Alumni use skills to enact change
In 2013, a small group of students from Illinois State University attended the Midwest Bisexual Lesbian Gay Transgender Ally College Conference (MBLGTACC), an annual conference held to connect, educate, and empower LGBTQIA+ college students, faculty, and staff around the Midwest. It was at that time that these students proposed to hold the 2015 conference on Illinois State’s campus. They won the bid, and over the next two years, along with the help of several other students and staff members from the Dean of Students Office, planned and implemented MBLGTACC at Illinois State University in February 2015.
Throughout the conference planning process, students Robert Alberts ’15, Khamille De Lara ’15, and Andrea Swick ’15, gained many tangible skills, including project management, communication, event planning, recruitment, collaboration, assessment, finance, budgeting, and web development.
Three years later, these alumni are using the skills they acquired through the conference planning to continue enacting change for the LGBTQIA+ community with the creation of the Midwest Institute for Sexuality and Gender Diversity. The institute, officially announced at the 2017 MBLGTACC, now serves as the official governing body of the conference, providing a support structure for student planners.
As professional staff members of the institute, Alberts, De Lara, and Swick use the skills they developed during the conference planning to teach and guide the student planners in the positions they once held themselves. Alberts, former conference director, advises the student executive team, while De Lara, past financial director, provides financial guidance to the planning team. Swick continues her role in maintaining the institute and conference websites and developing registration systems.
De Lara, now serving as director of finance for the institute, explains, “With MBLGTACC gaining a larger audience annually, the main issue (was) student planners having no knowledge about planning such a huge conference. With the creation of the institute, we aim to support the student planners in the form of us lending our expertise in operations, marketing, IT, and finance so the students can focus on providing MBLGTACC attendees a great experience.”
Alberts, who now serves as campus relations coordinator for the institute, adds that the founders were also “beginning to recognize a larger need than just conference planning, that queer and trans people in the Midwest have very specific communities that we develop to share and thrive with each other.”
The creation of the institute ensures that MBLGTACC will continue to have resources dedicated not only to the successful implementation of the conference, but also to providing safe, affirming, and empowering spaces for the LGBTQIA+ community.
De Lara shares that, “The stories that students tell of how much the institute has helped them find a sense of belonging and identity further drives me to help in the success of the institute and its vision.”
Swick, serving as director of technology for the institute, echoes these sentiments, saying, “Seeing students being able to express themselves in a safe place and the smiles on their faces is what makes me want to continue my work with the institute.”
In addition to their desire to provide safe spaces for students, the experiences the alumni had in the Dean of Students Office and the Division of Student Affairs is a driving force in their motivation to continue to stay involved.
Alberts says that through the conference planning, “I found people on my campus—students and staff members—who were so incredibly passionate about supporting and uplifting LGBTQIA+ student voices and experiences. I developed such a large love and sense of affirmation from people who grew to be my family. It’s the reason why I chose ISU in the first place; I felt home and family in every single moment I was on campus. Since this conference gave me so much, I wanted to make sure that I gave back.”