7th of last year, so I’m just about at my one year anniversary.

Connie Rahbany:  Well, congratulations. So what can you tell me about the LGBT resource center? What is it?

Jesse Beal: So we are a student facing resource for LGBTQ students across campus, but really for everybody, right? So all of our programs, all of our workshops and trainings are for all members of the Spartan community. And our whole job is celebrating empowering and affirming LGBTQA plus Spartans and working to create a more inclusive campus for all of us to live on.

Connie Rahbany:   Perfect. So what sort of impact has this had on those that are involved?

Jesse Beal:  That’s a really good question. I think the thing that I’m the most proud of that we do is we build community, right? And so we make sure that LGBTQA plus students have spaces on campus where they feel fully welcomed and accepted for exactly who they are. And so some of that is through our programming, right? Some of that is through advocacy work. Um, and some of that is really just through, you know, having a student drop in center where anyone can come in while we’re open. When we’re actually on campus and grab a cup of coffee or a cup of tea and throw their bags down and take a nap on the couch or read a book or watch endless streams of YouTube videos. Right? Um, so a lot of what we do is really just around making sure that people have a home base, and if that’s making your classroom safer, great. And if that’s just giving you a place where you can just be who you truly are and watch a lot of YouTube videos and eat a lot of snacks, then great. We do that work too.

Connie Rahbany:  So what sort of specifics are you doing to achieve that more inclusive goal for the campus?

Jesse Beal:  Sure. Uh, so many, many, many different things. So a lot of what we do is based on what students have asked for us to do. So a lot of the advocacy work that I’m responsible for on campus is based in what better practices are in higher education around LGBTQA plus inclusion, but also based on student feedback. From one-on-one interviews, uh, meetings with registered student organizations. But also we hosted a series of listening circles in the fall semester, uh, to hear from LGBTQA plus students about what they needed from the resource center, uh, how MSU could be more welcoming and inclusive for them. And we’ve been trying to operationalize some of the feedback that we’ve got. So we’ve been asking for things like, you know. A new gender inclusive housing policy. Right. Um, we’ve been asking for things like more gender inclusive or all gender restrooms, um, working to ensure that the new student information system actually captures gender identity. Right. Which it currently only captures legal gender or birth assigned sex. Right? So lots of different things. Some of it is around community education too. So a lot of the work we do is in trainings and workshops to ensure that faculty and staff have the skills that they need to fully support LGBTQA plus community members. And so that can be things like, you know, understanding about pronouns and ensuring that you’re using the right name for folks instead of just using the name that’s on your course roster. So we skill build and we build community.

Connie Rahbany:  In what ways can someone get involved with the LGBT resource center?

Jesse Beal:  Besides stopping by once we’re back online and taking all of the coffee and watching all of the YouTube videos. Um, there’s a lot of clubs that are affiliated with our center. Right? And so I think we have, depending on the year between 15 and 18 different active registered student organizations, including the caucuses and those are divided based on, you know, affinity. So there’s a group for ACE and Aero students and a group for transgender and nonbinary students. There’s five caucuses, right? Um, so folks can choose how they want to engage with the groups. And those groups work really closely with us. They co plan our larger events, right? So we work, for example, on a transgender day of remembrance and trans day of visibility with transaction, which is our transgender student organization, right? So that’s a really easy way for folks to get involved. For new students who are going to be joining MSU in the fall, we run a program called New To You, which is a six week program that’s all about how to navigate MSU as a queer or trans person. And so it’s stuff like, you know, how do you go figure out the library. Right? Or how do you make friends or what student organizations are out there, but you’re doing it with a bunch of other LGBTQ students at the same time, which is super great. Um, we also do five different welcome programs and we celebrate all of the history and heritage months and every single day you can imagine from national coming out day to, we did denim day just a couple of days ago.

Connie Rahbany:  How have you seen this benefiting people the most? Is it individually? Is it communal?

Jesse Beal:  Oh, so good. I think it’s both at the same time, right? Because we want people as individuals to feel empowered and like they belong at MSU, but we also want the culture of MSU to be welcoming and affirming. And so I think our work is happening both with each individual student, but also with the work we do to shift the culture.

Connie Rahbany: How about you? How has being at the resource center impacted you?

