Lis Maurer’s work as director of the Center for LGBT Education, Outreach and Services has resulted in the recognition of Ithaca College as one of the nation’s top LGBT-friendly colleges.
Now, Maurer, this year’s Mary Lee Tatum Award winner, is being recognized for her contributions to sexual education. In the past the award has been given to U.S. Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders, and Dr. Michael Carrera of the Children’s Aid Society and professor emeritus of health sciences at Hunter College. Awards are given by The Association for Planned Parenthood Leaders in America.
Staff Writer Elma Gonzalez sat down with Maurer to discuss the history of the center and her plans for its future.
Elma Gonzalez: What did you do before coming to Ithaca College?
Lis Maurer: I once worked with people with disabilities. I worked as a sexuality educator at Planned Parenthood serving all different kinds of people — from people in middle school and high school up to people in elder care facilities. I ran a comprehensive family life program for a Girl Scout council, which was really exciting. I’ve taught on college campuses, and now I’m here. It sounds eclectic, but for me it’s very important to feel like I’m making a difference in people’s lives.
EG: What issues do you stand for?
LM: My role on campus is to foster the academic success and the personal growth of LGBT students and to be a resource for anybody on campus of any orientation or any gender identity. That is very important because the school environment K through 12 is not yet safe for all students. My role here is about extending access for people who may have been underserved.
EG: Tell me a little bit more about the history of the center and the origins of your position at the college.
LM: There was a group of mostly students in the ’90s who felt that there really needed to be an office dedicated to supporting LGBT students. They got together a committee including staff and faculty, and they surveyed the needs of the students at that time. Then, they wrote up a report detailing what they found and what they thought an LGBT center could provide. Eventually, they worked their report up through all the different levels of IC — all the way up to the Board of Trustees — and the Board of Trustees agreed and created the position. Then I came along and applied.
EG: Why did you become an LGBT activist?
LM: I’m interested in a variety of themes that have to do with providing each person the ability to have access to the path that they want in their own lives. I know what it is to have been the target of bullying and discrimination. I obviously don’t want anyone to have to go through that, and, at the same time, those experiences allowed me to learn some skills that were helpful to me.
In general, I’m very interested in trying to extend information and access to people so they can make the best choices in their lives. Part of what I’m interested in is taking existing research and putting it into practice. Research tells us some very interesting, important things about LGBT young people, and research actually doesn’t tell us something about LGBT young people that people just assume. One of the things I really like about being in this role on campus is that I can help take established research and put it into practice to make people’s lives better.
EG: What do you have planned for the center in the near future?
LM: One big goal that is very campus-based is that the 10th anniversary of the Center for LGBT Education, Outreach and Services happens in the fall. In order to commemorate that 10th anniversary, there’s going to be a variety of different sorts of learning opportunities and special events with other members of the campus community and alumni. There are going to be several large events in conjunction with Fall Splash alumni weekend.
EG: How did you react to winning the Mary Lee Tatum Award?
LM: I am just completely humbled and honored by that. It’s a huge honor. I’m just awed to be in the company of other people who have been nominated and who have received it. It is the one award that is given outside of the Planned Parenthood family of current employees, and it is given to the person who best exemplifies the ideal qualities of sexuality educators.
I was very surprised to be nominated. I know some other people, who I greatly
admire, who have won the award over the years, so when I heard I was like, “Wow.” It’s a process that includes a nomination — two different people nominated me, which was also an honor — and then everybody all over the nation got that information and had to vote. To be recognized as the person in the nation that best exemplifies the ideal qualities of a sex educator makes me want to work even harder to be the best that I can.