Conference opens conversation on complex gender topics

Grayson Hunt, assistant professor of philosophy speaks, during the Gender Communication Conference which was held in Downing Student Union on Saturday. Last year the conference had around 70 to 80 participants; this year 116 people signed up.

Kathryn Ziesig

Students, faculty and Bowling Green residents had the opportunity to learn, discuss and dive deeper into gender issues on Saturday during the seventh annual Gender Communication Conference.

WKU Housing and Residence Life hosted the event to open a dialogue about gender issues and help bring the discussion to WKU.

Blair Jensen, HRL assistant director, said the conference has grown in size and scope since its beginning and has been able to welcome a wider variety of speakers outside of the HRL department.

“It’s about providing students with a place to learn about their own identities and to also learn about other people and then to work toward justice and equality for all,” Jensen said.

According to the Human Rights Campaign, gender identity is defined as one’s personal concept of self as male, female, a blend of both or neither – how individuals perceive themselves and what they call themselves. One’s gender identity can be the same or different from their sex assigned at birth.

Last year the conference only had about 70 to 80 participants, but this year 116 people registered, Jensen said.

“I think that we’ve seen the conference evolve to a point where it’s tackling more complex and challenging issues and topics related to gender,” Jensen said.

The conference began with an address from the keynote speaker Chris Purcell, the director of LGBTQI life at Vanderbilt University.

According to the Vanderbilt website, Purcell has been working throughout his career to expand LGBTQI equity in higher education. He has collaborated with students, faculty, and staff to expand upon LGBTQI rights within the university.

After Purcell’s address, participants had the choice of attending one of three presentations during the first of three sessions. The sessions covered topics like workplace harassment, fighting for equality and how reading exchanges ideas of gender.

Grayson Hunt, assistant professor of philosophy and religion, led a session called “Biphobia and Transphobia: Shared Causes & Shared Resistance.” Hunt spoke on seeing the shared experience, oppression and resistance of bi and trans people instead of their perceived differences and stereotypes.

“So we are thinking about how oppression works within oppressed groups, and we’re going to use that to figure out how oppression works within the LGBTQ community,” Hunt said.

Megan Maddern, a graduate teaching instructor, and Danna Biechele-Speziale, a WKU student, led another session in a conversation about family structure norms, “Rethinking the ‘Normal’ Family: A Fresh Perspective.” They spoke with the audience about family structure norms and how they do not always align with the realities of many American families.

At the conclusion of the conference participants were invited to a closing reception to discuss what they had learned over dessert.

Some students like Gatton Academy juniors Mackenzie Branson and Caroline Ferro decided to come to the conference to learn more about the issues on campus and around the world.

“There aren’t a lot of opportunities to learn about gender things, so I thought that this would be a really interesting opportunity to utilize,” Branson said.

Chad Lawhorn, a HRL volunteer, said the conference offers so many different topics of discussion and ideas that each individual’s experience within the conference, and what they take away from it is up to them.

Holly Brandewie, Pearce-Ford Tower hall director, said HRL hopes to continue bringing the campus opportunities like this to explore the topic of gender in the future.

“It’s a conversation that needs to continue,” Brandewie said.

Reporter Kathryn Ziesig can be reached at at 270-745-6288 and [email protected]