The LGBT Center, the Women’s Center and the Multicultural Center have remained sources for diverse learning and individual experiences throughout the past year. Since the COVID-19 pandemic caused most OU students to remain remote in the first half of 2021, these centers chose to operate remotely while still providing their fundamental resources.
MaryKathyrine Tran, assistant director of the Women’s Center, said she is especially proud of the center’s ability to formulate meaningful programs and encourage sincere conversations while operating remotely.
“During a time when we were physically distancing, the use of technology meant we were still able to stay connected and also became an accessible way for folks of different backgrounds and needs to continue to engage with us,” Tran said in an email. “Due to this positive response, when we returned physically back to the office in August, we made a concentrated effort to offer our programs in a hybrid fashion. This has allowed folks who would like to meet in-person the opportunity to do so, but also ensures folks on our regional campuses, people with family considerations, and those who simply cannot be in-person for a variety of reasons can still participate, learn and build community.”
When students were allowed back on campus, each of the centers began to slowly integrate more in-person meetings and events. Over the past year, the three centers have each engaged in a plethora of events, both virtual and in-person, raising awareness of specific issues pertaining to their respective, diverse focuses.
Micah McCarey, director of the LGBT Center, highlighted the center’s pride graduation that was held virtually in April.
“Everyone was more engaged on an emotional level than I was accustomed to during these kinds of online programs,” McCarey said. “And I think that comes in part from the really monumentous accomplishment that the graduates were feeling, having completed this big journey. They were able to finish despite the challenges of adjusting to online education, and decreased social interaction and increased depression rates and anxiety. So I think it was all of those things plus appreciation for the support that we've been able to provide each other as an LGBTQ+ community.”
For the Women’s Center, Tran mentioned the significance of the annual Take Back the Night event. Tran said that while the event was slightly different this year, it was still incredibly important to hold this annual event in whatever fashion possible.
“Take Back the Night is a special event because it brings so many collaborators together not only across campus, but throughout the community, to recognize the large impacts domestic violence, sexual assault and (other types) of interpersonal violence have on our communities, while also affirming the importance of believing survivors, standing with them, and advocating against injustice,” Tran said in an email. “Our 2021 Take Back the Night featured a few different elements including a successful social media event throughout the evening as well as a live broadcast of survivor speakers sharing their stories.”
Winsome Chunnu-Brayda, director of the Multicultural Center, referenced the Blackburn Spencer Scholarship Pageant that the Multicultural Center hosted during OU’s Homecoming this year. Chunnu-Brayda said the ability to have this event after not being able to in 2020 demonstrated the perseverance of the students involved.
“We weren't able to have (the pageant) the year before and that is how we raise money for the Blackburn Spencer Scholarship awards that are announced during the leadership gala in April,” Chunnu-Brayda said. “Students within two and a half weeks managed to raise almost $10,000. So that was a feat, especially during COVID times. So one, we were able to have the pageant that we missed from the year before and two ... it was exceptional how they managed to raise that amount of money in such a short period of time.”
Currently, both the LGBT Center and the Women’s Center are undergoing staffing changes. The LGBT Center is currently in search of an assistant director, and the center will no longer be able to have a full-time administrative support specialist position.
The Women’s Center is currently without a director as Dr. M. Geneva Murray recently left OU. Tran is currently serving as the interim director for the time being.
“The Women’s Center is extremely excited for the upcoming year and appreciates our campus and community collaborators supporting us throughout this transition,” Tran said in an email.
In 2022, McCarey hopes that more traditions can be brought back to OU. McCarey said events are important to duplicate as they allow queer students to feel empowered and liberated.
“I am hopeful that some of our programs that have been harder to duplicate in an online form will be held,” McCarey said. “And the most significant one is probably our annual queer prom. A lot of LGBTQ+ students didn't get to go to a prom during their high school years that felt inclusive and affirming. And now that they are in a university setting that has that strong commitment to diversity and inclusion, I find those queer proms to be really liberating for people.”
For the next coming year, Chunnu-Brayda hopes the Multicultural Center will see a return of normalcy, especially in regard to attendance and capacity.
“I'm really hoping that we get back to … full density so that we can really get our programming back in full swing,” Chunnu-Brayda said. “I want to get back to the point where I want as many people as possible to come and have a great time.”