Jesse Beal:   So I’ve been here for just about a year. I will say that I’ve really loved my time at MSU. I have some of the best students on earth and some of the best colleagues and partners that any practitioner could ask for. I think part of that has to do with MSU’s commitment to research and excellence. Part of it has to do with the fact that we have an awesome hail program here. So this is a campus that cares a lot about student affairs, and our office is a part of the division of student affairs and services. So I have to say this has been a really awesome professional experience for me. In a personal way. I feel really inspired by our student leaders. I’ve found that MSU student leaders are dedicated and committed and willing to do the hard work to make a campus better that they may not actually get to see during their time with us. Right. So a lot of our students really are focusing on creating an MSU, but other than the way they found it. Right? And not that MSU is bad, MSU is amazing, but like there are ways in which our LGBT students would like it to change, to be a little more amazing. And they’re doing it for the people who come after them. And I think that service mindset, that goal of, you know, creating a better world than the way you found it is just really unique to MSU and I’m so glad to be able to be a part of it.

Connie Rahbany:  Now, I’m going to go in a similar but a bit of a different direction. What got you involved or what inspired you to get involved?

Jesse Beal: Yay. I love answering questions like this. So, um, I feel like I started my career in student affairs and services when I was an undergraduate student. Right. Cause I think a lot of us, when we go to college, we don’t know that there’s this entire field called student affairs. Right? Why would we, and then we get there and we’re like, Oh, these professionals who are like caring for me and making sure that I have what I need, whether that’s in housing or in orientation or in the LBGT center. Right. Um, that’s a whole profession that I could pursue. And so when I was a student, I, and I was a nontraditional student. I got started a little bit later. Um, I was at UT Austin, which is a very similar institution to MSU as far as size goes. Right. Um, I did an internship in the equivalent of the LBGT Resource Center, which is the gender and sexuality center, and it was through that experience and then being a peer educator with the amazing, incredible Shane Whalley, who’s one of my mentors, and it was the education coordinator at the gender sexuality center back when I was an undergraduate student there. It was those experiences that really made me passionate about student development. And so I eventually, you know, got a job after getting a graduate degree and doing work in rape crisis and domestic violence prevention for a few years. I got a job at a resource center. Right. And have worked at several different institutions doing work related to diversity, equity, and inclusion in student affairs. So working in multicultural centers, women’s and gender centers, and LGBTQ centers. And that’s been  the best part of my whole career. So yeah. Thank you for asking.

Connie Rahbany: Yeah, of course. Is there any specific experience you want to speak on that stands out to you?

Jesse Beal: Yeah. I think my relationship with Shane Whalley is important. I think it’s really important to find mentors who share your identities and as a person who identifies as non binary and gender queer, there were not a lot of adults older than me who shared my identities, right. And Shane was the person who’s about, you know, 20 years older than I am, right. Um, and identified as gender queer and used pronouns. And it gave me a possibility of a way that I could be in the world. And that’s what’s one of the things that’s so incredibly important for our LGBTQ students and our LGBTQ youth in general, um, is making sure they have possibility models, which is a term that I believe Laverne Cox came up with. Right. Um, because most of our families aren’t LGBTQ identified. Some of them are, but most not. And so when we’re thinking about who our heroes are and how we get to be, and possibilities for how we get to live. We often don’t have these people to model our lives after or to dream into. Right? And so I was really lucky. So a part of why I do the work that I do is because I had an amazing experience in undergrad, right around my sexuality and my gender. I was completely taken care of and loved and affirmed and you know, treated with respect. And so I want to make sure that all LGBTQ students have that. And that for me is really. Inspiring work. I want to give back because of how good I had it.

Connie Rahbany: You’re listening to WDBM East Lansing. I’m Connie Rahbany, your host of Exposure. Today. If you’re just tuning in, we’re talking to Jesse Beal, the director of the LGBT Resource Center at MSU. So pride month ends today, which is April 30th tell me what pride month is all about. What normally goes on, and if any of this has changed since the pandemic.

