A step toward a better world
When junior Lauren Szymczak became a Women’s and Gender Studies (WGS) program intern tasked with planning and putting on a campus-wide event, she chose to cover a topic close to her heart: transgender issues.
The Transgender Awareness Week Open Mic Night, a collaborative event hosted by the Women’s and Gender Studies (WGS) Program, the Ball State Multicultural Center and Spectrum, took place November 17, 2021 during Transgender Awareness Week. Several guests and participants were in attendance, given the choice to come on stage and tell their story, open mic style. In a heartfelt and candid nature, speakers shared in a variety of fashions, including monologues, spoken word and poetry, and whichever other forms of expression they deemed fit.
In planning the evening, Szymczak hoped it would provide people with opportunities to share their stories, hear other people’s stories, and express themselves in a safe and supportive space. Most importantly, her goal was to facilitate conversation regarding the transgender community and bring awareness to the experiences of people within it.
“This event means that I can be a small step in producing change. This event is relevant to today’s issues in our campus and community because transgender people still face violence, mental health issues, and safety concerns daily. Transgender issues are human rights issues. Our campus and community still have a lot of work to do to be a truly inclusive space,” said Lauren Szymczak.
On the evening of November 17, featured speakers, open mic volunteers, and audience members poured into Cardinal Hall B. Each speaker that participated holds ties to Ball State, most of them as alumni.
Betsy Kiel, a 3rd year graduate student pursuing a double master’s in Sociology and Political Science, has helped to support and guide Lauren through the process and planning of this event. Kiel is a 2019 graduate of the BSU Women’s and Gender Studies program, and now serves as Lauren’s internship supervisor.
“This event was planned and hosted by a WGS intern who is learning to create inclusive and intersectional programming on campus,” said Kiel. “As the supervisor of the internship, it is really cool to watch the program come to life under the direction of a WGS student, and in collaboration with other offices and organizations on campus,”
“As more and more students begin or continue exploring their gender identity, this event brings together students involved across multiple offices or organizations to support trans students at BSU. Trans and non-binary individuals are at much higher risk for mental health illnesses and feelings of isolation, so providing a safe space for them to connect, even for only one night, could be pretty powerful,” said Kiel.
Prior to the event, Kiel hoped that students would be brought together to create friendships and connections through raising awareness together about important issues. Moving forward, she hopes other students will take part in the WGS internship program to plan their own social issue events in future semesters, creating safe spaces for important conversations.