Monday, June 10, 2019

Chris Woods (CAS ’11), Director of the NYU LGBTQ Student Center, on Stonewall @ 50 and World Pride

Chris Woods (CAS '11)
Chris Woods (CAS '11)
In celebration of LGBTQ Pride Month, we caught up with Chris Woods (CAS ’11), the Director of the LGBTQ Student Center. He shared his first experiences with NYC Pride and what we can expect from this year’s World Pride festivities.

How did your education at NYU shape what you do now?

I initially studied Pre-Med and Biochemistry, then I double-majored in English and Religious Studies at CAS with a minor in Early Childhood Education at Steinhardt. My studies focused primarily on identity, and I took several courses that were cross-listed through the Department of Social and Cultural Analysis (SCA), on topics such as queer literature and racial migrations.

In my sophomore year, I was a Peer Educator in the Center for Multicultural Education and Programs. In my junior and senior years I worked in the LGBTQ Student Center, which is where I learned about LGBTQ resource centers as a field of work in higher education. After I graduated from NYU, I went to grad school at Ohio State and studied Higher Education and Student Affairs. I did LGBTQ work when I was a grad student and I also worked in residential life.

Chris Woods: his story continues
After grad school, I came back to NYU as the Program Administrator for the LGBTQ Student Center for a year and a half. I worked at Columbia University for almost four years and now I am back at NYU as the Director of the LGBTQ Student Center.

What was your experience of NYC Pride as a student?

I wasn’t out as queer until I went to college at NYU. I grew up in the Bronx where I didn’t experience a culture of out queer people. The conversation around LGBTQ life was often negative or nonexistent. Part of the reason I chose to attend NYU was because I knew that it was LGBTQ friendly, and it wasn’t far from home. In college, I had the opportunity to engage with the LGBTQ community for the first time.

I commuted my first year, then I lived in Third North for three years and served as an R.A., which I loved. I had the opportunity to build a strong community there. I was a CSTEP (Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program) student and when I was at Third North there were a number of CSTEP and HEOP (Arthur O. Eve Higher Education Opportunity Program) students on my floor which was a great connection point to my experience as a CSTEP student.

When I moved onto campus I came out as queer. I knew I wanted to be in a supportive space when I came out to my mother. My R.A. was really supportive. He was an out gay man and his boyfriend, now husband, was always around. It was the first time I was around a queer couple. I had never met one before, and they were a possibility model for me of a relationship that was not straight. They helped me to understand that being part of a queer community didn’t have to look a particular way. I started to understand that there were many ways to look and be queer.

My first Pride March was my sophomore year and I went with friends. I had never experienced anything like that – being surrounded by so many LGBTQ identified people. Then, my junior year, I went to the Pride March with my mom and my sister, which was really special. My senior year I was the captain of NYU’s contingent, and now as the Director, I help organize the NYU contingent of the Pride March in partnership with NYU Langone Health.

Chris Woods at his first NYC Pride
Chris Woods at his first NYC Pride

What is World Pride?

WorldPride is a culturally-diverse expression of the quest for equality and liberty of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) people worldwide. It exists to rally the LGBTI communities on a global level, thereby promoting our universal quest for freedom and human rights. (source: InterPride WorldPride committee)

This year’s World Pride will take place for the first time in the United States in NYC simultaneously taking place during NYC Pride. For the month of June, there will be a series of 50+ events and celebrations, culminating in the NYC Pride March on Sunday, June 30, 2019. New York City’s first ever Pride March was held on Sunday, June 28, 1970 (the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall uprising) and was known at the time as the Christopher Street Liberation Day March.

Alumni LGBTQ and ally members who are interested in joining NYU for the Pride March, please find details and registration information below.

Can you tell us about the LGBTQ Student Center and its goals?

Last year, the office shifted to the Office of Global Inclusion, Diversity, and Strategic Innovation which is within the Office of the President. Our mission includes serving alumni, students, faculty and staff, even though we historically have had a primary focus on student engagement. We have been building partnerships with the LGBTQ Alumni Network, to help uplift the work that they are doing and find ways to connect students with alumni. I anticipate that engagement increasing over time, which is something to look forward to.

