Three months into his tenure, IUPUI’s LGBTQ+ Center director A.J. Young already has ambitious plans. Working with other campus organizations, Young has invited Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend to IUPUI in February 2019. During the spring semester, Young also plans to update the popular Safe Zone training program and seek out student feedback about the center. Young hopes that, under his directorship, the center will be both inclusive and collaborative with a diverse student body.
Buttigieg visit in February
Young said that the LGBTQ+ Center helped arrange for Buttigieg to visit campus in February, although the exact date has yet to be determined.
“We’re collaborating with a ton of people on campus, including the bookstore, to bring the mayor of South Bend to campus,” Young said. “He’s the first openly gay mayor in Indiana, and he’ll be coming to campus in February.”
Buttigieg secured his first term as mayor in 2011 with 74 percent of the vote. In 2014, Buttigieg temporarily left South Bend for seven months after being deployed by the Navy to Afghanistan. Buttigieg received a Joint Service Commendation Medal for his serve there. A year later, Buttigieg secured re-election with 80 percent of the vote.
In 2017, Buttigieg ran to be the chair of the Democratic National Committee. Buttigieg lost his bid to former Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, but he successfully raised his national profile and increased speculation that he’ll run for the presidency in 2020.
Other spring semester plans
In addition to the Buttigieg visit, Young said that the LGBTQ+ Center’s plans for the spring semester include restarting Safe Zone training. The LGBTQ+ Center offers Safe Zone training to inform participants about gender, sexual orientation, as well as history and current issues related to the LGBTQ community.
“One of our big priorities for the spring semester is to get our Safe Zone training program back up and running. We put a pause on that for the fall semester so one I can get acclimated and also so I can take a look at the curriculum,” Young said. “I’ll probably be doing a few updates to make sure it’s sort of contemporary. We’ve got a lot of good resources there”
According to Young, the LGBTQ+ Center’s Safe Zone trainings are high in demand on campus.
“I know we’ve had a lot of people around campus asking about those, so there’s clearly a demand which is a great thing to know, that people want these trainings,” Young said.
Finally, Young said that student feedback for the LGBTQ+ Center will inform its priorities in the upcoming year.
“I’ve been doing a lot of listening over the last three months,” Young said. “We’ll be asking for folks, students but also faculty and staff, to give some suggestions about what they think we should be working on, what things they think are important on campus that need to be addressed, but also what kind of events they’d like to see and other programming ideas.”
Young said that he views this feedback as important, because the LGBTQ+ Center was formed in part because of student feedback from the first Campus Climate Survey in 2014.
“The LGBTQ+ Center was created as a result of that information,” Young said. “So I’m very excited to have some of that data early next semester to be able to think about how LGBT folks feel welcome on campus, if they feel like the climate is inclusive to them.”
Inclusive to all students
Above all else, Young stressed that the LGBTQ+ Center is an inclusive space for all students, regardless of what community they belong to or identify with.
“I think the important thing for students to know about the LGBTQ+ Center is that it is open to everyone,” Young said. “You do not have to identify as part of the LGBTQ community to access our space or our resources, but it is a space meant to support and engage folks in education around LGBTQ issues and identities.”
Young said that making the LGBTQ+ Center more racially inclusive will be a primary focus of his directorship.
“I think one of the most pressing issues in the queer community, in general but also on this campus, is the racial segregation in our community,” Young said. “The assumption and the condensing of whiteness and queerness into an identity is also something that really needs to be addressed.”
Young believes that existing systems of racial discrimination and prejudice inform dynamics within the LGBTQ community, as well as its relationship with other communities.
“Structures of white privilege and supremacy color how we understand what it means to be queer and how queer communities are perceived and who gets seen as part of the community as well,” Young said.
Young also noted that in addition to racial inclusion, he hopes to address how socioeconomic class can impact those within the LGBTQ community.
“I think the intersection with class and the way in which marginalization and discrimination means that many folks in the queer community, particularly trans and non-binary folks, often don’t have access to resources,” Young said.
Young said that the diversity of the student body is one of the reasons he was interested in becoming the director of the LGBTQ+ Center at IUPUI.
“IUPUI draws from a larger group of students of color, a larger group of students who are LGBTQ identified, that are non-traditional age students who just aren’t coming in at 18, folks who are working or have families,” Young said. “And all of these other wonderful diverse aspects of the community is really what drew me to the university and wanting to be the director of the center at IUPUI specifically.”
Collaboration on and off campus
In addition to being open to a variety of students, Young noted that the LGBTQ+ Center collaborates with a variety of schools and organizations.
“We work with those offices to make sure that their programs are accessible and inclusive to LGBTQ students,” Young said.
As an example, Young said that the LGBTQ+ Center is working with the IUPUI School of Medicine to train future health professionals to be more inclusive to LGBTQ+ people in their practices.
“We have the medical school and all of these other health professions on campus, I think that’s going to be a really important area to collaborate both in terms of advocating for competent health care but also helping train so many of the future health professionals that we’re training,” Young said. “We’re helping to change that system so that there are more professionals who know and are capable of working with LGBTQ communities.”
Young said that the LGBTQ+ Center is doing similar work with professionals in the Indianapolis area as a whole.
“Just yesterday I was at a committee meeting for a council made up of social workers and mental health professionals in the area that are focused on making sure that the work that they’re doing in their different offices and departments are inclusive and welcoming,” Young said.
According to Young, the LGBTQ+ Center is developing working relationships with Indianapolis organizations such as GenderNexus, a nonprofit that offers workshops and referrals to inclusive providers to transgender and nonbinary people, as well as the Damien Center, an AIDS service organization focused on HIV prevention and care.
“The Damien Center reached out to me as one of the first organizations to connect,” Young said. “A lot of the work we do with community organizations is just helping students and faculty and staff know what’s out there for them if they need assistance or they have questions about specific topics.”
Who is A.J. Young?
Before starting his tenure as director of IUPUI’s LGBTQ+ Center, A.J. Young lived in Philadelphia and received his doctorate from Temple University in sociology and gender studies. Young also worked for over ten years in student services, with a focus on civic engagement and inclusivity.
“The position here as director of the center was really appealing because it brings together two pieces of my life that I feel really passionate about. One is the academic side of thinking about gender and sexuality in an academic context,” Young said. “I also have worked for many, many years in student services and student affairs. The director position, because it serves the whole campus, really allows me to blend those two pieces of my experience that I really enjoy.”
Young said that in addition to his academic and community experience, he could draw upon his personal experience as a gay and trans man.
“I can speak from my own experience as a gay or queer and transgender person, I can speak from my experience working with a lot of folks in the community, but then I also have that experience of the academic field of gender and sexuality studies to draw on,” Young said.
Young said that in addition to his experience, he will draw upon the feedback he hears formally and informally from students. Young hopes that, under his directorship, the center can be more open and known to the student body as a whole.
“We’re hoping that the more we work with the community partners, more people will reach out and know that we’re here for them,” Young said.