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Lucille Eckrich and Karly Enger

Karly Enger (right) with Education Professor Lucille Eckrich, one of Enger's favorite professors, at the 2016 Lavender Graduation Ceremony.

Student fights to make ISU more inclusive

Illinois State senior Karly Enger has been questioning the status quo and their own identity since they were a child. Yes, “their” and “they.” Enger, who identifies as queer, uses the pronouns they, their, and them.

“The gender binary doesn’t fit who I am,” said Enger, of Morris. “I don’t have a gendered brain or experience. It is very fluid.”

Enger, the co-president of ISU Pride, has spent the last four years fighting to make the University more inclusive and for the campus’ LGBTQ community. That activism was recognized April 3 when Enger was named the student recipient of Diversity Advocacy’s Commitment to Diversity Award.

“It has been a blessing to work with someone like Karly,” said Danny Mathews ’11, M.S. ’13, ISU Pride advisor and Diversity Advocacy specialist.

“Anytime you are questioning your own identity or questioning how you are perceiving an identity, there should be some dissonance. Because that is going to help you grow and better understand yourself so that you can respect others and work for others.”—Karly Enger

Mathews said Enger really understands how different social justice movements are related. One example was Enger’s outreach with ISU Pride to the Black Student Union. The latter group honored Enger with the Ms. BSU award earlier this school year.

“I don’t really need to be acknowledged for the work that I do. But it is always nice to know that people are recognizing the actions you are taking,” Enger said.

Enger said it was important for ISU Pride members to go to the Black Student Union meetings and events so their movements could combine forces and for Enger’s group to learn to better represent its black members. “A group of mostly white people can’t automatically say, ‘I know what’s it is like to be a queer person of color.’”

Enger’s advocacy for gay people began in middle school. Enger, whose uncle was gay, questioned their pastor about the church’s views on gays.

“It just didn’t settle well with me, because I knew someone I loved very dearly was in that community. I just couldn’t be at peace with what the church was teaching me. I challenged them a lot,” Enger said.

This past year, Enger has been challenging the campus community. Enger helped organize ISU Pride’s Queertober, a series of public awareness events focused on the LGBTQ community, and spearhead its Color Me Queer campaign.

“Color Me Queer is a way to state that ‘I’m proud of who I am and you can’t take my colors away from me,’” Enger said. “It’s a way to express yourself and not be ashamed. And that’s what the campaign is trying to get across. That you should just love yourself for who you are, and you should be proud of that.”

Karly Enger with a group of people

Karly Enger has worked through ISU Pride to collaborate with other movements across campus.

Enger has also pushed the University to open more gender-neutral bathrooms. During Transgender Day of Visibility, on March 31, ISU Pride placed the Transgender Pride flag outside Moulton Hall and got the Bone Student Center to create gender-neutral bathroom signs and open all of its first floor restrooms to both genders. This and other in-your-face activism caused some discomfort on campus, Enger said.

“That’s a good thing. Anytime you are questioning your own identity or questioning how you are perceiving an identity, there should be some dissonance. Because that is going to help you grow and better understand yourself so that you can respect others and work for others.”

Enger is set to graduate in May with an interdisciplinary degree in human education and services. Enger would like to work with developmentally disabled people—another community for which Enger has advocated—and continue being an activist.

“I really don’t have one specific goal. I just know whatever I do and wherever I’m at, I want to keep fighting for not only my community but also other communities.”

Commitment to Diversity Award winners

Legacy of Leadership Undergrad: Ky Ford
Legacy of Leadership Grad: Kenneth Porter ’14
Outstanding Established Program: Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) Celebration, Spanish Club
Outstanding New Program: Active Feet, Spanish Club
Outstanding Organization Member: Kristina McCormick, Spanish Club
Outstanding Staff: Stacia Kock
Student partner in diversity: Karly Enger
Staff partner in diversity: Art Munin

Kevin Bersett can be reached at kdberse@IllinoisState.edu.

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