We are really thinking about diversity in terms of gender and sexuality broadly in a way that includes the whole NYU community. We are a source of support for student groups at the center, and in the schools, and we are a resource for faculty and staff. This year we have been focusing on uplifting our education and training tools. We doubled the amount of trainings we offered from the previous year. We have been building a stronger foundation for Pride @ Work, the LGBTQ+ staff and faculty network at NYU.

We revamped the Safe Zone curriculum, which had not been updated in some time. That program has existed for twenty years, so it was a great time to reassess and revise it. I invested a lot of time collecting feedback from students, faculty and staff about what they would want fellow community members to know about their experience and how they can best be supported. The revised curriculum was a community effort, and it has been met with a lot of excitement.

I also see the center as a consultation service. If faculty or staff members have questions about how to integrate LGBTQ life into their work, we can support them with that. We can provide the mechanisms, tools, training and support to help our partners do work around LGBTQ issues. We are centering community engagement in the process of advancing inclusion, diversity, equity, and belonging for LGBTQ+ communities at NYU, so that all community members feel invested in this work.

Advocacy is also a big focus of the center. We are updating our practices, policies and procedures to align them with the needs of the LGBTQ community today, such as preferred name integration, adding pronouns to Albert, improving housing practices, and increasing transparency of resources so that services that the university provides are more accessible. It has been a busy year, and it has been great being a part of the process of uplifting the Center’s services.

Chris Woods at NYU's first Ally Week in 2011
Chris Woods at NYU's first Ally Week in 2011
Can you talk about NYU Stonewall @ 50?

I started as Director of the LGBTQ Student Center in July 2018 and found that there is significant excitement about LGBTQ life here at NYU. I think people are yearning for more, which is a great energy to come into.

When I first started in this role, I served on the steering committee for Stonewall @ 50 and it was incredible to see the vision realized across all levels of the University. The students have loved seeing the images and rainbows on the windows around campus. I was primarily working on student engagement and outreach, helping coordinate some of the larger events, and building connections between the Stonewall @ 50 steering committee and the university at large.

One of the Stonewall @ 50 events I coordinated with the LGBTQ Student Center staff was an intergenerational activism event called The Legacy of a Movement: Stonewall to Now. It was a great opportunity to bring together activists from all over the country for the panel, specifically individuals who reflected some of the most marginalized members of our communities in the 1960s to present, such as trans women of color. It was this community that started the Stonewall uprising, and we wanted to honor that legacy in this event.  A livestreamed recording of the event, along with the other signature events for Stonewall 50 at NYU can be found here:

Reflecting on LGBTQ history, where do you think the movement is now?

I would say that the culture and sentiment of the LGBTQ rights movement has changed in many ways over the past fifty years. At NYU, I think that there is a significant amount of interest, investment, and desire for more advocacy, education, and knowledge building around trans and non-binary student and community member experiences. There is a desire to know more about how to engage pronouns appropriately. This past year we created a pronoun working group to imagine what it would look like to have pronouns on class rosters and in university-wide systems to improve the experience for students and community members. We have been working on systems and resources for faculty, staff and students to interface with that information.

Alumni interested in marching with NYU in this year’s World Pride March:

When: Sunday, June 30

Registration Link:

NYU and NYU Langone Health will be marching together in the NYC & World Pride 2019 March, on Sunday, June 30 in New York City! LGBTQ and ally members of the NYU and NYU Langone Health community, whether student, staff, faculty, or alumni, are invited to march with us during this World Pride March!

We are limited in the number of Marchers able to join us, so please only register if you are able to COMMIT to marching on Sunday, June 30. Since we do not know the times we will be marching, please be available ALL DAY to march.

The last day to register is Sunday, June 23 at 11:59pm (EST), but spots will likely fill up before this date/time.

Additionally, we invite you to join us at the second annual NYU Pride Reception on June 13, from 5pm - 8pm in Kimmel E&L.

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