Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Leadership lived: UIS student educates peers about gender and sexuality

Mel Clark admits to having “grown up a lot as a person” since enrolling at the University of Illinois Springfield. As a freshman, Clark got involved with the Gender and Sexuality Student Services Office, formerly the LGBTQA Resource Center. Now, as a senior on campus, Clark is helping to education fellow students.

Clark is a member of the InQueery peer education team and works for Gender and Sexuality Student Services helping to plan events. The InQueery team provides workshops and other activities to classes and student groups in order to combat homophobia, transphobia and heterosexism.

“Having your peers come in and talk is a little more relaxed, it’s a little less stressful, you feel like you can talk to somebody,” said Clark. “You can know that they’re not giving you crap about anything, so it’s all genuine. We share our stories and everything, so I think it’s just an easier way for people to digest it, especially if they’ve never been exposed to things like that.”

Clark, an information systems security major, chose the University of Illinois Springfield because the academic programs were recommended by a teacher. Clark grew up in Riverton, Illinois, only about 15 minutes from campus.

“I used to always go to the Sangamon Auditorium when I was a kid,” said Clark. “My grandma and I always got season tickets, so we would come through this campus a lot when I was younger.”

Clark says the University of Illinois Springfield has come to feel like a second home. Clark regularly participates in events, such as LGBTea, a weekly social on campus where LGBTQ+ students can come together, share stories, support each other and have fun.

“I mean, I have my house over in Riverton, but here is also my home,” said Clark. “It’s nice to have people you can talk to and things you can get off your chest and ask people about all kinds of issues you’re having.”

Following graduation from UIS, Clark plans to earn a master’s degree in computer science at UIS. The student hopes to one day work for the FBI and help fight cyber-crimes.

“A lot of people have said I’ve changed so much since I was a freshman,” said Clark. I used to be really shy and wouldn’t speak up about anything, but now, since I’ve been in this role, in InQueery and everything I’ve really blossomed as a person.”

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