Jesse Beal: Yes, absolutely. So pride month for those of you playing at home is usually in June. Right? It commemorates the Stonewall uprising of 1969. We celebrated the 50th anniversary of pride last year. Right. But on college campuses, since we’re usually not in regular session, we usually host pride month in April. Um, and this month, this year was a little different. Unfortunately. I’m really lucky to have such an incredible staff team. We have, in addition to myself, we have an assistant director, Oprah, and our coordinator Morgan, who helped us basically translate a lot of our programming and support services online with very little notice. When the campus went to online delivery of classes, that also meant that a lot of support services went online too, and that was us included. Um, so usually what pride month looks like is a big celebration. The whole goal of pride month is an opportunity for us to celebrate and affirm our community to be truly who we are and to be proud when so many people in the world don’t think we should be. Right. And so this is an opportunity for us to band together as a community and just party, right. To be together, have a good time. Be in community. Right. I care a lot about pride month. It’s a really important cap to the year for us. We have a lot of really important moments that happen. Um, of course, pride prom is one of them, which was canceled this year because we were no longer on campus and we also have a pride month opener and tons of events and speakers, um, none of which were able to happen in the way that we’d originally imagined. But we did move some programs online, some services online, and created some new stuff that made a little bit more sense given the digital media. So we continued with the heart of pride, which is building community, being together and celebrating, right? So we certainly did those things. So we did Instagram live cooking shows with community members, uh, former students and friends of the center. Right. Which was so much fun because it was people inviting us into their homes, telling us about their lives and sharing food, which is so important. Right? It’s such a hallmark of like what it means to be in community with one another. We also had a program called pride chats, which was a weekly zoom call where we invited community activists. From around the Lansing area to come and talk about the difference they’re making in Lansing and East Lansing around all different types of injustice. But all the folks we invited were of course, LGBTQA plus identified. Um, and then, you know, we did all the support stuff. Like we hosted weekly office hours. We held our meeting of the minds program, which is a planning program, so we can decide what we’re going to do next year for programming. Right. And we just made ourselves as available to students as we can. In addition to all of this, we created a bulletin board on an app called Padlet that allowed us to basically create a visual representation of pride with our students. So. Folks added stuff, whether it was pictures of pets or articles or events that they liked or tips or information about something related to pride all month long, and it was an opportunity for us to have a shared pride experience although we are spread all over the country. Our theme for pride this year is a little cheesy, but it is deeply connected at any distance. I know, I know that’s entirely my fault. And it’s also true, right? Cause we are deeply connected and we wanted to hold onto that. So I’ll take all of the negative feedback on having a too cheesy title. The last event that I want to talk about really briefly is lavender reception, which is our annual honoring of LGBTQA plus graduates and that event is probably our most important event of the year. It’s near and dear to my heart and I actually cried when we had to take it online and not have it be a part of our in-person programming because for so many of our LGBTQA plus graduates, this is the only commencement related activity that they actually get to, you know, use the name that they use. Right. Or wear the clothes that make them feel like the person that they truly are. Right? Cause commencement so often is about family. And for a lot of our students, they don’t get to be who they fully are with their families. So we did it anyway. And I think we ended up with something really beautiful. Um, there was only 10 graduates who participated. They got a rainbow honor cords and tassels, a beautiful lavender button, a certificate, a social media campaign, honoring them with their beautiful faces and years and quotes and all sorts of things. And the ceremony was really lovely. It involved a student speaker, a keynote, some words for me and lots and lots of faculty and staff and community members cheering over a very large zoom call. So it was really lovely. It was just different than we had wanted it to be, but we still celebrated them. And I think that’s the important part.

Connie Rahbany:  And I think that’s really amazing that you were able to overcome the struggles that this pandemic has put in front of us and make it something really special for everyone involved.

Jesse Beal: Thank you for that. I appreciate it.

Connie Rahbany:  Is there anything that the center is doing currently that you’d like to share? I know we kind of spoke on it being the end of pride month, but is there anything else?

Jesse Beal:  Yeah, so I think something that’s important for folks to know is like we’re always doing the advocacy and the education works. So we’re doing workshops and trainings right now. Um, if there’s departments out there that would like to do a little bit of professional development work, they can always reach out to me. And we’re here. We’re here to help on your diversity and inclusion projects if they’re related to LGBTQA plus identity, and we’re still doing the work of supporting students. You know, when we went remote, we actually saw an uptick in the number of students who are reaching out to our centers and wanting to talk to us one-on-one. A lot of that has to do with the fact that students are home with families who may not be super accepting and we’re happy to be that resource, and of course we’re referring folks out to the appropriate counseling services or to wherever is the best place to serve them and their needs. But we’re still doing that work. So if there’s students out there, regardless of if we’re on summer break, does it matter right? We work all year round and we’re here for students. And if that’s just, Hey, you need to talk to somebody or you need a resource, I just want to be sure that folks know we have office hours and you can reach out to anyone on the staff and we’ll get back to you and make sure that you get the resources that you need.

Connie Rahbany: And I know it’s a bit of a stretch looking forward with all the uncertainty and stuff, but is there anything that you have to look forward to at this time?

