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Faculty and Staff

Wells Brings Creative Energy to GLBT Center

Renee Wells outsider her office.

Renee Wells, the new director of NC State’s GLBT Center, brings years of experience and an abundance of drive to the job, despite that fact that she didn’t originally set out to become a professional advocate for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues on college campuses.

“I always knew I wanted to teach, so I got my first bachelor’s degree in English education,” Wells says. She racked up another bachelor’s in English, an M.A. in English and an MFA in creative writing before taking a faculty position at the University of Alabama, where she taught composition, American literature and creative writing.

When Wells arrived at Alabama, she discovered that the university didn’t have an organization for GLBT faculty and staff, so she and some like-minded colleagues rolled up their sleeves and founded an organization named Capstone Alliance. The group offered ally training and programming focused on GLBT identity and awareness, and they began meeting regularly with the president of the university to discuss current best practices for GLBT inclusion in higher education.

Capstone Alliance accomplished a lot at Alabama, and through it all Wells saw a different life path opening up for her.

A Passion for Advocacy

“After four years as an officer in the group I realized that I had two full-time jobs, only one of which was paid,” she says. “You do advocacy because you have a passion, and it’s hard to regulate that passion. I also realized that there were a million people with MFAs who wanted to teach, but there weren’t enough people who wanted to do GLBT advocacy.”

Wells decided to give up her teaching position to do advocacy, accepting a position as assistant director of the Center for Diversity and Inclusion at Michigan Tech. The center serves all underrepresented students, an idea that appealed to Wells because students have multiple identities and are often better served by a space they feel they can go to for support related to any aspect of their experience. After three years there, she took the job at NC State, becoming the GLBT Center’s second director since it opened in 2008.

“I wanted to take this job because I really like the work that OIED (the Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity) has been doing over the last few years,” she says. “I’m impressed with the direction they’re heading in. Their vision and values really align with my own.”

Looking Forward

Wells comes to the table with a clear vision for the GLBT Center.

“The primary mission of any student center, such as this one, is to support student success and retention,” she says. “Our center’s primary focus is GLBT students, but we also provide support for allies, and we want to be a resource for anyone on campus dealing with these issues. We also want to add faculty/staff resources in the future.”

Under Wells’ leadership, the GLBT Center will do outreach to help students connect with a wide variety of resources in areas such as academic support, health and wellness, and professional development. For example, this fall Wells is planning to take a student group to the national conference of oSTEM, an organization for GLBT professionals and students in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields.

“A lot of inclusive corporations attend the oSTEM conference, so it’s a good resource for students looking for co-ops, internships and jobs,” she says. “There will be conference sessions that focus on what it means to identify as GLBT and to work in a STEM field, where there are usually not many out people.”

The center will also offer programming to increase general awareness of GLBT issues, such as Project Safe, an ally training program, and Trans 101, which helps participants understand trans identity. In addition, Wells hopes to partner with the Office of Faculty Development to offer lunch-and-learn sessions on ways to create an inclusive classroom environment.

“I think that would be a great opportunity to create a culture across campus where people are aware of students’ needs and how they can meet them, and also to make faculty and staff aware of the center as a resource that can help them in the work they do,” she says.

Reaching Out

Wells says she’s looking forward to collaborating with the other centers in OIED — the African American Cultural Center, Multicultural Student Affairs and the Women’s Center — to think strategically about how best to serve students who have multiple identities.

“We’re all in this unit together, so we can cooperate to ensure that all of a student’s identity is recognized and responded to no matter where they go,” she says.

The next big event coming up for the GLBT Center is a T-shirt giveaway as part of Diversity Education Week. On Tuesday, Oct. 21, center representatives will be at Wolf Plaza giving out “I [Heart] Diversity” T-shirts from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.

On Tuesday, Nov. 11, the GLBT Center is sponsoring an appearance by trans advocate and actress Laverne Cox, star of the hit show Orange Is the New Black. At 7 p.m. in the Talley Ballroom, Cox will give a talk titled “Ain’t I a Woman: My Journey to Womanhood.” Cox’s talk will be followed by a Q-and-A with the audience. Admission to the event is free, but attendees must have a ticket. Find more information online.

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