New LGBTQ coordinator to foster collaboration, opportunities, celebration


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Lex Lawson, the college’s new coordinator of LGBTQ Culture and Community, assumed his new role Feb. 3. Lawson has worked within the LGBTQ community for more than 12 years and plans to bring his connections to various LGBTQ organizations within the Chicago area to Columbia.

By Campus Editor

LGBTQ life on campus may be a little more coordinated this semester with the Office of Multicultural Affairs’ latest hire.

Chicago artist and activist Lex Lawson assumed the position of coordinator of LGBTQ Culture and Community on Feb. 3. The position had been vacant since J. Conway, the former coordinator, left the college last fall.

In his new role, Lawson will oversee LGBTQ affairs within the Office of Multicultural Affairs and act as the adviser of Common Ground, the college’s LGBTQ and ally student organization.

Lawson has more than 12 years of experience working with the LGBTQ community. He previously worked at the TransLife Center of the Chicago House and Social Service Agency, 1925 N. Clybourn Ave., providing housing and employment support for transgender and gender nonconforming people. He also worked with the youth program at the Center on Halsted, an LGBTQ center in Chicago located at 3656 N. Halsted St., where he planned events and coordinated meals and programs for LGBTQ youth and young adults.

Lawson also has years of experience as an artist. He writes nonfiction and poetry and creates visual, multimedia and fiber art pieces.

Lawson attended the University of Louisville in Kentucky, where he earned a master’s degree in Women’s and Gender Studies.

The Chronicle spoke with Lawson about his goals as the new coordinator, the importance of art and activism and how he plans to support on-campus diversity and inclusion.

THE CHRONICLE: What do you hope to accomplish at Columbia?

Lex Lawson: [I would like] to further the efforts of creating an affirming environment and community for LGBTQ and ally students at Columbia. I also want to provide educational opportunities for students so they can learn more about themselves or learn more leadership skills. [I also want to provide] education to the greater Columbia community around LGBTQ needs and issues. Collaboration with other student groups, departments, community organizations and colleges [is another goal of mine]. The more connections we have, the stronger we are. Having fun is also super important. A lot of what we do can be really serious and really hard sometimes, but having fun [and] celebrating each other is just as important. I want to make a fun space that’s also a safe place. We try to create this type of environment that is a safe space and we think of that as a kind of serious space, but I think having fun in the safe space is just as important.

What attracted you to Columbia?

LL: Being an art school is very attractive to me. It’s such a creative and colorful—literally—environment. As an artist and someone who is an advocate in social justice, creativity and an open mind are critical for social change, so I see what we do here as kind of a bridge for that.

Expanding diversity is part of the mission of Columbia, so even though we are in the process of making a lot of changes here, that to me is a really positive foundational point that a lot of schools are still working to get.

Why is LGBTQ support and activism important to you? 

LL: It’s my life mission, truly. I’ve been doing this type of work for about 12 years. It’s been something I’m very passionate about. Sometimes you can’t describe why. You just care. Another reason we find ourselves coming to advocacy is because we need to create the world we want to live in in order to exist. Ally work is really important to me, too, and one of the things I really like about doing LGBTQ work is there is a lot of opportunity to touch on a lot of different issues. Not just identity but [for instance,] health and prison abolition and labor and housing and so many different things, because every part is affected by that in some way.

Why do you think art is important to the LGBTQ community? 

LL: [Art gives people a way of] exploring different parts of themselves in this way of outer exploration. There are a lot of ways you can explore with that and interact with an audience or community in a way that you cannot safely in the public. It’s a safe space to explore different parts of ourselves that we’re just trying to figure out. I also think art, performance and media are tools and mediums of social consciousness raising because they provide a unique opportunity for people to connect around the experience of art. When people experience art, whatever the medium, people have a reaction or connection to it, and that creates a space for us to connect on another level about what the message of the piece is because we already have a foundation.

Columbia already has a strong reputation as an LGBTQ-friendly school. How do you plan on utilizing that in your new role? 

LL: I’m still figuring out what makes the most sense as far as engaging students here because there is already such a large presence. I’m really trying to create events and opportunities for people to meet each other, to build a community, to know what resources are available and to also build the skills they’ll need to be in a world outside of Columbia that is not necessarily so supportive and diverse. That’s something I would like to do as well—making sure people have those skills and resources for what to do after [college] because that can be a challenge.

How do you plan to work with Common Ground at Columbia?

LL: What’s really important to me about this role is supporting student leadership and creating space for people to build a community. [I want to] connect all the pieces of the college experience, [including students’] academic success and what social, community and life skill support folks need to be successful at Columbia, but also onwards. I’ll do whatever I can with [Common Ground] to help that and support their leadership and their vision. 

Do you foresee any opportunities for partnerships with larger LGBTQ organizations in the future? 

LL: Yes, that’s definitely a goal. I was working previously at the TransLife Center and before that the Center on Halsted, and I also participate in organizing with other groups around the city. Community collaboration is very central to one of my goals here and connecting students to outside opportunities as well as connecting people and resources to the amazing things that are happening at Columbia.

How will you bring collaborative experiences to Columbia?

LL: What I’ve learned the most in my different roles is, again, the collaboration and really reaching out and making connections and being a part of what other people are doing. It’s not just, “Hey can you do this for us?” but also, “How is this mutually beneficial?” That’s part of that movement building and community building. It has to be a partnership. 

Why do you think diversity and inclusion are important in the curriculum?

LL: I know there’s some discussion around broadening the curriculum. There’s a diverse representation in just [a basic film class], so I think that’s important. Having identity-specific courses is important in certain ways where we can explore deeper, but it needs to be in all areas.

How do you plan to support the college’s Strategic Plan and focus more on diversity?

LL: One of the things the previous coordinator, J. Conway, [did was develop] this fabulous Strategic Plan for LGBTQ diversity, so some things have been implemented and some things have yet to be implemented. I’ll be working on making sure those things continue to be worked on. It’s very impressive. There’s already been a lot of changes, which is very encouraging. Continuing to work on those goals and expanding the next steps so we’re not doing the minimum, but truly walking the walk of what we want to provide is important. I’m excited that I’m starting here at the beginning of this new Strategic Plan. That’s really exciting to me because it says we have a lot of opportunity for growth and that there’s a commitment to do that.