Jesse Beal: Yeah, I mean, whatever happens, we’re still Spartans. We’re still in this together and we still are gonna have an amazing class of new students joining us in fall. And so whatever that looks like, we have to ensure that they are welcomed to MSU and for our LGBTQA plus students, it is a vital importance that they are able to see their community and be in community with beautiful LGBTQA plus Spartans from all over campus. So I don’t know what it’s going to be like, to be quite honest. Right. I honestly don’t know, but I know that we’re dedicated to finding a way to making sure students get connected to the clubs and organizations that are going to support them. That our new students actually have the things that they need and we’re going to do programs like if it’s on zoom, great. If an audience is kept to a certain number of people, fantastic. We’re going to figure it out because it is too important for us not to find a way to make sure that all students at this university have the things they need in order to be successful. And that includes our queer and trans students.

Connie Rahbany: And we spoke briefly over email before this interview, you talked about the Quest our LGBTQA Plus Workshop curriculum. What can you tell me about that?

Jesse Beal:  That’s so great. I love that I sent you an email with that and then I completely forgot to talk about it. I love it. So we introduced a new core curriculum for the LBGT RC in fall of last year, and it is designed to be a modular workshop series so that folks can engage with the learning about LGBTQA plus identity throughout their entire time at MSU, whether they’re students or faculty and stuff, whether they’re with us for two years or they’re with us for 40 right? We want people to continue to grow because we know that a single training doesn’t give you the whole world of what it means to be supportive of LGBTQ identity and. LGBTQA plus identity is changing all of the time, right? And so it’s important that folks keep re-engaging with the work. And so quest one is an intro training that we offer all the time. We’re going to be offering it in the fall online, which is really exciting. Right? But in the intervening time over summer, we will be opening up some zoom workshops to do the quest workshop. Um, so if folks are interested, please reach out to me. I’m really happy to make a workshop happen for you.

Connie Rahbany: Now, is this something new? Has this been done before?

Jesse Beal:  So we had a training previously called Quill, which was queer inclusive leadership and learning that was similar and wasn’t a bad training at all. It was really great. We just needed an update because again, LGBTQ identity shifts and changes. The language moves so quickly, and we wanted to take a slightly different approach where our program is no longer like a certification program where you get like a checkbox and a gold star and a cookie and you know it’s now, it’s a program that you’re supposed to continue with. That’s why it’s called quest, right? We wanted to emphasize the journey it takes to be an ally. Right. Which means being a part of the work in perpetuity and also we’re all nerds. Everyone who works in the center is a little bit of a nerd. So we liked quest as a name because it reminded us of Zelda. But you know, I mean, it’s also good. It’s all, it looks like queer. We like it. Um, so it’s similar, but not the same as, and the main difference I would say, is that it’s modular and it has more levels to it. Right? And so it’s got quest, one quest two, quest teams, and then there’s a bunch of topics workshops, including introduction to pronouns, right, which is its own hour and a half long workshop. And a whole introduction to trans and non binary identities. And we’ll be adding more and more workshops as time goes by so that folks can actually continue to grow over their time with MSU. So we’re excited about it, you know? But again, we’re nerds, so there you are.

Connie Rahbany: Now thinking back on the experiences you’ve had with the resource center, if you could describe it all in one word, what would it be and why?

Jesse Beal:   I’m a little cheesy, but I would say magical, right? Like part of what we do is we make things feel magical when a lot of folks don’t think they should. So whether it’s, you know, doing drag queen story hour and bringing so much joy to the students, the faculty, the staff, and their children who attended, we bring magic to that, right? Whether it’s honoring our students in the middle of a pandemic during lavender resection, we make magic. And you know, we just, we bring joy. And so for me, I think that would be the one very ridiculously cheesy word I would use to describe my experience at the research center.

Connie Rahbany:  And if there’s anyone listening to this right now that is interested or could benefit from this, what would you say to them?

Jesse Beal: Yeah. So easy things. Follow us on social media. That’s the best way to get the most up to date information about what we’re doing. Right. Um, you can always reach out to us by email, go to the central website, LBGTRC.msu.edu. Right. Um, so I think that’s the two easiest ways to get to us. It has all of our contact, our website has all of our contact information and photos of us and information about what each of our roles is, so you get to the right person. Um, but yeah, I think that’s great, easy stuff. You can also just reach out to me and we’ll figure out a way to plug you in somehow, whether that’s working for the center or volunteering or just hanging out and being a part of the community.

Connie Rahbany: Now, is there anything else that you would like to add that I might not have asked you about?

Jesse Beal: I don’t think so. I’m just so grateful to have the opportunity to talk to you about the center and about pride month. I’m excited just to get to celebrate pride again in June, but this way with the rest of the world instead of just with campus. So that’s all.

Connie Rahbany: Yeah, and thank you for interviewing with me and being available.

Jesse Beal: Absolutely. Thanks so much, Connie.